Amahuaca - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Same-sex cross cousins in separate hamlets are special friends, and peaceful relations among hamlets are reinforced by visits, during which food and labor are exchanged. On such visits news of relatives is recounted in simultaneous monologues, and prospective marriages are discussed.

Political Organization. Each settlement is autonomous. The moral leadership of a senior male is acknowledged. Formerly, a headman ordered and supervised joint work on gardens, taught cultural norms, prevented internal hostility, and authorized avenging raids. Peaceful contact with outsiders is restricted almost entirely to people who speak the same language, called nokîngaiwo (our kind). Culturally related friendly peoples with whom the Amahuaca have little or no contact are called yora or hondiwo (people, humankind), whereas strangers and unrelated peoples are potential enemies ( nawa, or naa).

Social Control. Amahuaca show no hostility within the community and treat nonconformity only with gossip. Dreams, chants, and ayahuasca séances are used to deal with persons believed to be causing harm. Adultery and failure to work are cause for wife beating or divorce.

Conflict. Suspected adultery by an outsider is sometimes avenged by murder, which may lead to bloody reprisal. Some men claim that adultery and other insults are punished by slashing the offender on the nape of the neck with a claw-shaped bamboo knife. The Amahuaca distrust and fear outsiders, especially Yaminahua, Cashinahua, and Culina. In response to rumors of intended violence, men may visit the supposed enemies, with bows and arrows in hand as always, and kill them by ambush or other means. In hand-to-hand combat men use knuckle-dusters made of the vegetable ivory of yarina palm nuts and long, narrow, finely pointed, wooden swords.

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