Modang - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Like most of central Bornean peoples, hereditary named ranks characterize Modang social structure. The four main status levels are chief (hepuy pwun), aristocrats (hepuy so'), commoners ( pengin ), and, formerly, two classes of slaves (megwes, psap). Megwes, slaves captured in war, were possessed only by the chief. The ranks are divided again into intermediate levels. Rank ascription is exclusively based on descent; nonetheless adopted children follow their parents' rank. According to the rule of uxorilocality, children usually have the mother's status, but this is changing slowly. Ideally each rank was endogamous; in fact, anisogamic marriages were common, but only village chiefs would stick to the rule.

Political Organization. Each village constitutes an independent political unit, although in a river basin the chief of one village may be acknowledged as a paramount chief. The decision-making process is controlled by the chief; a council of elders ( bo' be's ) and aristocrats takes place in the great house. They discuss community affairs and prepare village-wide ceremonies and rituals. A village crier ( sewün keltèa ) transmits the chief's orders and other information to the villagers. The chief and the important men (hepuy so' and sewún kas, "influential persons") are entitled to build a men's house (ewéang) as a meeting place for their clients ( nèak gua' ). These buildings (there are two or three in a village) function as ritual centers for the men and as bachelors' dormitories. More generally, society is divided into two political groupings: the "people who speak" ( lun kehèa ) and the "populace" ( lun megon ). The former are the aristocrats, sewün kas, and other influential elders.


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