Chiriguano - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Chiriguano society was organized on the basis of the maloca, followed by the tenda (village) and the guara (a group of villages). Each local group was a homogenous entity, with no internal division, but there was specialization by sex, age, and kinship position. Some groups were wealthier and more powerful than others. The maloca was under the authority of a head of household or family group. Chiriguano society conferred status on a group of men known as the queremba, who were specialized warriors. They enjoyed greater privileges and prestige, as did shamans and leaders. As a rule, they did not participate in political affairs. Although some women are known to have been leaders, women in general were preoccupied with household and economic activities. Institutionalized slavery began with the domination of the Chane.

Political Organization. Chiriguano society continues to maintain a strong political organization based on the traditional system. Single Chiriguano towns were under the leadership of a mburuvicha or tubicha (chief), whereas a group of several villages was governed by a mburuvicha guasu or tubicha mburuvicha (paramount chief). The specific characteristic of this system is that the chiefs do not hold the power of coercion; they cannot give orders, make decisions, or compel people to obey. Instead, all the men of the village or group of villages must take decisions together in an assembly. The principal role of the chief was as peace mediator, gift giver, and orator. The present political system of the Chiriguano is known as the capitanía (capitán in Spanish means "captain"). The capitanía is a well-structured organization, composed of chiefs, advisers, and mayors. Chiriguano chiefs must acquiesce to the demands of the people, and they are well known in Chiriguano history for their struggle to obtain land titles and other benefits for the communities. The position of the mburuvicha guasu is patrilineally inherited. The local chiefs are democratically elected by the community. If a chief does not fulfill his obligations, he may be discharged from his position.

Social Control. Gossip, ostracism, social withdrawal, and eschewing face-to-face conflict have always been important forms of social control. Witchcraft continues to be practiced in Chiriguano society, and fear of witchcraft remains a powerful form of social control. The political organization of the Chiriguano acts as a judicial system: it judges and applies sanctions in cases of breach of the law (e.g., robbery, gossip, invasion of lands). Federal courts intervene in cases such as homicides.

Conflict. The major source of conflict in Chiriguano society has been their relations with White settlers. Some Chiriguano joined the missions and others worked for the White settlers, but another group waged a permanent war. Conflicts over land as well as labor exploitation persist. The introduction of evangelical sects in the Chiriguano communities since the beginning of the nineteenth century is a source of division between evangelists and Catholics. The Catholics are traditionalists and want to maintain the traditional beliefs and religious festivities and support the shamans. Conflicts regarding traditional and political matters are frequent.

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