Macuna - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Social life among the Macuna is very much structured around the rules of descent and marriage. The traditional residence group inhabiting a maloca was a local descent group. Larger spatial groupings—the former neighborhood and actual village—are based on the interplay between the two principles of descent and marriage alliance, forming closely tied kinship communities.

Political Organization. Macuna society is unstratified and lacks centralized leadership. The conceptual scheme of five specialist roles, polarizing chiefs and servants, provides a hierarchical political ideology that has no counterpart in actual political practice. Every maloca had—and still has—its headman. Sometimes an influential headman gains authority over an entire neighborhood or a larger territorial group. Nevertheless, his authority, which is based on charisma, sacred knowledge, and political skill, remains limited. Status as headman or chief is not hereditary. Authority is acquired, maintained, and displayed principally by sponsoring communal rituals where manioc beer and coca (and occasionally smoked fish and meat and wild forest fruits) are redistributed among participant families. This competitive and informal political organization underscores the egalitarian character of Macuna society; structural inequality is practically limited to relations between sexes and elder and younger brothers. Although men dominate women and elder brothers have authority over younger ones, even these authority relations are essentially expressed in terms of mutual complementarity. Today every village community has an administrative leader ( capitán ). Traditionally, it was the task of the headman to ensure peace and social harmony. Respect for local shamans and the force of tribal norms embedded in religion and kinship relations provided—and still provides—an informal yet highly effective system of social control. Infractions of social norms are believed to result in supernatural sanctions, disease, and misfortune.

Conflict. In the remote past, tribal wars were fought between the Macuna and their traditional enemies; these wars were grounded in cosmological beliefs and apparently had no practical ends such as the acquisition of land, women, or ritual property. Bride-capture was a common source of political conflict as well as a means of expressing it. Today, the competition for political leadership occasionally leads to social conflicts. Unequal distribution of White trade goods and the individualization of the domestic economy tend to create tensions in the village community.

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