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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 ?
It is well," replied Gahan; "but where is their Chief, and where the two Princesses?
Whether the hint thrown out in the latter part of the speech had any effect, or whether the old chief acted from the hospitable feelings which, according to the captain, are really inherent in the Nez Perce tribe, he certainly showed no disposition to relax his friendship on learning the destitute circumstances of his guests.
The chief justice stepped cautiously, and shuddered, as if he were afraid that, even now, the gore of his slaughtered countrymen might stain his feet.
Furthermore, Chief Inspector Heat was conscious of not having mended matters by allowing himself to express a conviction.
The chief, a wicked-looking fellow with the sharp-filed teeth that often denote the cannibal, received him with apparent friendliness.
Because it is ladylike and proper," replied the Chief.
The chief of police, who was present to see that everything was in order, put several questions to the purveyor, who told him the whole story of the death of the hunchback, and how he had carried the body to the place where it had been found by the Christian merchant.
It would be vain to seek in the whole of New Zealand a person with the face and mien of the old Tahitian chief Utamme.
They landed amidst a rabble crowd, and were received on the bank by the left-handed chief, who conducted them into the village with grave courtesy; driving to the right and left the swarms of old squaws, imp-like boys, and vagabond dogs, with which the place abounded.
He is the chief over all islands, all villages, all passes," John Starhurst answered solemnly.
Just at the time Prince Andrew was living unoccupied at Drissa, Shishkov, the Secretary of State and one of the chief representatives of this party, wrote a letter to the Emperor which Arakcheev and Balashev agreed to sign.
Every one kept away from him, even his Chief Steward Kaliko.