Kmhmu - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Kmhmu villages are not highly stratified, and relative prosperity or poverty depends more on individual circumstance than on heredity. Older people are generally accorded respect, and those with special knowledge of herbal medicine or special talents for song or musical performance are recognized as experts. Ritual specialists and shamans are known as such, although in daily life they work just as others do (observing certain special ritual prohibitions and obligations). Young men reside temporarily in the joong but do not constitute an age-set; there are no initiation ceremonies.

Political Organization. The political structure of the ancient Kmhmu domain of Muang Cvaa is unknown, although tales and legends speak of Kmhmu kings. More recently, Kmhmu were incorporated into the civil and political administration of their Lao and Tai neighbors; the degree of their subservience varied from region to region. Village chiefs ( naay baan ) of monoethnic Kmhmu villages were always Kmhmu; a mixed Lao-Kmhmu village might have a chief from either group. In certain places Kmhmu could serve as naay phong or tasseng (two levels of local chief), in some cases even having authority over Lao villages within the phong or tasseng. More often, however, Kmhmu could not exercise authority over members of other ethnic groups. Until the independence revolution, Kmhmu could not aspire to higher positions such as chao muang (district chief) or chao khoueng (province chief), but in contemporary Laos Kmhmu can be found at every level of government.

Social Control. Within a household, the father exercises most authority, although the mother is in charge of money. Social control is usually expressed through subtle means: either by gossip about someone else or through an indirect or veiled reference, heuristic tale, or parable. In times of stress, turmoil, or personal misbehavior, the concerned party might be the focus of a communal ceremony intended to encourage them to do right by demonstrating the community's concern and solidarity. An informal assemblage of village elders may be convened to arbitrate disputes between families, to discipiine unruly or disruptive members, or to make decisions for the village as a whole. Unreconciled disputes or unresolved grievances may separate families or lead to the fissure of the village.

Conflict. Conflict in traditional village life can often be avoided through compromise, acquiescence, or flight. One of the most important things affecting the lives of contemporary Kmhmu was the three-decade-long war of independence from 1945 to 1975; this conflict was one in which Kmhmu were profoundly implicated, although they had little control over its course.


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