Aymara - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The idea of equality, embraced by all Aymara, is a component of most relationships in rural society. The social system is flexible, and on the lowest levels of the social structure, the family and the ayllu, individuals are interchangeable (i.e., men and women can change roles). Males and females are considered equal in status, decision making, and rights, as well as in inheritance, labor division, and cooperation.

Political Organization. In pre-Conquest time, when the Aymara dominated the Andean highlands, a number of Aymara-speaking "nations," divided into "kingdoms" or "chiefdoms," developed. An Andean type of endogamous moiety organization with stratification of ethnic groups (Aymara and Uru) has been reported (Murra 1968). The independence of these nations was lost as the Quechua-speaking Incas extended their influence, but on the local level little of Aymara life changed. Decision making in the traditional ayllu was of the consensus type. Leadership authority was executed by the jilaqata, chosen yearly among adult men according to a rotating system. In the new community organization, connected to the national governments, the headman is theoretically chosen by the subprefector in the provincial capital, but in practice he is often elected by his community members. He is merely the "foremost among equals," and actual decisions are made by the reunión (assembly), where consensus is still a goal. In August 1993 an Aymara, Victor Hugo Cárdenas, took office as vice president of Bolivia.

Social Control. The flexible and ideally egalitarian Aymara system has resulted in relatively few rules and taboos and consequently a low degree of social control. In case of personal conflict, the common forms of social control are used—gossip and ostracism (e.g., in the form of exclusion from dancing, drinking, and eating with the well-demarcated fiesta group).

Conflict. Individual and family disputes, often over land or inheritance, were settled by the jilaqata, who also arbitrated in inter-ayllu conflicts. In today's organization, conflicts are solved at assembly meetings, or if intractable, referred to central authorities. Physical arguments or regular fights usually occur only under the influence of alcohol. On the ayllu or village level the Aymara have a strong sense of collective identity and "community orientation" at times resulting in prejudice, mistrust, and suspicion toward "outsiders." Competition, mistrust, and conflict between other bonded units, such as family groups and village or community sections, is also not uncommon.

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