Waimiri-Atroari - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. In the past, the mature and older men who had large families and were skilled at hunting and fishing exercised most political influence. Shamans, who had knowledge of songs, ritual chants, and herbal medicines and who were skilled at mediating between spirits, also had prestige. Women influenced their fathers', husbands', and sons' opinions in political matters. FUNAI has imposed a political structure on the Waimiri-Atroari, appointing young captains who represent the power and coercion of the national government but who have little authority themselves. The older men have been discredited and their status and influence undermined.

Political Organization. Communities are linked by kinship, marriage, and by the FUNAI posts to which they are designated. Attempts to organize communities at a tribal level were at first unsuccessful. The Waimiri-Atroari Program has promoted more interaction between communities, especially among the younger people, providing more motorboats and motor vehicles.

Social Control. Rules for conduct between categories of kin are recognized. The relationship between a man and his parents-in-law demands respect, especially if they are from another village. Serious disputes typically lead factions to leave the village and form another settlement. In the past disputes sometimes led to violence, but it has been suppressed in recent years by government officials. Illness was usually attributed to sorcery, with accusations of sorcery directed at distant villages.

Conflict. The Waimiri-Atroari say that they formerly conducted occasional raids in distant villages to obtain wives. Documents from the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth reveal a long history of interethnic conflicts, punitive expeditions organized by local governments and traders in forest products, and massacres carried out by members of the regional population. The Indians defended themselves, attacking people who invaded their territory. During the construction of the BR-174 highway in the early 1970s, the mass deaths resulting from epidemics destroyed the Indians' network of villages, leading the survivors from scattered villages to unite in trying to repel the invaders. From 1978 on, some young WaimiriAtroari came to live at the FUNAI Indian posts, where they were confronted with a way of life completely different from their traditional one. In the following years these young men were sent by FUNAI workers to bring the other Waimiri-Atroari to live in the government-administered settlements.

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