Maká - Sociopolitical Organization

Until they were united as a people in Asunción, the Maká grouped together in tribes, that is, in groups of allied nomadic bands that shared a territory and remained together more or less permanently. Many times in their history Maká bands integrated members of various tribes.

Social Organization. The social fabric is based on an institution of potential kinship. There are men who, although not of recognized genealogical kinship, maintain a privileged relationship that includes reciprocal services. The wajká ("friends") live near one another; they share game when hunting and formerly shared the hazards of war. Each organizes ceremonies that pertain to his partner's family. This relationship is hereditary (normally it passes to the firstborn son). It ends only when marriage results in actual kinship, in which case the obligations that correspond to this institution are replaced by those typical of affinal kinship.

Political Organization. Families were traditionally headed by adult males whose ranked relationship with one another was determined by their fighting ability, that is, by the scalps they had obtained, and by their oratorical skill, which played a decisive role in social control. In periodic skirmishes between allied bands, rank between warriors was actualized in drinking ceremonies in which each warrior related his deeds. In this way, preeminence was established and tribal leadership determined. In modern times, oratorical skill has in great measure taken the place of warrior prestige. It has been reformulated as the ability to speak Guaraní and Spanish, which is a stipulation of present-day rank in negotiations with Paraguayan society at large. Ancient forms of leadership have not been completely abandoned, however, even though the last scalps were obtained during the Chaco War. This continuation of past practices is made possible through the mechanism of inheriting warrior power, especially through songs that symbolize the scalps taken.

Social Control. Social control is exerted by leaders through counsel they render in a special and characteristic style of discourse. Fear of witchcraft and gossip limit individual action, imposing respect for generally recognized values and regulations.

Conflict. Each adult Maká male, who even today in some way considers himself a warrior, can physically intervene to defend the rights of his relatives. Murders of shamans accused of witchcraft still occur. Blood feuds and other conflicts mark lines of tension that show a permanent tendency to fission in this society that has been somewhat arbitrarily unified. Traditional Maká society was centered mainly on war. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it, together with groups of other equestrian nomads, integrated the hordes of roaming peoples who kept the Spanish frontiers of the Gran Chaco in check. But even among these allied tribes, war was not infrequent.

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