Yurok - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Yurok society was socially stratified. Persons of wealth, or "aristocrats," were clearly distinguished from "commoners" and the "poor." The aristocrats wore clothing of high style, performed most religious functions, and had a distinctive manner of speech, said to be "rich in its expressiveness." They also owned heirlooms, such as fifteen-inch obsidian bifaces and albino deerskins. Their wealth enabled them to hold dances, providing regalia and food. Other aristocratic "treasure" included many strings of dentalium shell as well as woodpecker scalps. Slavery existed among the Yurok, though it was not an important institution; men became slaves largely through indebtedness.

Political Organization. Although the basic political unit was probably the village, Kroeber reported no sense of Community and no encompassing political entity. Only kinship ties at times united some people in separate villages. There were no chiefs or leaders, although a man could sometimes gain importance through great wealth.

Social Control. Since there was no political organization, there existed no central authority. Nevertheless, the Yurok had a series of eleven principles, or "laws," enumerated by Kroeber. The individual had all rights, claims, and privileges; if someone carried out a violent act, there was an elaborate network of compensation claims that could be applied, for example, to an act of revenge. Indeed, the bulk of Yurok law involves the various levels of liability related to any offense. The concept of full compensation involved negotiation and litigation and thus served as the major factor of social control in Yurok life.

Conflict. Disputes could arise among individuals over fishing rights, boundaries of territories, and adultery. So-called warfare involved feuds between large groups of kinsmen in Yurok villages. Raids and retaliation for such raids took place between the Yurok and their neighbors, such as the Hupa. After raids, however, compensation—settlement for damages that occurred—was always required.


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