In contrast to the neighboring Cheyenne and Arapaho to the north, the Comanche never developed a political idea of forming a nation or tribe. Comanche society was divided into three principal divisions, and about a dozen individual bands, each of which made decisions for their group independently of the other bands.
In Comanche society there were four levels of social-political integration:
- patrilineal and patrilocal nuclear family
- extended family group (nʉmʉnahkahni – “the people who live together in a household”, no size limits, but kinship recognition was limited to relatives two generations above or three below)
- residential local group (span. rancheria, comprised one or more nʉmʉnahkahni, one of which formed its core)
- division or band (sometimes called tribe, Spanish nación, rama – “branch”, several local groups linked by kinship, sodalities (political, medicine, and military) and common interest in hunting, gathering, war, peace, trade)
As an example of such political and kinship-based division, the Yaparʉhka identified as a separate division. Because of cultural and linguistic differences from other Comanche bands, they became the “(Yap)Root-Eaters”, in contrast to the Kʉhtsʉtʉhka (“Buffalo-Eaters”). The Yaparʉhka division was composed of several residential local groups, such as the Ketahtoh Tʉ, Motso Tʉ and Pibianigwai.
The Comanche recognized each other as Nʉmʉnʉ and bands seldom fought against each other; but the Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ pursued policies against the Spanish and Indian settlements in New Mexico independently of the Kʉhtsʉtʉhka.
As a consequence, at the time when Comanche society was breaking down, the once respected and feared Penatʉka Nʉʉ provided U.S. Army Indian Scouts for the Americans and Texans against their still fighting and free-roaming Comanche kin.
The band was the primary social unit of the Comanche. A typical band might number about one hundred people. Bands were part of larger divisions, or tribes. Before the 1750s, there were three Comanche divisions: Yamparikas, Jupes, and Kotsotekas.
In the 1750s and 1760s, a number of Kotsoteka bands split off and moved to the southeast. This resulted in a large division between the original group, the western Comanches, and the break-away Kotsotekas, the eastern Comanches.
The western Comanche lived in the region of the upper Arkansas, Canadian, and Red rivers, and the Llano Estacado. The eastern Comanches lived on the Edwards Plateau and the Texas plains of the upper Brazos and Colorado rivers, and east to the Cross Timbers.
Over time, these divisions were altered in various ways. In the early 19th century, the Jupes vanished from history, probably merging into the other divisions. Many Yamparikas moved southeast, joining the eastern Comanche and becoming known as the Tenewa.
Many Kiowa and Plains Apache (or Naishan) moved to northern Comancheria and became closely associated with the Yamparika. A group of Arapaho, known as the Charitica, moved into Comancheria and joined Comanche society.
New divisions arose, such as the Nokonis, closely linked with the Tenewa; and the Kwahadi, who emerged as a new faction on the southern Llano Estacado. The western-eastern distinction changed in the 19th century. Observers began to call them Northern, Middle and Southern Comanche.
One of the largest groups, as well as the southernmost, lived on the edge of the Edwards Plateau and east across to the Cross Timbers, and became known as the Penateka, (Penatʉka Nʉʉ) Southern Comanches.
In the eastern part of the Comancheria, between the Colorado and Red rivers, roamed the Nokoni (Nokoni Nʉʉ — ‘Movers’, ‘Returners’). South of them were the strong, associated smaller bands or residential groups of the Tenawa (Tahnahwah or Tenahwit — ‘Those Who Live Downstream’) and Tanima (Tanimʉʉ, Dahaʉi or Tevawish — ‘Liver-Eaters’). Together, the Nokoni, Tenawa and Tanima were called the Middle Comanche. Just north of the Nokonis in the Red River Valley, between the Red and Canadian rivers, lived the numerous residential local groups of the powerful Kotsotekas (Kʉhtsʉtʉʉka — ‘Buffalo-Eaters’); they took their name from the large buffalo herds that were always in their territory.
The northernmost Comanche band was the Yamparikas (Yaparʉhka or Yapai Nʉʉ — ‘(Yap)Root-Eaters’). As the last band to move onto the Plains, they retained much of their Shoshone tradition. Because the Kotsoteka and Yamparika lived in the northern part of the Comancheria, they were called the Northern Comanche.
The last large group was known as Kwahadis (Quohada or Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ/Kwahare — ‘Antelope-Eaters’), originally Kotsoteka-residential local groups that moved south out of the Cimarron Valley onto the desert plains of the Llano Estacado. They emerged as a new division in the 19th century. Even though the western-eastern distinction had changed in the 19th century, these people were classified as Western Comanche because of their relative isolation on the westernmost edge of the Comancheria.
All these division names were spelled in many different ways by Spanish and English writers, and spelling differences continue today. Large-scale groupings became unstable and unclear during the 19th century. The Comanche society was slowly overwhelmed and ultimately subjugated to the United States.
Various bands of the Comanche (Nʉmʉnʉ)
Naming practices of the Comanche were flexible, so some of these names are probably synonyms of others on the list. Joking and insulting synonyms were also commonly found in use among rival or allied bands.
- Jupe (spelled in Spanish as Hupe, Hoipi, Hʉpenʉʉ — ‘Timber People’, an 18th-century band, probably forerunners of the Nokoni Nʉʉ, Kwaaru Nʉʉ and of the Hois-Penatʉka Nʉʉ local group)
- Kʉhtsʉtʉʉka (Kotsoteka — ‘Buffalo-Eaters’)
- Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ/Kwahare (Kwahadi/Quohada — ‘Antelope-Eaters’, nicknamed Kwahihʉʉ Ki — ‘Sunshades on Their Backs’, because they lived on desert plains of the Llano Estacado)
- Mʉtsahne (Motsai — ‘Undercut Bank’, annihilated in a battle with Mexicans in 1845)
- Nokoni Nʉʉ (Nokoni — ‘Movers’, ‘Returners’, also Noyʉhkanʉʉ, Nawyehkah — ‘Not Staying in one place’, later called Tʉtsʉ Noyʉkanʉʉ,Detsanayʉka— ‘Bad Campers’, ‘Poor Wanderer’)
- Nokoni Nʉʉ (major group, who had considerable influence on the decision making of the Tahnahwah und Tanimʉʉ)
- Tahnahwah (Tenawa, also Tenahwit — ‘Those Who Live Downstream’, southern splinter group of the Yaparʉhka, annihilated by the Mexicans in 1845)
- Tanimʉʉ (Tanima, also called Dahaʉi, Tevawish — ‘Liver-Eaters’)
- Pagatsʉ (Pa’káh’tsa — ‘Head of the Stream’, alsco called Pahnaixte — ‘Those Who Live Upstream’)
- Pekwi Tʉhka (‘Fish-Eaters’)
- Penatʉka Nʉʉ (Penateka, Pihnaatʉka, Penanʉʉ — ‘Honey-Eaters’, also called Pehnahterkʉh— ‘Quick-Stinger, Wasp, i.e. Raiders’)
- Penatʉka Nʉʉ (major local group)
- Hʉpenʉʉ (Hois — ‘Timber People’)
- Tayʉʉwit (Teyʉwit — ‘Hospitable Ones’)
- Kʉvahrahtpaht (‘Steep Climbers’)
- Taykahpwai (Tekapwai — ‘No Meat’)
- Pikaatamʉ (‘Buckskin Sewing People’)
- Saria Tʉhka (Chariticas, Sata Teichas — ‘Dog-Eaters’, once a group of Arapaho, who joined the Comanche)
- Yaparʉhka (Yamparika, also Yapai Nʉʉ — ‘(Yap)Root-Eaters’, former called Widyʉ Nʉʉ, Widyʉ or Widyʉ Yapa — ‘Awl People’, later called Tʉtsahkʉnanʉʉ— ‘Sewing People’).
- Ketahtoh Tʉ (Ketatore — ‘Don’t Wear Shoes’, also called Napwat Tʉ — ‘Wearing No Shoes’)
- Motso Tʉ (motso — ‘Beard’, not confused with the Mʉtsahne)
- Pibianigwai (‘Loud Talkers’, ‘Loud Askers’)
- Sʉhmʉhtʉhka (‘Eat Everything’)
- Titchahkaynah (‘Those Who Make Bags While Traveling’, once a separate group, later joined the Yaparʉhka)
- Wahkoh (‘Shell Ornament’)
In addition, there are several smaller bands:
- Hai’ne’na’ʉne (Hani Nʉmʉ — ‘Corn Eating People’, not to be confused with the indication Hanitaibo for the Penatʉka Nʉʉ)
- It’chit’a’bʉd’ah (Utsu’itʉ — ‘Cold People’, i.e. ‘Northern People’)
- Itehtah’o (‘Burnt Meat’, nicknamed by other Comanche, because they threw their surplus of meat out in the spring, where it dried and became black, looking like burnt meat)
- Naʉ’niem (No’na’ʉm — ‘Ridge People’, probably a former name for the Kwaarʉ Nʉʉ)
- Ohnonʉʉ (Ohnʉnʉnʉʉ, Onahʉnʉnʉʉ)
- Pahʉraix (‘Water Horse’, also called Parkeenaʉm or Paki Nʉmʉ — ‘Water People’, because they preferred settling along lakes, known to the Comanche as the best runners and players of Lacrosse)
- Pohoi (Pohoee — ‘Wild Sage’, once a group of Wind River Shoshone who joined the Comanche)
- Tʉtsanoo Yehkʉ (probably a variant spelling of Kʉhtsʉtʉʉka)
- Wianʉʉ (Wianʉ, Wia’ne — ‘Hill Wearing Away’)