T'in - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. There is no tribal consciousness. The village is the largest sociopolitical entity. There are no clan ties, and few marriage ties crosscut village boundaries; there are no leaders with power in more than one village. Even religious beliefs and rituals differ somewhat from village to village. There is strong pressure for harmonious social relations within a village. Only minor differences in status, wealth, or personal influence exist, based largely on age and secondarily on sex.

Political Organization. Anyone in the village may attend meetings of the informal village council and participate in discussions, but in practice it is the male household heads who have a real say. Men enjoy prestige according to their age, experience, and reputation for sound reasoning. The khawcam also has influence. The office of headman seems a more recent innovation in response to pressures from lowland authorities. The headman is often recommended by an outgoing headman, selected by the village council, and appointed by the Thai or Lao district officer. He forms the link between lowland administration and villagers, carries out government directives, assigns numbers to each house, keeps count of the members of each household, assesses taxes, coordinates unpaid village labor, and reports crimes to lowland police. He receives a small monthly stipend, and he may appoint assistant headmen.

Conflict. The riit is an unwritten code of T'in tradition. Any infraction of riit, such as quarrels or fights, is offensive to the village spirit, who may turn his anger on anyone in the village or the village as a whole, causing illness, epidemics, crop failure, or other calamities. Disputes between houses are mediated by elder men. Serious infractions of riit are dealt with by the khawcam who, in consultation with village elders, may impose fines, require the sacrifice of a chicken or pig to the village spirit, or expel the wrongdoer from the village. Witchcraft accusations occur between people of different villages.

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