Guajiro - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The dominant functional units of Guajiro society are the groups of apiishi, the matrilineal relatives in the strict sense.

Political Organization. One or several groups of apüshi, in general not localized, can recognize a dominant male figure, an alaüla, a term that designates a maternal uncle, an "elder," and, by extension, a "chief." In fact, the alaüla of a matrilineage functions in all three capacities. He is the keeper of "Guajiro custom" ( sükuaitpa wayuu ). The group to which he gives coherence is an economic unit. All of its members contribute to the payment of compensation for a misdeed caused on the outside by one of its members, to members' burial costs, and to the bride-price obligations of male members. In theory, the office of alaüla is inherited by one of the sons of the former's eldest sister, or failing that, by the most competent of his uterine relatives. In fact, situations of conflict among the constituent lineages can arise. The alaiila from the minimal lineage that considers itself the most wealthy can lay claim to the office, and fission can result.

Social Control. An alaüla is responsible for maintaining daily order in the domestic unit in which he resides.

Conflict. Serious offenses (homicide, body wounds) committed against members of different lineages are no longer, as formerly, subject to retaliation. Theoretically, there is always a way to arrive at a peaceful settlement. Each person who has suffered a wrong ( aainjala ) is a victim ( asirü ). The dispute ( putchi ) is submitted to a go-between ( pütchipu, püchejachi, or often an alaüla), chosen by lineages in conflict and considered neutral. The dispute is settled by the payment of compensation ( maüna ) consisting of livestock, jewels, and money. The sum is accumulated by the lineage of the wrongdoer ( womuyu ) and remitted to the victim's familial group. The amount paid depends on the recognized worth of the victim, that is to say on the status of the victim's lineage. On the other hand, Guajiro history shows that if the groups in conflict are unequal, the stronger can refuse all mediation in order to appropriate the weaker's assets and capture and enslave certain of its members.

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