Chamacoco - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Formerly, the clan (which regulated incest, affiliation, and various interchanges) and the age groups (which governed enculturation, provision of food to the old by the young, and conjugal access of young men to the daughters of the old in compensation for their alimentary services) were the axes of the Chamacoco social system. Although maximum symbolic prestige was attributed to the men, especially the elderly, in practice the power of the women could not be ignored. Contact with the Kadiwéu introduced the serfdom of war captives, but mixed marriages tended to make the captives equal to the Chamacoco. Nor did the superabundance of mestizos born of irregular unions of indigenous women with White men generate a different class.

Political Organization. Aside from a "strong" chief and a "weak" chief whose attributes were largely symbolic, the villages had military leaders ( mpolóta ), economic leaders ( nehniúrt ) and religious leaders ( ahnéert ). Their powers, derived from personal prestige, were not coactive. Sometimes paramount chiefs were recognized, thus loosely unifying the different dialectal groups that divided the Chamacoco. Later, political power was founded on connective mechanisms (linguistic and technical) established with Paraguayan authorities and colonists. In the late twentieth century, with the multiplication of economic, religious, Indianist, and political networks in conflict among themselves, group factionalism has increased together with its concomitant fission and fusion processes.

Social Control. Formerly, social control was an essential responsibility of the tobich (men's secret society), which penalized severely, frequently with the death penalty, the incorrigibles and the serious violators of tribal ethics (those who committed homicide or infractions of the dietary rules, showed disrespect to the elderly, or revealed the secret rituals to women). Lighter cases involved banishment, isolation of the guilty, or public mocking. Dread of sorcery and the pitfalls of giving in to women also influenced the regulation of conduct. The disappearance of the tobich opened a juridical hiatus, which has not been satisfactorily filled by Western institutions.

Conflict. Mythology and narratives reveal the existence of structural conflicts—for example those between men and women and between the elderly and the young—in traditional Chamacoco society. Factors involved in such conflicts include the asymmetry between the symbolic masculine role and the feminine economic role and the excessive rigor with which young men are treated during initiation. There is also evidence of the practice of ritual homicide of women and of the occurrence of rebellions and migrations of young people tired of maltreatment by the elderly. Hostility toward ethnic exogroups alternated with tendencies toward interchange and alliance, particularly with respect to Whites. At present, the principal lines of conflict, although related to the processes of acculturation, are all internal. Thus, a strong competition exists between a faction of modern agriculturists who nevertheless strive to revive traditional customs and values, and members of another faction who cling to traditional, albeit commercialized, hunting practices while at the same time demonstrating profound depreciation of the customs of their forebears.

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