The Ascent of Chiefs: Cahokia and Mississippian Politics in Native North America

By Timothy R. Pauketat | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

The Generation
of the Cahokian Leviathan

I saw the lesser mounds which round me rose;
Each was a giant heap of mouldering clay;
There slept the warriors, women, friends and foes,
There side by side the rival chieftains lay;
And mighty tribes, swept from the face of day,
Forgot their wars and found a long repose.

(Flint 1826:168)

The ascent of chiefs from modest communal beginnings to the high offices of region-wide stratified domains can best be understood as a long- term historical process. Recourse to an abstract political approach to chiefdoms is necessary but not sufficient to explain the generation of the Cahokian Leviathan. In addition, we must view the late-prehistoric political world of competing high-ranking factions within the context of the commoner sense of the world at any point in time as the cultural hegemony enabled or constrained human actions. As traditional common sense was appropriated and transformed by the dominant ideologies of elite Cahokian subgroups, as commoners were estranged from their own social reproduction, so the powers of a ruling elite were enhanced and the American Bottom political economy expanded. A rank hegemony was transformed into a class hegemony.

How did this hegemonic transformation occur? Did the regional transformation of political structure and social relations occur at a gradual pace or result from an abrupt political consolidation of the region? The subphase data from Tract 15A and the Dunham Tract provide the resolution to answer these questions, and in so doing we will better comprehend the significance of particular political actions, historical events, and punctuated transformations that gave rise to the Cahokian Leviathan.

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