The Comanches: A History, 1706-1875

By Thomas W. Kavanagh | Go to book overview

2
Comanche Political Culture

Comanches have organized and oriented their actions as individuals, and as individuals in groups, toward a variety of compelling goals: to participate in collective religious rituals; to gather together in social interactions; to exploit resources—buffalo, horses, Euroamericans; to resist competition by others— Kiowas, Cheyennes, Euroamericans. Sometimes they have organized because they have been persuaded by politicians or other zealots that they have common goals and interests. All were organized according to shared models of the world and how to get things done in it.

Comanche society was, in Fried's sense, a "rank society." That is, there were "fewer positions of valued status than persons capable of filling them. A rank society has means of limiting the access of its members to status positions they would otherwise hold on the basis of sex, age, or personal attributes" (1967:52). For Comanches, the "means of limiting access … to status positions" was through the ideals of 'honor' or 'respect'.1

In turn, honor created an authority—the "belief that "its holder" is more capable, more able than "others", and that therefore they are well-advised to place the decision-making rights in his hand" (R. N. Adams 1966:6). Traditionally, the normative route to honor was primarily, for both males and females (D. E. Jones 1972), through puha 'medicine power'; secondly, for males,2 through honor obtained in war; and thirdly, again for both males and females, through the maintenance of social relations by the distribution of wealth, of "prestige accrued through generosity" (Wallace and Hoebel 1952:131). War honors and puha were closely linked; as one of the 1933 consultants noted, "no man won great honors without having medicine" (Comanche Field Party: Naiya, July 6).3

Puha could be obtained through the vision quest, puhahabitu 'lying down for power', at a place known for power. The 1933 consultants were nearly

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