Amuesha - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Amuesha were and are egalitarian in their social and economic interaction and highly value individual will and personal autonomy. At the same time, their cosmology and their relation to the priestly leaders and ceremonial centers show some hierarchical tendencies. Traditionally, there were no strong political leaders; instead local socioreligious leaders ( cornesha' )— priests—gained authority and prestige by their generosity and wise leadership in worship and community matters. Some priests gained a measure of authority over a wider area, but there was never a cohesive sociopolitical organization that included all Amueshas. Even before the last cornesha' died in 1956, if there was no local cornesha', an older man who had lived in the community the longest was generally recognized as the leader. Generosity is still one of the main avenues for gaining respect. A would-be leader and coffee planter will impoverish himself by generosity to his workers. The high moral value placed on generosity is thus effective in preventing potential entrepreneurs from taking advantage of their less fortunate relatives and neighbors. Trained health promoters are rarely able to continue to purchase supplies of medicine, since their patients remind them that they cannot charge their relatives. Similarly, few Amuesha-owned shops have succeeded.

In 1969 an annual Amuesha leaders' congress was established, with two or three delegates from each community, who elected a president and other officers to maintain contact with government offices. Each community is organized according to the Peruvian system, with younger, more bilingual men often elected to positions of authority. In 1981 the congresses were reorganized as FECONAYA, a federation of Amuesha (Yanesha) communities. Although the federation officers do not exercise a great deal of authority, they—along with the Bilingual Bi-cultural Amuesha Teachers Association—have been instrumental in establishing a sense of tribal identity and pride. Perhaps the single most important factor in helping the Amuesha maintain their language and culture has been bilingual education and the development of written literature in their language—much of it written by Amuesha authors.

Social Control and Conflict. The Amuesha highly value peace; the ostracism that follows being known as an angry or stingy person is usually sufficient to keep most quarrels under control. There is always a certain amount of tension between affines, but open conflict is rare. Even when outsiders dispossess them of their land, the Amuesha will avoid a fight if at all possible. Homicide and theft were almost unknown in aboriginal times. Today criminal accusations are adjudicated by Peruvian authorities.

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