Terena - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Terena society traditionally featured two strata-— naati and waherê-txané. The naati were the chiefs and their kin, whereas the waherê-txané were the common people. There also was a third layer, kauti, made up of individuals from other ethnicities absorbed into the Terena society. The term "kauti" comes from the Portuguese word cativo (captive). Each local Terena group had a "chief of the people" and a "war chief." The latter was selected from members of the social group called xuna-xati if he displayed great military ability; consequently the existence of the xuna-xati group also provided a mechanism for social climbing. When the SPI established the indigenous reserves, administration of the villages fell to their appointee. At present there is an administrator for each indigenous post, appointed by FUNAI. As a result the head of the community has the scope of his activities restricted to handling the internal problems of the village. This person, called capitão (Portuguese for "captain," designating a military rank) is elected by the community. One institution that resisted historic and cultural change is the Council of Elders. The community's older prestigious men take part in this council.

Political Organization. Present-day forms of political activity in Terena villages consist of electing Terena representatives to the government's political institutions. Terena Indians are serving as elected aldermen in the municipal chambers of towns adjacent to their villages. This adds a local political dimension to the national level of the Union of Indigenous Nations (UNI). Political expression is still limited, however, since Brazil's indigenous populations are wards of FUNAI, the governmental agency that holds decision-making power in indigenous matters.

Social Control. The village Council of the Elders is the most important institution for exercising social control in Terena communities. Family problems in the villages are discussed by the council, which often has the power to rule on a range of internal community matters.

Conflict. While still in the Chaco, the Terena had frequent conflicts with the Ylái and Yúaeno (cited in the ethnography of the period). After migrating to Brazilian territory, the Terena did not get involved in conflicts either with the regional population or with other tribal groups. Nonetheless, when the Brazil-Paraguay War started in the second half of the nineteenth century, all the Terena villages were destroyed and Terena were recruited to bolster the ranks of the Brazilian army. It was only in 1910, when the SPI was created and the Terena reservations were set up in the southern part of Mato Grosso, that the Terena population could once again organize into communities.


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