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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 periodicals archive ?
The two most important symbols of authority and culture in African chiefdoms and kingdoms are the royal stool and the cup.
Here we also find one of the strongest contributions to the volume, archeologist Jay Johnson's "From Chiefdom to Tribe in Northeast Mississippi.
The push from chiefdoms to even larger state-societies did not occur swiftly or irreversibly throughout the world, he says, but early hotbeds of state growth appeared where limited areas of prime farmland prevented vanquished villagers from fleeing to greener pastures.
In the fourteenth century AD, a powerful chiefdom under the paramount Tu'i Tonga line united the islands of Tonga under a centralised authority and, according to tradition, extended its influence to neighbouring island groups in the Central Pacific (Kirch 1984; Geraghty 1994; Neich 2006).
Mexivada works at Kono in concert with the people of the Chiefdoms and with its local partner Pink Diamond Exploration Company Ltd ("Pinks").
Rather, in the chiefdoms, farmsteads, hotels and towns of Fiji significant changes in yaqona's meaning and application have occurred.
After armed Xhosa chiefdoms suffered defeats in wars against colonial invaders and with lung sickness in the early 1850s ravaging cattle, Nongqawuse claimed that Xhosa people were being punished for surrendering to polluting forces.
November 14, 2013 (JUBA) -- South Sudan's deputy chairman of the ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), Riek Machar Teny, has called on the lawmakers to recognise the outcome of the recent unilateral Abyei referendum, saying that was the final decision of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms and should be respected.
Much less strong is his suggested chronology of settlement contemporary with his purported chiefdoms (Chapter 5).
Central Panama has loomed large in the anthropological study of chiefdoms because of the many vivid 16th-century accounts of rich, powerful chiefs encountered by the Spanish Conquistadores.
Past studies, like those by Charles Hudson, have maintained that the Southeast was dominated by a handful of powerful chiefdoms on the advent of European colonization.
The likening of Kanak chiefdoms to feudal kingdoms was undoubtedly, as Douglas (1996:33) has remarked, a 'colonial figure of speech for the unexpected submission of savages to the "absolute" authority of chiefs'.