Matsigenka - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The nuclear-family household is the basic social unit. Each household is virtually self-sufficient, even when aggregated in hamlets of several related households. Wild foods, particularly game and fish, are shared generously within the hamlet, and cross-cousin marriages may tie the hamlet group together over the years, even when households take up separate residence for periods of time. Hamlet dwellers exchange visits, but larger groups are amorphous and unstructured.

Political Organization. The basic rule of political organization is household autonomy. There are no headmen or councils to set policy, and the Matsigenka are notorious for leaving an area when their autonomy is compromised. Traditionally, charismatic leaders and shamans did become centers of loose regional aggregates of households, brought together through beer feasts with meat sharing, singing, and dancing. Today, communities that have schools strive with limited success to overcome individualism. The government supplies a school curriculum that emphasizes Peruvian nationalism and political participation in the nation-state, and these communities register as Native Communities under Peruvian law. The Matsingenka have formed a multicommunity union and an elected council head to deal with oil exploration and other extractive industries moving into their territory.

Social Control. No overarching legal system exists to punish wrongdoing. Gossip and shaming are used to try to prevent serious breaches such as homicide or incest. Individuals who commit such crimes are punished by being ostracized or expelled from the Community. Early socialization and shaming are quite effective in teaching people to control aggressive impulses.

Conflict. Late in the twentieth century, conflict with outside groups is at a minimum. Conflicts within the household and hamlet occur occasionally, usually after drinking at a beer feast. Arguments take the form of verbal fights with limited physical contact. Fights usually result in one or more members leaving the community, either temporarily or for good.

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