Bakairi - Sociopolitical Organization

The Bakairi are an egalitarian society. A village headman, called capitão, is elected informally by the people. He has limited powers, mostly of a persuasive nature. One of his responsibilities is to interface with FUNAI officials.

Social Organization. Bakairi society lacks classes and economic specialization; it is organized on the basis of age and gender.

Political Organization. Bakairi society is politically organized around three or four clusters of fluid composition. These political factions are dominated by men and older women from specific kinship groupings. Alliances between kin groups occur regularly. Shamans are important informal community leaders. They persuade people to support them in political disputes. The Bakairi reservation is overseen officially by FUNAI. Central headquarters are located in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, in the Ministry of the Interior. Regional offices are found in Cuiabá. Bakairi men travel to the regional offices several times a year to meet with foundation officials. The foundation attempts to provide medical treatment and educational facilities for the Indians, with varying degrees of success. A representative of this organization sometimes stays on the reservation, especially if a new project is being organized or if conflict between Indians and Brazilians occurs. This agent works mainly with the capitão to facilitate objectives set by his organization.

Social Control. Social control is maintained by a value system that emphasizes cooperation, harmony, and peace. A series of gradational responses is employed to discipline those who deviate from the norm: the elders of the individual's family talk to the deviate; then overt gossip is used; a shaman tries to exorcise the spirits that are supposedly causing the deviant behaviors; finally, the person is threatened by a group of male villagers. Rule breakers frequently flee the reservation.

Conflict. Warfare between the Bakairi and other Indian groups is absent. Before the pacification of the Xavante Indians in the mid-1950s, raiding between Xavante and Bakairi took place. Kayabi and Bakairi relations were also strained during that period. Warfare between Brazilians and the Bakairi is also absent, although disagreements, for example over who may use indigenous lands, sometimes erupt into open conflict between Indians and nearby ranchers. FUNAI normally steps in to settle such disputes before violence erupts.

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