Shipibo - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally, Shipibo society was egalitarian, with the male heads of the largest families exercising the most influence. The men with the highest status were the ones with the most wives or those who were respected for their oratorical skills, knowledge of herbal medicines, or hunting and fishing abilities. Although men are more active in political matters, women often exercise their will in private by influencing the opinions of their fathers and husbands. The Peruvian government has imposed a political structure on the Shipibo, but these elected positions carry little authority. These tend to be filled by younger men who speak Spanish, and this has begun to undermine the status and influence traditionally wielded by elders.

Political Organization. Communities are linked primarily by kinship and marriage, although the establishment of bilingual schools in many communities has linked them to administrative centers. Some attempts have been made to organize communities at a tribal level by creating artisan guilds and a Shipibo federation. Distance and lack of communication between villages, however, have made these organizations largely ineffective.

Social Control. Rules for proper conduct between classes of kin are recognized. One such relationship that demands extreme respect is that between a man and his in-laws. Tempers sometimes flare but kin usually intervene before disputes escalate to violence. Acts of infidelity and wife abuse occur; however, such behavior is met with social disapproval and the offender comes to know the power of public censorship. In the past grievances between men were often aired in public drinking ceremonies and settled with duels. Although these rarely resulted in fatal injury, the use of knives and clubs has all but disappeared under the influence of missionaries and government officials. Sometimes those who become ill after social misconduct are thought to have become the targets of male or female witches acting on behalf of the offended person.

Conflict. Wars and raids on neighboring Cashibo and Shipibo for wives and slaves were common, and placenames often refer to great battles that were fought there. First contacts with soldiers and Catholic missionaries created tensions that resulted in numerous attacks on missions in the seventeenth century, sometimes after the Shipibo formed alliances with other groups like the Cocama. After several massacres, missionaries ceased activities in the area until the mid-eighteenth century when, once again, Shipibo insurrection resulted in the destruction of a mission. It was not until almost the beginning of the nineteenth century that Catholic missionaries were able to establish a permanent presence; Protestant missionaries entered the region around 1930.

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