Muong - Sociopolitical Organization

The basic sociopolitical unit of the Muong was the quel. The long-established hamlets had boundaries defined not on the principle of consanguinity but on neighborhood ties, largely for joint exploitation of an ecological niche. Containing about fifty households, the hamlet had its own communal rice fields, hunting reserves, and shifting lands. For all local matters, the hamlet operated autonomously. Each hamlet was placed under the jurisdiction of a headman ( tao ), who belonged to one of the four dominant clans. He held the hereditary right to redistribute communal rice fields and in turn received tributes and the unpaid labor of the commoners. With the help of the chosen nobility, he arbitrated quarrels that broke out between different family groups. A number of hamlets formed a village, whose headman was called long cun. A group of villages constituted a commune and was ruled by a subordinate chief, while a few communes together formed a canton under the control of a chief. Each of these political functionaries had several subordinate guards, servants, and notables. They were the administrators, tax collectors, judges, and military chiefs in their respective domains. A large number of myths indicate that the aristocracy originated from a different source than did the common man, and that every commoner should submit to his lord's authority and defend him in all circumstances in his own interest. This political system was maintained by the French colonial administration. It was only after the revolution of August 1945 that the system began to change. The authority of the headman was abolished and vestiges of the unpaid labor system liquidated.

In the past, greater age, superior clan, greater wealth, and male gender determined power and authority. Today the director of the cooperatives and the administrators of the communes are the key decision makers at the lower level. Muong peasants enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as do their former masters. Until 1975, they had their own administration in the autonomous regions. The administration of the communes is carried out by a committee elected by the people's council, which is elected once every two years, ensuring political equality.

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