Yagua - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Formerly, Yagua society was divided into different groups according to sex and age. Today, the age groups are devoid of particular duties and only their names survive. Women occupy a position of equality with men. The biggest change in the social structure began with the introduction of debt slavery to a patrón in the nineteenth century. From then on the Yagua even adopted their master's surname, changing it every time they changed patrones. In order to counter the effect of this one-way relationship, Yagua families try to tie the patron to them through compadrazgo —the godparent (i.e., fictive) kinship system with its mutual obligations.


Political Organization. Political organization among the Yagua seems to have been weakened during early contact times, and, as a result, each local group formed an independent unit. Within a local group one man, usually the oldest, was regarded as a kind of political chief—the leader of a lineage or lineage segment—and called "master of the communal house." A chief is also sometimes referred to as "the one having two wives"—which might have added to his prestige. In fact, Yagua society underwent such radical changes that our knowledge of traditional leadership is rather scanty. Today, leadership is intimately associated with the system of patronage. The chief is usually bilingual and may even act as an intermediate patron, redistributing goods and representing his group vis-à-vis neighboring groups and governmental institutions. In 1984 some of the Yagua communities joined the neighboring Payawá (Orejón) in a common federation to defend their interests.

Social Control. Gossip, ostracism, ridicule, and social withdrawal have worked as forms of social control. Fear of divine retribution is still an important form of social control among conservative Yagua. Witchcraft and shamanism played an important role, and because of the loss of warlike solutions to aggression, have become even more important.

Conflict. The Yagua were quite warlike in the past. Traditional enemies included the Omagua, the Ticuna, the Mayoruna, and the Witoto. There is evidence of past aggression between Yagua local groups and nonallied clans. The reason for conflict was usually witchcraft or the rape of women. Today, although the Yagua are very peaceful, conflict within the group still occurs because of sorcery and jealousy. Conflicts with the outside world increasingly stem from problems of land tenure, since the Yagua—like other Amazonian natives—are under increasing pressure from the national society.


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