This article explores the idea that obviation systems like those found in the Algonquian languages are a less parochial solution to syntactic organization than is generally thought. Some simple constraints on obviation provide interesting analyses of key facts in Algonquian. Once certain language-particular differences are recognized, a number of syntactic problems in two unrelated languages, Tzotzil (Mayan) and Chamorro (Western Austronesian), yield easily to solutions based on obviation, despite the absence of obviative-based morphology in either language. Hierarchy alignment constraints play a central role in the analysis. The account is articulated within optimality theory, which provides an appropriate framework for representing the fact that these languages must select from their resources for expressing transitive propositions the optimal mode of expression for each such proposition.