Temiar - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Viewed in its own terms, Temiar social organization is segmentary and nonhierarchical; each village community runs its own affairs. There are no formal rules of organization apart from the kinship and descent structures already described. More important than formal rules, however, are two dialectically conjoined values that pervade Temiar social life: noninterference in other individuals' wishes and a profound concern for communality. This dialectic is not always easy to maintain, but a variety of cultural mechanisms, rooted in language, religion, and kinship, serve to keep it embedded in daily life.

Political Organization. Two kinds of political role may be distinguished: leadership, which operates at the household cluster and village levels, and which relates primarily to autonomous day-to-day affairs; and headmanship at the village level, which operates in the context of external relations with politically dominant outsiders. A specialized form of headmanship, which we may call chieftaincy, operates at the supravillage level and depends on formal appointment through a letter of authority, issued ostensibly by a sultan.

As already noted, the Temiar village leader's main function is to act as the symbolic guardian of the descent group's estate. Any practical authority to run village affairs that he may possess depends entirely on his strength of character, not on his social position. His most important practical role lies in mediating discussion about such joint productive activities as farming, the collecting and trading of forest products, or the selling of village livestock to outsiders.

The headman ( twaa ', tunggò' ), by contrast, has virtually no role to play in village affairs. Even a Temiar "senior chief," regarded by some outsiders as the ruler of a thousand or more people living in some dozen villages, dresses exactly like the other men of the village and is accorded no special deference by his fellows. The ranking that this appears to generate, and that some writers have claimed was an indigenous feature of Temiar social organization, is a chimera. The roles of headman and chief were created more to bolster the importance of those outsiders who were forced to have dealings with the Temiar (such as the local Malay chiefs or the British military authorities) than in response to needs arising within the Temiar community.

Despite the headman's relative insignificance in day-today affairs, the institution of headmanship has allowed certain structural notions (such as hierarchy by rank and patrilineal succession to office) to enter Temiar culture. These have served as alternative models of social organization, available for use if the political situation seems to demand it. Under the social and ecological changes that the Temiar are currently experiencing, these ideas could become more significant. It is more likely, however, that the relinquishment of a "tribal" outlook will make this a less attractive option than the espousal of an altogether more individualistic mode of operation.

Conflict and Social Control. The main sources of conflict are: (1) sexual jealousy, occasioned by the permissiveness of Temiar "in-law" joking relations; (2) differences of wealth within the community, generated by differential involvement in the cash economy; and (3) pulling out of the village to live elsewhere, instead of giving long-term help and commitment to village activities. Because of a general reluctance to enforce one's wishes on others, there is little that can be done about these circumstances. Gossip and complaining behind people's backs are quite common, but direct confrontation is rare. Things may sometimes get so bad, however, that a communitywide meeting is called by the village leader. Even here, moralizing rather than direct accusation fills the speeches. If discussion does not solve the problem, one of the disputing parties will usually move away to live elsewhere.

Temiar social interaction is underpinned by a general anxiety that one's actions might cause someone else to suffer unsatisfied desires, for this is thought to leave that person open to accident, disease, or misfortune. An assortment of diffuse sanctions is aimed at reducing the likelihood of such an occurrence. One should always share food; one should accede to a direct request for a service or object; and one should avoid setting up a definite future meeting for fear that the promise cannot be kept. These ideas are linked closely to Temiar religious attitudes.

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