The social structure of a chiefdom is defined as a hierarchical way of living where some people have got great access to wealth, status, and even authority and power. Authority in this case is more limited to the people at the top and they are the ones who determine the way their subjects are going to live. A case in point is when Hawaiian, Tahitians and Trobrianders chiefdoms are considered. The authority of the chief was held in very high esteem and the subjects had no choice but to be under the chief (Kirch 111). Using the Hawaiian chiefdom as an example, one will get to understand that the social structure of the chiefdom happens to be more of a caste system where there were people who were royals and at the top while there were those of lesser classes who were inferior to the royal families.
At the very apex of the social structure of the Hawaiian chiefdom was the ali’i. This rank or class of people was made up of district chiefs and their families. The chiefs were also gotten from the high and lesser social class. The ali’i was made up of chiefs and their families. It was the second highest ranking group and their first born sons or daughters inherited the social status of their father. At the very top were paramount chiefs and district chiefs who were carried around in litters (Cultural Anthropology 244). The power of ali’i was believed to come from a superior being called mana. In the next rank was the Kahuna. This was the priestly class of people who were consisting of the priesthood who tended the temples. They conducted religious activities throughout the villages. This class also consisted of scientists and those people who were exceptional in navigating.
Next to the Kahuna was the maka’ainana. This was the class of the commoners. This class consisted of very many groups of people ranging from farmers to fishermen and even the craftsmen. These are the people who were taxed for the economy of the chiefdom. They worked hard in ensuring that there was enough to run the economy of the chiefdom. At the bottom of the strata was the outcast, better known as the slaves. They were the prisoners that were brought back to the chiefdom after a conquest. They were brought back home and were forced to work for the ali’i. All the groups had their specific role that they played in order to ensure the smooth running of the kingdom. For instance, the ali’i gave the lesser ali’i land. The lesser ali’i would then subdivide the land into smaller pieces of land. The maka’ainana and their families would then till the land. After harvesting, the maka’ainana would give the lesser ali’i a portion of the harvest. They would then give a small portion to the ali’i.
All these social rankings were dictated by society. In fact, a person would be born and find themselves in a social ranking. But again the paramount and district chiefs did not have absolute power because they faced a lot of challenges from other leaders who claimed authority (Earle & Earle 43). People always manipulated their ways into proving that they were the true leaders. But then, the social rankings were maintained and this ensured that the social structure remained. It is imperative to note that the rankings ensured a harmonious coexistence of all the members of the chiefdom. But because the rankings were inherited, they seemed to favor a group of people and not others.
Cultural Anthropology. PDF File.
Earle, Timothy & Earle Timothy, K. Chiefdoms: Power, Economy and Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1993
Kirch, Patrick, V. The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989