Piaroa - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The highest mark of status in traditional society is conferred on the curing shamans. It is an office based on the acquired ability to sing the sacred songs or chants and show good results in curing sickness or protecting one's close kin from supernatural danger. In the acculturated communities a leadership role falls more to those who have a strategic relationship with White society—schoolteachers, nurses, and other salaried government employees. The major difference between past and present conceptions of rank is that the high status once reserved for the elderly bearers of cultural tradition is now given to the young and acculturated.

Political Organization. All house groups have a leader or chief, the isoderua, who also must be a capable shaman. Under his leadership the local group is largely autonomous in economic and political affairs. Interhouse alliances do form temporarily within a limited territory, however, usually linking a neighborhood of households in trade, marriage, and religious matters. Such alliances center around a highly respected shaman who provides curing and spiritual protection and sponsors the semiannual sãr (fermented manioc beverage) ceremonies that bring together members of all the territory. The modern nucleated communities are also basically autonomous, each having their capitán (captain) and/or commissary. Following the first Piaroa congress of 1984, a tribewide political body has been taking shape, consisting of a council of consensually elected representatives from seven districts: Parguaza, Cataniapo, Sipapo, middle Orinoco, upper Orinoco, Ventuari, and Manapiari.

Social Control. Control of temperament is considered the mark of a powerful man. In general, the Piaroa are very pacific in all aspects of life. Fear of black witchcraft and magical revenge as well as easy migration are the principal mechanisms regulating asocial behavior. Other means of control include gossip and avoidance. In the acculturated towns, alcohol consumption combined with underemployment and erosion of traditional values is the source of problematic behavior by young men, including domestic quarrels or even suicides.

Conflict. Personal conflicts between individuals or families within a community are defused by fission from the local group. A modern wedge of greater social impact is the virtual segregation of the tribe into evangelical Christian and traditional, non-Christian sectors. Most communities tend to follow one or the other faith, with little mixing between them.

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