Suruí - Sociopolitical Organization

The Suruí community is made up of groups or clans. Long before contact with Whites, these clans lived in separate villages and intermarried. Today the struggle for land and Indian rights has accentuated cohesiveness.

Social Organization. The Suruí are divided into halves or moieties, the forest half and the farming or harvest half. The two moieties exchange wives and possessions and cooperate in the work of farming and hunting. A Suruí belongs to one or the other moiety depending on his or her position in the system of kinship. A man always has brothers-in-law in the opposite moiety. During the many months of the dry season, the forest moiety camps in the forest to prepare gifts that it will give the farming moiety at the end of a period of collective sowing or clearing of forest. The latter is performed as a ritual, in which the forest moiety does all the work and receives in exchange food, drink, and celebration from the farming moiety. Every so often the farming moiety changes places with the forest moiety. This mutual help or cooperative labor system, in which the entire forest moiety does all the sowing or clearing work for one of the plots farmed by the harvest moiety, is one example of community rather than siblings collaboration. In addition to this general cooperation, brothers and brothers-in-law have the obligation to help each other.

Political Organization. The Suruí have a diffuse system of government. There are many headmen representing the various clans and villages. Those with the most brothers, brothers-in-law, and fathers-in-law are the most powerful. There are also ceremonial chiefs for collective work. In the late twentieth century, there has been a recent tendency to elect young headmen who speak better Portuguese and are more effective in mediating relations with the Brazilian government and with the towns.

Conflict. The Suruí have a tradition of being fearsome warriors, and they tell stories of cannibalism in remote times. Their fiercest enemies used to be the Zoró, their neighbors; in 1978 they killed a Zoró family in revenge for earlier killings. Since then they have channeled their warring instincts mainly toward the fight for their land rather than toward fighting other Indians. In 1988, during an expedition of various tribes to the Aripuanã Park, a Suruí was murdered by gold diggers and lumber merchants while he was defending the territory of his former enemies, the Zoró.

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