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political leader of a band, tribe, or confederation of tribes. At the simpler levels of social organization, the band or tribe usually lacks centralized authority and is ruled by the totality of adult males or of family or clanclan,
social group based on actual or alleged unilineal descent from a common ancestor. Such groups have been known in all parts of the world and include some that claim the parentage or special protection of an animal, plant, or other object (see totem).
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 heads. Sometimes a temporary headman is chosen for a special occasion such as a hunting or war party. When authority is concentrated in one individual on a more permanent basis, the chief may have limited functions, such as the organization and supervision of work parties, religious ceremonies, the collection and distribution of goods, or service as a war leader. A community may possess several chiefs among whom various functions are divided. Chieftainship may be achieved through inherent qualities of leadership, through the display of powers considered supernatural (see shamanshaman
, religious practitioner in various, generally small-scale societies who is believed to be able to diagnose, cure, and sometimes cause illness because of a special relationship with, or control over, spirits.
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), through rank or wealth, or through hereditary succession. The power of chiefs is usually checked by custom and by kinship allegiances. The term chiefdom is sometimes used in political anthropology to designate a particular degree of social organization, intermediate between tribe and state.


See L. P. Mair, Primitive Government (2d ed. 1964); M. Fried, The Evolution of Political Society (1967); M. Sahlins, Tribesmen (1968); E. Service, Primitive Social Organization (2d ed. 1971).

References in classic literature ?
Out of the popular ballads, or, chiefly, of the minstrel poetry which is partly based on them, regularly develops epic poetry.
The center of the warriors' life is the great hall of the king, built chiefly of timber.
There is still other Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry, generally akin in subjects to Cynewulf's, but in most of the poetry of the whole period the excellence results chiefly from the survival of the old pagan spirit which distinguishes 'Beowulf'.
His most enduring literary work, however, was the inspiration and possibly partial authorship of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,' a series of annals beginning with the Christian era, kept at various monasteries, and recording year by year (down to two centuries and a half after Alfred's own death), the most important events of history, chiefly that of England.
4 per cent in manufactured goods, classified chiefly by material and 7.
Cowell claims he's chiefly responsible for raising awareness of the country's up and coming singers.
The investigation by the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) came after several investigative reports, chiefly by the Miami Herald, revealed the company's ties to the Chavez regime.
The referendum was supported chiefly by the governing Socialists who claim 10,000 women are treated annually for complications following illegal abortions (regarding such claims, see letter on page 6).
Thailand is the largest steel market among ASEAN member countries, with good prospects for future growth chiefly in high value added steels for automotive, home-appliance, OA and other such uses.
There were 155 responses, more than one-quarter of which were from outside North America, chiefly from Asia.
The act was introduced in 2000 chiefly as a measure to fight the trade in sex workers abroad; a reauthorization in 2003 had the same goal.
Moreover, all of the sons of a chief could make claim to being "inkosi" by striking out on their own and emphasizing their chiefly descent.