Canelos Quichua - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally, it is reported, men dominated women; today strong male-female egalitarianism is characteristic. The yachaj, "one who knows" or shaman, was and is the apex of any three-generational kinship-territorial system. Traditionally, such shamans were themselves the connecting links between the indigenous, dispersed, egalitarian social order and the hierarchical order that placed indigenous people on the bottom, which was characteristic of church and state. Today it is sons-in-law or sons of powerful shamans who have become the cultural brokers, but the modern structure of relationships is a transformation of the traditional. Every minimal territory is organized as a habitat distribution based on kinship and marriage patterns leading to cooperation in swidden-garden allocation (including ample room for forest fallow). The same people of the dispersed habitat and its traditional upper Amazonian organization are incorporated into hamlets that are based in part on the maintenance of hierarchical relationships with dominating governmental, educational, political, and religious personnel.

The structure of social relations is at the same time egalitarian and hierarchical. It is part of a regional organization that may be understood by reference to a fivegenerational model of cultural-ethnic-linguistic identity extending through the dispersed rain-forest settlements to urban Puyo, and includes marriage interchanges among Canelos Quichua, Napo Quichua, Achuar, and Zaparoan peoples through time and across space. In its nucleated dimensions the hamlet replicates features of the national political economy, including a structure of internal ethnicity reflecting divisions of Black, Indian, White, and many variants.

Political Organization. Comunas operate with an elected cabildo (governing board) or directiva, consisting of five officers. The Catholic clergy sporadically dominated many political organizations through the colonial varayuj system, wherein staffs of authority are passed out to four or five indigenous political officers who then serve as liaison to the church and, through the church, to the Ecuadoran nation-state. In some areas, U.S. Protestant evangelists have taken over the role of domination, trying to work with indigenous "leaders" contacted through bilingual school systems that they (the evangelists) introduced. In 1976-1978 polarized indigenous organizations began to form: on one side were anti-Protestant, antigovernment secular movements; on the other side were proevangelical and progovernment ones. By the late 1980s a set of confederations had emerged that extended downward from the national indigenous organization in Quito to the Confederation of Amazonian Organizations housed near Puyo on the edge of Comuna San Jacinto territory, to the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza Province (OPIP).

In the early 1980s OPIP was charged by the governor of Pastaza Province with responsibility to speak politically for all the peoples of that province. Since 1988 OPIP has allied closely with Socialist and pro-Socialist parties and with the Catholic church in violent antagonism to other religious organizations and against the national bureaucracy and dominant political party of the president of the republic. Tensions manifest in the national political economy were replicated in the 1980s within OPIP, and many rival organizations of various political and religious persuasions now exist.

Social Control. Gossip, face-to-face public encounters, and social withdrawal (as with the periodic treks to distant swiddens) are ordinary mechanisms of traditional social control. A more powerful mechanism is shamanism and the accusation of shamanic activity. Outright killing of powerful shamans by small groups, and the threat of such killing, may have curtailed shamanic activity or kept it partially in check. Religious figures are often asked to resolve "manageable disputes." By the 1980s not only were police asked to exercise social control between members of rival political-economic organizations, but even the military has been called in on some occasions. Lawsuits filed by indigenous people involve accusations of murder and cattle theft, boundary disputes with encroaching colonists, and witchcraft.

Conflict. Shamanism, accusation of shamanic activity, killing, and the accusation of killing, or hiring a killer constitute traditional sources of fission. No two families or kindreds can be on both sides of a shamanic or killing vendetta. Added to the traditional domains of conflict are new causes of struggle: control of land, control over sectors of the political economy and indigenous activity, religious control, and struggles engendered by rival indigenous organizations in alliance with extraneous forces.

In 1990 some Canelos Quichua participated in a nationwide indigenous uprising ( levantamiento indígena ). In April-May of 1992 representatives of Canelos Quichua culture led a march from Puyo to Quito and staged a camp-out in a major park of the capital to demand legalization of their territory, as well as that of the Achuar and Shiwiar. The march and camp-out had clear millenarian dimensions and resulted in large-scale land transfers from the nation-state to indigenous organizations of Pastaza Province.

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