5.a.15 – How did the figure of the chief of the village evolve?

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June 26, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

How did the figure of the chief of the village evolve?

We talked a lot of specialization and of the variety of roles and activities within the village, in the tribal as well as in the modern one. Among the various roles, there has always been that of the expert, one who knows more than others, that becomes a point of reference for all who rely on him with confidence. The chief of the tribal village was an evolution of this figure, reinforced by cultural tradition, and whose appointment was governed by specific rituals. The role, the criterion of selection and the authority of the chief greatly differed in the different cultures: for example, sometimes the figure coincided with that of the shaman while, in other cases, they were distinct. In agricultural societies the village chief has been replaced by the King, which in turn had a slightly different characteristics according to the culture or era; for example, in Europe  was elected from a list of nobles of higher degree, then this office became hereditary, up to present days, when the king shares his power with a parliament, even having to pay taxes as a common citizen.
We have already pointed out that nations are not a simple evolution of the ancient tribal villages and the same can be said of the Kings, who are not descended from the village chiefs, but more properly have replaced them, exalting the most of the characteristics of the leader: authority, severity, magnanimity, ostentation of power and wealth. Historically, therefore, the figure of the chief disappeared with the village, but not its role: in the modern world in fact we know that instinctively the man is trying to rebuild around him some social structures that in many respects remind of the tribal village, especially in the work, where we find managers and heads of department.
The role of representing a hierarchical authority, along with the authority derived from expertise, today is covered by the presidents of companies, by the management, by the heads of department: they are the true evolution of the chief of the village.
In the modern village there are several working groups that contribute to the main activity of the village, in every group there will be a manager or a contact person whose role corresponds to that of the expert or of the elder of the tribal world. Even if in many different forms, it will be generally needed a figure to take charge of coordinating the various groups, whose importance will depend on the coordination, which in turn depends on the type of activity. This figure may be, as appropriate, a leader or a director of internal communications; his influence in any event, is not restricted to one group in particular, but includes the entire village. We have found then an excellent candidate for the role of modern chief: this is a role closely linked with the activity performed, a sort of works director, not a political leader in the usual sense. The guidelines of the village policy and the decisions involving the whole community are taken by the General Assembly: it plays the role of thinking body of the community, the leader will deal instead with managerial, operational tasks, will take decisions on matters connected to the activities performance. These are specialized tasks related to the particular activity; such work cannot be entrusted to the assembly as this would rely on a specialist or a supervisor who has time available to perform this role and therefore it would only encumber the flow of management operations.
This distinction, dictated by practical needs, reflects that existing in some cultures between tribal council of elders and chief of the village; this figure is not in principle contrary to democracy, provided that its authority depends on the will of the people. This condition can be met with ease in a village, in fact, a small group of people, where everyone is familiar with the other and where, although similar, no one is equal to another, the most authoritative figure is usually easily identified directly by the people by acclamation or, in the most controversial cases, it is possible to proceed to a vote, where the decision of the majority is followed. The modern chief, or the manager, can then have a mandate in a democratic manner with the utmost simplicity and with the same method can be easily removed and replaced.
In the village, therefore, the hierarchy and authority are not imposed from above but built from below; in case of irreconcilable internal disagreement then nothing prohibits to divide into two different groups or villages. In a not too large association, then, is the direct acquaintance that allows to exploit the different individual qualities in a democratic manner. In larger associations, the direct acquaintance is reduced and the process may not be natural; the major political parties, whose leaders have voluntarily assumed a tribal structure in parliament, but by no means democratic, are a confirmation of it.




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