Chorote - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The core of traditional Chorote social organization was a system of hierarchical age-grades. The successive grades (children, youths, adults, and elders) had specific roles, obligations, and privileges. The elders regulated and oriented the remaining age-grades. Women occupied a position of relative equality with men. The growing interaction with the regional society has affected the traditional division of labor between the sexes, however, lowering women's influence and status.

Political Organization. Despite a marked tendency toward egalitarianism, political fragmentation, and the autonomy of each domestic group, in ancient times two levels of chieftainship coexisted: a local or band level and a supralocal or subtribal level. Although the office of the first type tended to be hereditary, the election and eventual substitution of supralocal leaders depended on band leaders and the heads of domestic groups. Their decisions in this regard were based on the negotiating ability and warrior prestige of the candidates because this type of leadership tended to define itself in the context of intergroup hostility, which made the candidate's coercive ability a determining factor. Even so, the power of both types of leaders was based more on consensus than on coercion, as indicated by the requirements of equanimity, generosity, and oratorical talent. Permanent interaction with the dominant society slowly undermined traditional chieftainship. Outsiders frequently imposed local leaders, although these were chosen in part for their linguistic skills and their abilities to mediate in economic, political, and/or religious affairs.

Social Control. Traditional Chorote society furthered personal autonomy and offered its members several options for manifesting dissent, making social control quite flexible. Furthermore, by permitting the overt expression of feelings and states of mind—changeable as these might be—the probability of uncontrollable episodes was greatly diminished. Impositions by the dominant society have tended to restrict the variety of stratagems an individual can rely on, making for a more rigid system of social control. Frequent accusations of sorcery are one consequence of the inflexibility of the imposed forms of social control.

Conflict. In aboriginal times interethnic hostilities were the most violent type of conflict and had as their main objective the obtaining of enemy scalps. Scalps and other trophies gave their owners prestige, allowing them to compete for supralocal leadership. Intraethnic fighting expressly excluded scalping and was oriented toward more immediate and profitable objectives like control over fishing sites. Beyond the local group, relations with other Chorote units varied constantly between aggressiveness and alliance. This tendency toward fragmentation reaffirmed the principles of autonomy and local personal initiative. The fragility of internal bonds, together with the persistence of old interethnic rivalry, kept the Chorote from mounting a cohesive resistance movement against invading settlers. In this context, the Chorote formed relatively stable alliances only with the Tapíete and the Nivaclé, opting for occasional coalitions with the Chiriguano, the Toba, and the Mataco. Conflicts over landownership and exploitation of natural resources persist, mainly in the form of disputes between the native population and Creole settlers.

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