chief

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chief

or

chieftain,

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.

Bibliography

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 ?
The match was an unimportant one, being but to settle some petty dispute between two chiefs, and was played with professional jetan players for points only.
The chiefs then came forward successively, according to their respective characters and consequence, to offer the hand of good fellowship; each filing off when he had shaken hands, to make way for his successor.
After the main discussion was ended, several of the chiefs took the opportunity of asking Captain Fitz Roy many intelligent questions on international customs and laws, relating to the treatment of ships and foreigners.
He came on behalf of his companions, to arrange the manner of making their entrance into the village and of receiving the chiefs; for everything of the kind is a matter of grave ceremonial among the Indians.
Natheless the chiefs drove a handsome trade in thus disposing of their surplus live meat.
After a suitable and decent pause, the principal chiefs arose, and, approaching the patriarch, they placed his hands reverently on their heads, seeming to entreat a blessing.
My lords and Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas, I have brought with me these men," pointing to the row of chiefs, "who are great men among us, having each one of them the command of three thousand soldiers, that live but to do their bidding, under the king's.
Old Chief Justice Oliver threw on his red cloak, and placed his three- cornered hat on the top of his white wig.
Chief Inspector Heat had had a disagreeably busy day since his department received the first telegram from Greenwich a little before eleven in the morning.
From the chief he learned that Rokoff had passed up the river a week previous, and that he had horns growing from his forehead, and was accompanied by a thousand devils.
The streets of this city were not paved nor had any attempt been made to beautify the houses or their surroundings, and having noticed this condition Scraps was astonished when the Chief ushered her into his home.
The merchant was still pondering on this subject when he was summoned before the chief of police and questioned about his crime, which he could not deny.