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Political Leadership


A society is often defined by its cultural practices and definitions that appear as norms. This means that each specific society is uniquely positioned and thus has its own constructs in terms of political leadership among other things. Usually, the political arrangement of a given society determines its way of life because leaders have a great impact on the society as a whole. However, it can also be noted that the people’s way of life also determines their political system. For example, leaders are chosen based on their talents or are generally expected to have certain abilities to rule the society. Either way, the society has a way of determining its political situation based on relevance and need. A comparative analysis of the San people, the Yanomami tribe and the people of Chunar in South India reveals that even though all the three communities have different cultures, their political, economic, gender and kinship structures have the sole purpose of insulating the people against natural and man-made challenges.

The San

The San people, who are also referred to as Bushmen, are a group of hunters and gatherers who have lived in Southern Africa for over 20,000 years (Grinker, Lubkemann, & Steiner, 2010). They are especially known for their resistance to domination. The San fought bravely against colonization, but similar to many other indigenous tribes, they have had to endure discrimination and abject poverty during their history. They have profound knowledge of the local flora and fauna and some of the most interesting and unusual cultural practices in the world. The San Bushmen have been able to preserve their culture despite the numerous years of attempted and in some cases successful infiltration of modern and foreign practices.

The San Bushmen do not belong to the Bantu peoples. They are rather direct descendants of the Early Stone Age men. This means that they are not organized under ethnic groupings. They are divided into clans and small groups of families that barely have ties (Triefeldt, 2007). Since the San are migratory people, they move around freely looking for game. They are exceptional trackers, and usually they live in caves.

The social structure of the San Bushmen is particularly interesting. They do not believe in having an authoritative figure. Instead, they govern themselves as a democracy, only without a supreme figure at the helm of power. Leadership in this case is functional, with an individual being able to assume authority if the issue in question is seen to be something that they are competent at. For example, if there is a health problem, an individual whose healing skills are considered exceptional is automatically expected to step up and take charge. However, a necessary condition is that the person who assumes power must have been within that particular group for a long time. It is usually difficult for the San Bushmen to trust a new group member with matters that they consider important.

The power and authority within the San Bushmen’s communities are based on trust and knowledge. Their social structure is defined by residence and kinship, meaning that people generally belong to the tribe they were born into. Nonetheless, they can choose to join other groups provided they have some loose family connections and can justify their defecting from their original group (Appiah & Gates, 2010). As such, the groups can be seen as closely knit and yet open to membership by residency.

Regarding functions, it can be noted that the San leaders are elected based on their abilities and aptitude for the position. Each problematic situation presents an opportunity for a leader to appear, and the leader’s function would be to guide the people through the challenges they face and find a solution to the problem. Generally, this implies that the leaders of the San Bushmen are mainly limited by their loyalty to the people. They have to do what is right for their community, making it easier for them to utilize their power and authority to the benefit of the whole group. Since they have to be the best at what they do in order to take on leadership, they always had to perform impressively. This is how the leaders earn the respect of their peers and the younger members of the community.

The Yanomami

The Yanomami people live in the tropical forests of South America between Venezuela and Brazil. While most of them live in the forest, some groups live along the main rivers as well. In terms of occupation, they are mostly hunters, gatherers and horticulturalists. The groups living along the rivers also practice fishing and trading with other villages outside Amazonian forests (Chignon, 2012).

The social organization of the Yanomami is similar to that of other ancient tribes. The women are gatherers while the men do most of the hunting. Concerning their agricultural practices, they mostly cultivate rainforest land, moving around as they find necessary in order to accommodate their needs. The men clear the space for cultivation while the women plant and grow crops.

Similar to other indigenous tribes, the Yanomami are grouped in families. They live in clusters of between 30 and 100 individuals all related in one way or another. Leadership is mainly based on one’s capabilities (Chignon, 2012). The Yanomami have spiritual leaders and a general leader who is usually a warrior. Since there are usually many different villages in close proximity, having a strong leader is seen as a good way to be safe from external interference. At present, the Yanomami are a peaceful grouping, but in the past, the tribe engaged in wars that were mostly just an opportunity for the Yanomami to demonstrate their superiority and to capture new wives for their young warriors. Rulers were in this case responsible for not only leading the wars but also ensuring that their side won.

In terms of power and authority, it should be noted that family relations are the basis of the Yanomami’s social structure. This means that leadership is often grounded on people’s respect for the individual. Usually, the leaders were the older members of the society, with a reputation of being brave warriors. Combatants thus had a better chance of assuming power, as did the spiritual leaders. This means that power and authority were also based on functionality. The people needed someone who could be a bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds, and they also needed a warrior to guide them through the conflicts with the neighboring villages.

In terms of limits, it can be stated that the leaders of the Yanomami are only limited by their loyalty to people. Since the tribe has family-based social structure, respect and understanding are of considerable significance as the leaders still have to answer to their kinsmen (Borofsky, 2005). Despite being primitive, the Yanomami are able to practice their own version of democracy where the leader is trusted to do what is best for the entire group or risk being judged harshly by his peers and family members.


Chunar used to be a small agricultural town in rural South India with a small population that relied mostly on their agricultural activities for sustenance. Similar to most of the Indian population, the social system of Chunar people was quite simplistic (Chatterjee, 2012). They were hard-working and spent most of their time on their farms. They also practiced some trade with their neighbors, had numerous gatherings for celebrations and even religious events that bound them together as a community.

In terms of social structure, it can be noted that social stratification was present in the Chunar community. The wealthier members of the society formed the ruling class, while the less fortunate could only belong to the lower class. This is why most of the leaders were in power due to the economic situation, spiritual position or family situation. Generally, the people of Chunar were seen as peace-loving and thus did not engage in battles as the Yanomami did. The leaders of Chunar people simply had to descend from aristocracy or occupy a respectable position in the economic or religious sphere.

The main function of a leader in Chunar was to influence the development of the society. Those chosen due to their economic situation were known to affect the economy of the town through their activities within the town and cooperation with the town’s neighbors and visitors (Rai, 2010).Those hailing from spiritual background were able to influence the town’s development concerning spiritual matters, praising followers and calling for the punishment of the non-believers. Their main aim was to keep the residents of the town on the right path in terms of spiritual matters.

Power and authority in Chunar were thus based on the leader’s social and economic status. For a leader to have any influence over the community, they should have owned a significant amount of land and receive large quantities of agricultural produce annually. The wealthier members were believed to have the capacity to steer the town in the right direction. This means that functionality was also a major determinant of choosing a leader in the Chunar community.

As for limitations of the leadership, Chunar was a small town with a small population and minimal exposure to the outside world. This means that the leaders in this town were highly powerful. In most cases, the people had no say in the matters of the town. The leaders decided everything, leaving the common people to simply follow rules and enjoy a bliss that in some cases was meant to benefit their leaders at their expense. Individuals who were brave enough to challenge leadership were punished mercilessly, making revolts a very rare occurrence. However, the leaders were mostly benevolent to the people and encouraged peaceful coexistence all through the town’s history.


From examination of these three societies, it is obvious that there are certain clear patterns when it comes to political leadership. First, the social unit that defines a given society usually determines their need for a leader. A unit that is bound by family ties is comfortable having a leader who comes to power based on their age and wisdom. This implies being unable to choose a leader, but rather waiting for appropriate time for the best leader to appear (Barnard, 2008). However, it is more common for such groupings to have numerous leaders based on functionality for the sake of survival. A group of San Bushmen having trouble locating game would require a leader who understands the terrain and the animals well enough to lead the group to a successful hunt (Cummings, Jordan & Zvelebil, 2014). Thus, despite the fact that there is an elder member of the community who is respected and followed by the whole unit, there must be a leader who can rise up to an occasion and help the community to overcome the problems. The same system applies amongst the Yanomami, who require a warrior and a spiritual leader in their villages despite having immense respect for their elderly (Baron, 2015). On the other hand, the Chunar people believe in functionality more than in respect based on family ties. In this community, one’s capacity to contribute to the town’s welfare is what determines their position and potential power (Wolpert, 2006). When it comes to limitations, it can be noted that there is an element of primitive democracy in the San and the Yanomami societies, where the people can easily stop the leader from taking advantage of the majority. However, the leaders in Chunar did not in any way care about the opinions of the population (Avari, 2007). They were focused on doing the ‘right thing’ for the communities even at the expense of the members of that very community.


Each one of the discussed communities has unique way of life, economic activities and social system. Nevertheless, it is easy to notice that they all had needs that prompted them to invoke leadership roles and expectations. Leadership amongst the San Bushmen was necessitated by the group’s living conditions. The Yanomami leaders had to be warriors in order to lead the people against hostile neighbors, and in Chunar the leaders had to have some affluence in order to keep the town’s economy afloat. This generally implies that in each society, leaders have a specific role to play, and they could be replaced if they fail to cope with it. Unfortunately, not all societies have the option of replacing their leaders. Some rulers, like those in Chunar, continue to occupy the leading positions even when they are failing their communities.


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