Palikur - Sociopolitical Organization

Social stratification has always been lacking in Palikur society, not only within the clans but within society at large. The oldest men were and still are respected, however, and their advice is sought on special occasions. Members of other ethnic groups that incorporated into Palikur society participate fully in tribal life, except in those rituals that are restricted to clan units.

Political Organization. In the past, chieftainship was generally held by the oldest men, who were chosen on the basis of their capability and popularity rather than by heredity. A short spear (or scepter) was the only outer distinguishing mark of chiefs. Later, the French administration began to confer military privileges and uniforms, which are still used, on the chiefs on the Urucauá. The SPI continued conferring privileges on indigenous leaders, whose prestige, however, was always slight because real authority was exercised by the official administration. Nowadays, chieftainship is vested in the religious leaders of the Pentecostal church.

Social Control. Supernatural powers always directed the fate of the Palikur, be it in situations of danger, in social happenings, or in economic activities. The influence of the Catholic church was only evident in baptism, marriage, and compadrazgo. Nowadays, however, Pentecostal pastors who belong to the individual local groups exercise strong control over the behavior of their members, including their smoking and drinking habits.

Conflict. There were conflicts caused by mutual distrust of individuals and families and by malevolent shamans and sorcerers. Past wars between the Palikur and the Galibí have had no lasting negative effect on present-day intertribal relations. Open hostility, to which the Portuguese had subjected the Palikur and which had reflected on their relationship with Brazilians, no longer exists thanks to the acceptance by the Palikur of religious ideas promulgated by the Pentecostal church.

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