Canela - Sociopolitical Organization

Political Organization. The Canela have a relatively strong chieftainship for Amazonia, but a council of elders checks the chief's power. The chief derives some power from his natal longhouse and some from his wife's, but most of his power comes from his age-set and from his ability to lead the men. The chief leads the council of elders in their twice-daily meetings in the center of the village's circular plaza, selectively summarizing their decisions reached by consensus. The three oldest age-sets make up the council, but a specific one dominates it and may surpass the chief in power while he is still in his late 30s and relatively inexperienced. Some of the dominating age-set's other roles are to manage the festival-pageants, bestow awards for good performance on youths, and receive meat pies from prestigious "wetheads," maintaining their high status. The Canela also have a developed judicial system based on inter-extended-family hearings and restitution, not punishment. Most problems surface first during the elders' meetings. These cases are tried at interfamily hearings run by the principals' "uncles." If unresolved, the uncles refer such cases to the chief for binding decisions at tribal hearings.

Social Organization. The kin groups and the political system constitute major aspects of the overall social organization; the tribally based festival-pageants and the kindred-based life-cycle rites constitute important additional aspects. Five great, largely secular festivals and several minor ones involve the following socioceremonial units: five moiety systems, five men's societies, six plaza groups, a high-/low-ceremonial dichotomy (wetheads/dryheads), and numerous matrilineal- or personal-name-based ritual memberships. Because of this complexity, every man has at least six memberships, all of which provide different settings for male cooperation and bonding. The crosscutting nature of these various ties breaks down political oppositions, enhancing communication and inhibiting factionalism. The age-set moiety system provides the most important male membership by far, because it operates daily.

All boys and adolescents spanning ten years are socialized into an age-set for life through four initiation festivals over a ten-year period. The dominating age-set in the council of elders appoints six youths of the age-set being initiated to militarylike positions of leadership over their age-set mates in each festival. These leaders are reselected three different times, mostly for their improving leadership competence. Later, some become competing potential chiefs or the tribal chief. Life-cycle rites unite an individual's kindred. The members of an individual's along-the-circle, parallel-cousin, matrilaterally structured longhouse join the members of the same individual's across-the-circle, cross-cousin, "patrilaterally" structured longhouses to perform the rite for him or her.

Social Control. The principal force controlling a man is the cooperation and pressure of his age-set, whereas the principal force influencing a woman is the approval or criticism of her longhouse female kin. The second most compelling force for both sexes is the favor of individuals of the opposite sex who are sexually available through the extramarital-sex system. Other forces are fear of witchcraft (little operative these days), fear of general slander and gossip (more effective with women), and fear of not being favored by the chief (more effective with men).

Conflict. The village's central plaza is sacred. No direct conflicts or aggressive language should occur there, although subtle competition does. Outside the village, and especially on farms, life is less controlled and moderate factionalism develops. Most judicial hearings focus on marital problems.

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