AskDefine | Define headman

Dictionary Definition



1 an executioner who beheads the condemned person [syn: headsman]
2 the head of a tribe or clan [syn: tribal chief, chieftain]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. headmaster
    The headman came and talked to me.

See also

Extensive Definition

A village head or headman is a person (nearly always a man) in many village–based tribal societies who functions as a leader with almost no coercive authority or none at all. The existence of a headman is usually associated with societies having simple political structures. If a headman wants something done, he can only persuade, harangue or lead by example; he lacks authority to issue orders.
For example, if he wants people to clean up the central plaza in preparation for a feast, he has to start sweeping the plaza himself, hoping that his co-villagers will take the hint and relieve him. The headman may be called on as a mediator who listens to both sides of a conflicts in the village. He gives an opinion and advice but if a disputant is unsatisfied, the headman cannot do anything. He has no power to back his decisions or impose punishments. Like the band leader, he is first among equals.
Examples of headmanship have been observed among the Zuni, !Kung, and Mehinacu, among others.


Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Big Brother, alderman, archon, auditor, bailie, boatswain, boss, burghermaster, burgomaster, cabinet member, cabinet minister, chancellor, chief, chieftain, city councilman, city father, city manager, cock, commissar, commissioner, comptroller, controller, councillor, councilman, councilwoman, county commissioner, county supervisor, elder, floor manager, floorman, floorwalker, foreman, gaffer, ganger, head, hierarch, honcho, induna, inspector, leader, legislator, lord mayor, magistrate, maire, master, mayor, minister, minister of state, monitor, noncommissioned officer, overman, overseer, portreeve, proctor, reeve, secretary, secretary of state, selectman, sirdar, slave driver, straw boss, subforeman, super, superintendent, supervisor, surveyor, syndic, taskmaster, undersecretary, visitor, warden
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