Clans Determined Loyalties In The Rim Country



When I hear talk of the United States occupying Iraq and establishing an American-type democracy, I think of how many world cultures live by the clan system rather than by majority vote.

It is difficult for us to understand the mentality of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as many in Africa, who live by loyalties to warlords and clans. Yet right here in the Rim country the only way our Army finally subdued the people who lived in a clan-type culture was to kill them or imprison them on reservations and eventually destroy their way of life.

To review the Apache clan system might help understand what the United States is up against in the Middle East.

The Tonto Apache people grouped themselves in families called bands, composed of two to six family clusters. These were extended families each numbering from 100 to more than 700. Each band had control of a well-defined hunting and farming area, and the members knew their territory like the back of their hands. Every place-name had a story that was passed on from generation to generation. Within that area they had power; they were masters of the hunt. If they entered the territory of another band they lost that power. It was not their land, the places did not hold their stories, and they did not know where the elk ran or where the berries grew. They could lose their way.

In times of true hunger they might receive permission to hunt in another band's territory, and when threatened by outside groups they could come together to vigorously defend each other's territory.

Each band had a chief, or headman. He directed the cooperative activities like raiding, food gathering and dealing with other groups.

The children of the band all related as brothers and sisters, though most of them were de facto cousins.

Beyond the band there was the clan, a genetic line that traced back through the mother, and thus the bands were interwoven by blood relationships.

Each Apache belonged to his or her mother's clan, tracing their relationship through the maternal line of ancestors. The line extended back to someone who had established a farm at the clan's legendary place of origin.

Young people would seek a mate from a band other than their own, and from a clan other than his or her mother's clan. Just as the band regulated one's hunting territory and provided for daily subsistence, so the clan served to regulate marriage and prevent inbreeding. No one could marry a member of their mother's clan or one of several related clans, though it was permissible to marry someone of their father's clan.

A boy with an eye on a girl needed to be sure she was from a marriageable clan.

After marriage in this matrilineal social structure, the husband would go to live with his wife's family.

So it was that intense loyalties extended beyond the local band. For example, because of his clan relationship a Tonto Apache could have kin among the White Mountain or Cibecue or Pinal people.

Clan members had mutual responsibility for each other and were obliged to come on summons to defend or avenge one another. They also knew they were liable to suffer the revenge of another tribe for misdeeds by one of their own.

An individual was always conscious that his or her safety and survival rested on being a loyal member of the clan. Thus he or she would carefully weigh actions that might bring revenge from other groups, attacks that would be suffered by one's entire family.

The primary deterrent from attack by others was to have a record of strong defense. If a clan was known for defending its rights and never tolerating the slightest infraction, then the chances were good that others would leave its members alone.

So, to be violent in response to infringements on the rights of a clan member was the key to future survival.

The only possible reason a person or a clan would not defend their rights would be weakness. Weakness or the appearance of weakness was an invitation to invasion, and since survival was always marginal, any invasion could mean death to the band.

Life was lived close to nature's law of survival of the fittest.

The concept of love for enemies, compassion and forgiveness was not even understood, let alone considered.

Not only did the clan lend strength to the local family band, but it also enabled one to travel in the territories of other bands, accepting safe passage, food and lodging. As one met others the clan membership would be the first matter of introduction. Identifying marks also proclaimed one's clan, often subtle such as the width or tilt of a headband, mannerisms, and dress, or the more obvious sign of the clan's sacred animal painted on the body or worn as a fetish.

Among the Western Apaches there were 62 clans, and each member knew that unlimited aid was pledged when needed by another member of their clan.

If the local family was not able to provide for its own needs, whether food or partnership in war, there was this resource to tap beyond the family group.

In the Payson area the clan members are "People of the Yellow Speckled Water," also called "The Place of the Yellow Land" (the T'e'-go'-tsuk clan). T-ehgo-tsudn is a collective description of the area with its predominance of crumbling granite formations.

"People of Nature," variously translated "Place Where the Cedars Came Out To a Point" is the Gat-chea-teen clan. They originated in the area of the Sierra Ancha near Young and Roosevelt.

West of Payson, along the East Verde River, was the origin of the No-go-zukn, translated "Line Scratched in the Earth" or "Crooked Water" people.

Those who originated along Tonto Creek near Gisela are the Si'e-de-gi-‘een' clan, or "A Very Sandy Place" people.

Lands, bands and clans were basic to the Apache life way in Arizona, and to understand this may help us understand other clan-oriented cultures in the Middle East.

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