Sirionó - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The chief of a local group enjoys high social status. He is elected to office during a drinking feast and is chosen because of his virtues as a hunter and as a fighter against Ayoreo and Whites. During hunting parties, he has to distinguish himself as a man of stamina and of excellent knowledge of the forest and the savanna, of animals and their habits, of the directions to be followed, and a whole complex of attaining practices. The status of the chief was formerly transferable, as was that of his wife, who performed the chiefly functions among the women.

Political Organization. The Sirionó distinguish between different groups of members of the local community. The first group is comprised of the children of both sexes. Then there are the young adolescents, the young people of marriageable age, and the adults. There are special terms for mothers with families and old people of both sexes. Only men and women who have gone through the initiation ceremony and have several children are exempt from food taboos and various other prohibitions.

Social Control. Carrying out justice and imposing sanctions on criminals are the responsibilities of the chief or some older person designated by him. Punishment is actually meted out by old men and women before all the members of the community. Actions that are considered criminal include homicide, adultery, the violation of food taboos, slander, and gossip.

Conflict. Among the Sirionó, war took on a different character depending on the adversary. With the much-feared Ayoreo, conflict was limited to defense, which in many cases ended with the Sirionó fleeing. Some chiefs fought the invaders until they either vanquished them or died under their clubs. Conflict with Whites was limited to surprise attacks carried out for the purpose of appropriating some of their iron tools.

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