This paper is concerned with the role of the traditional council of authorities (cabildo) in a Columbian community of Indian origin. It is shown that its evolution reflects that of the community, since the cabildo has always been essentially an interaction mechanism between the community and the external society, more than the head of an autonomous body. Moreover, this mechanism has mostly been a tool, in the hands of the colonial and, later, national upper class, for manipulating the Indians.

The institution was first imposed upon the Indians to ensure their political submission to and economic integration into colonial capitalistic society. In Columbia, this leads to a relatively rapid acculturation of the Indians. During the Republic, a major change occurred when the national economy ceased to rest upon a tributary exploitation of the Indians: landlord/tenant relationships made local community structures useless. Many managed to survive, though, when they were able to keep a certain amount of land on which their members could lead an independent life. The community under study was among these, although its lands were drastically reduced (the better parts being grabbed by adjacent landowners). The local authorities, left without any power to stop these abuses, saw their roles confined to the solution of internal petty disputes. From 1920 on, the further integration of the community in the national economy, through intensive cash-cropping, has gradually made even this reduced role redundant.

The author believes that in the study of peasant political systems, a diachronic study of the interrelationships between the economic and the political level is necessary if the understanding is to be complete.