Pemon - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Heads of settlement are usually the oldest economically active males. Reciprocal visits for beer parties and seeing relatives tie neighborhoods and even whole regions together, and the prestige of a settlement is often gauged by the quality and quantity of manioc beer offered by the hosts. Other than the subordinate role of the son-in-law vis-à-vis his wife's parents, hierarchical relationships outside the domestic unit are based solely on age and personal prestige or special skills.

Political Organization. Regional leaders, called capitanes, (Pemon: epuru ) may wield influence throughout a river valley area. Their leadership is diffuse; they are men who exhort, speak well, and inspire followers, not men who give orders. For the most part, their role lies in defusing conflict before it escalates and also includes being a community representative vis-à-vis non-Pemon. Shamans, both male and female, practice their curing powers and sometimes align themselves with capitanes in disputes. Female and male prophets of the Hallelujah religion and of other syncretistic religious movements have wide followings. The egalitarian nature of Pemon society is everywhere evident. There are severe limits on the building up of power by any one person or group.

Social Control. Overt conflict, anger, and fighting are strongly reproved by the Pemon. Gossip, ridicule, and sometimes ostracism are principal forms of social control. The dispersion of settlements acts in concert with the tendency to avoid interaction between disputants to ensure that the main means of social control is not allowing the conflict to break out in the open in the first place. In extreme cases where sorcery is believed to have been confirmed, an assassination attempt may be mounted against the wrongdoer, or the wrongdoer is put on notice not to return to a given river valley area. Homicide is very rare. It is difficult to gather people for vengeance against the perpetrator, who generally flees the territory and does not return. Pemon say trouble occurs over women and false gossip. Sorcery accusations can be leveled when serious or widespread illness strikes a settlement or neighborhood. The basic response of the Pemon to conflict is to withdraw from the conflict situation, often by taking an extended visit to relatives living elsewhere and waiting for things to calm down. Individuals who get in fights at beer parties are quickly labeled as angry men and are avoided by all. Venezuelan police and courts are not much in evidence outside of border towns and diamond mines. The Pemon, for the most part, have little recourse to them except in cases involving disputes with criollo miners. Missionaries may be called upon occasionally to discuss conflicts, but most mediation is done directly by heads of settlement or capitanes.

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