Such administrative officials as supervisors of the stores, talking chiefs, ceremonial attendants, and high priests, as well as specialized warrior corps, were supported from the chief’s storehouse.
It is clear that a significant evolutionary gulf separates leaders in simple horticultural societies – big men and such – from genuine chiefs. Indeed, the chiefdom marks the beginning of the establishment of political power and authority in social life. The real beginnings of power and authority emerge with the chiefdom because it is there that the necessary administrative machinery needed to compel compliance is created. Polynesian chiefs, for example, could not only issue commands, but could back them up as well. When that is possible, genuine power has become a significant social force.
Yet the authority of chiefs is not without limit. Chiefs are still related to the common people through kinship ties, and they are expected to show concern for the common good. Chiefs who fail to meet these expectations frequently find themselves in the midst of a popular, and more than likely successful, revolt. In ancient Polynesia, for instance, many a chief who “ate the powers of government too much” – who made too many demands on the people – was dethroned and put to death (Sahlins, 1963). Thus, while chiefdoms have been able to create genuine power and authority, there are clear restraints on their coercive capacities. Lacking a genuine monopoly of force, primitive chiefs have not been allowed by their subjects to become true tyrants.
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