Social and Political Organization. Páez sociopolitical Organization is similar to that of other native highland populations in Colombia because it conforms to the dictates of national Indian legislation. The Páez live in resguardos, the boundaries and historical legitimacy of which are founded on eighteenth-century titles granted to native communities by the Spanish Crown. The cabildo, elected annually, serves as an intermediary between the Colombian government and the native community, administering usufruct rights to communal lands. Eighteenth-century cabildos enjoyed considerably more authority than do their modern counterparts. Cabildo authorities receive no remuneration for their services, and all men are expected to serve at least once in their lifetime. Cabildo members carry staffs of office to identify themselves as community authorities, a Spanish symbol ubiquitous throughout the Andes. Parallel to the cabildo is the capitán, or captain, whose office is hereditary; the capitán organizes communal work projects to maintain bridle paths, churches, cemeteries, and other community holdings.
The Páez resguardo differs from its counterpart in other native communities in its ideological underpinnings. It is based on an oral history that centers around culture heroes and heroines and the chiefs (caciques), who are said to be of supernatural origin and to have saved the Páez from indigenous and European invaders, founded the resguardos in which the Páez live, and then disappeared into highland lakes. The mythic narratives that recount the exploits of the caciques are elaborations upon the Spanish resguardo titles, the contents of which provide a framework for recasting Conquest-era mythology.
Social Control. The cabildo mediates disputes over land. Other areas of social control have been usurped by the non-Páez political authorities appointed by the Colombian government, although until the late twentieth century cabildos still used stocks and whipping to punish minor offenses. Colombian police, mayors, judges, and the army clash frequently with cabildos in struggles over the means of social control.
Conflict. Memories of valiant Páez warriors have led members of the dominant Colombian society to enlist Páez participation in the conflicts of the broader society. The Páez fought in the civil wars that raged throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. Tierradentro has also been a stage for political organizing by the Indians themselves, who recently formed pan-Indian ethnic rights organizations to reclaim land and political autonomy. Because of the success of their agenda, the Páez have become targets in the political violence that characterizes contemporary Colombia.