Cotopaxi Quichua - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Social stratification within the community is diffusely defined but evident; some families are large, wealthy, and influential, whereas others are not. The word huaccha, "orphan," used in many contexts to refer to those who have no special power, expressed clearly the local sense that both material wealth and a human network are necessary for social success. Although the coresident extended family is clearly the primary social group, also important are the network of ties between these groups, usually defined either by blood or fictive kinship.

Political Organization. Political organization may be defined according to participation in the formai structures of power, set up by the government or the Catholic church (or in a few areas by evangelical churches), in which case it must be said to be extremely weak, with only a few families very actively involved. Much political activity in this rural and decentralized society centers around relationships either within or between families, however, which, while they do not involve formal political roles and do not directly affect the lives of all inhabitants of the area, nevertheless do involve a great many people directly and indirectly and are the subject of the liveliest interest.

A third realm of political activity, interrelated with both formal and informal politics, arises through the annual fiesta cycles. Each fiesta requires sponsors, and the sponsors activate their entire social network to put on a performance designed to enhance the prominence of the sponsors and thus the status of their network of kin and friends.

Social Control. The area has no formal means of social control: there is no police station, no jail, and no judicial system. When a thief or a murderer is to be brought to justice, the only available sanctions are execution by the victim's family or the bodily removal of the perpetrator to the provincial capital, several hours away by bus. Since this process involves the entire family of the victim fighting the family of the perpetrator long enough to arrive at the police station, it may end in violence or escape before the formal legal system is able to intervene.

Few outsiders will intervene when violence erupts within the family; negative gossip is the only censure in this case. As in many face-to-face societies, however, gossip is a strong force in controlling behavior and is, in fact, the most frequently applied sanction in all cases.

Conflict. Although the network of relationships that bind people together is the strongest force holding the community together, equally strong are the deep enmities that develop between families. Hostilities between groups quickly pull in others, who must declare their allegiance, and thus can polarize entire comunas. The first stage is gossip that accumulates force and spreads through families and neighborhoods; next come public confrontations on roads or footpaths or at public gatherings such as fiestas; these may escalate into public fights in which concerned onlookers either pull the combatants apart or join in the fray themselves. At this point, the conflict either returns to the level of grumbling and gossip and gradually ceases to arouse much attention, or it may escalate into a general confrontation that involves dozens or even, eventually, hundreds of people. The latter occurs only when local, kinbased problems become intermixed with national politics or with political issues that concern the entire population, such as agrarian reform, Catholic-Protestant conflicts, or national elections.

More salient in most people's lives are conflicts within the family. The most common conflicts are between spouses, between parents and children, and between siblings. Husband-wife conflicts differ in severity depending on whether the coresident family defuses or exacerbates the problem; it is common for drunken husbands to strike their wives, but if the family immediately and strongly censures this behavior, it becomes infrequent and not life threatening, whereas in other households women sustain horrible injuries and may in fact die at their husbands' hands. Women also use physical aggression to express their anger, and groups of women in a family sometimes band together to beat up an abusive husband—usually in cases where residence is matrilocal.

Conflicts between siblings or between parents and adult children are almost always over two issues: splitting the residence unit or dividing the inheritance. The latter issue is especially disruptive and occasionally leads to violent death; more commonly, family members spend untold sums in lengthy legal battles that may end up consuming much of the family's resources.


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