Jingpo - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditional Jingpo communities were split into two classes, aristocracy and commoners, based on the ranking of lineages. A hereditary chief was called duwa (in Jingpo) or bumzao (in Zaiwa), meaning "the ruler of the mountain." The chiefs privileges were the right to take a hindquarter thigh of any game caught in his domain and the right to collect tributes in labor from his commoners. But the chief was more like a public leader and a protector of his community, for his commoners were not his slaves or serfs but free people. As a member and a resident of a chiefs domain, a commoner had the right to use the land for swidden cultivation and to move out without permission of the chief. The Chinese authorities eliminated the distinction between aristocrats and commoners after 1949.

Political Organization. Chiefdom used to be the basic principle that organized the Jingpo into a stratified society. A chief ruled his domain with assistance of the suwen, the guan, and sometimes the gadu. The suwen came from the founder lineage or the major lineages of the domain. Elected by the households of the chiefs lineage and approved by the chief, the suwen formed a kind of house of representatives. The suwen also collected tributes from commoners for the chief and the tusi, took care of the commoners' corvée, assisted the chief in handling and mediating disputes, and led the village's ritual offerings. In return for their service, the suwen were exempt from corvée and tributes. The position was not hereditary. In some big chiefs' domains, consisting of more villages, there were the guan. A guan, as the chiefs agent in his village, took full responsibility for the village's affairs; his position was hereditary. The guan had more real power and authority than the suwen. He not only was exempted from corvée and tributes to the chief but also had the right to ask for corvée for himself. In some villages there was a gadu, whom the chief chose from among the suwen. The gadu could act on the chiefs behalf; his position was inheritable and above the suwen. Different versions of Kachin chiefdom— gumsa (traditional aristocracy) and gumlao (rebellious aristocracy)—were also found among the Dehong Jingpo, but the two structures changed fundamentally in the last century because of the influence of the Han and Dai as well as the increasing Chinese control through the tusi and civil administration. In most cases chiefs became either local heads of the Han or Dai type or symbolic leaders whose power and privilege had fallen into the hands of new strongmen, mostly suwen and guan. The chiefs' authority now derived less from their lineage background and more from their personal efforts and abilities, profits from opium growing and tolls, and the special relationship with the Han officials or Dai tusi. The Communist Revolution ended the chiefdom system. Local politics today is organized by the party into a unified government structure of five levels: state; province or autonomous region; prefecture or autonomous zhou; county; and xiang (countryside). A xiang, the lowest level of state power and the basic administrative unit, includes several administrative villages, each of which consists of a number of natural villages. The xiang government is appointed by the xiang peoples congress, which is elected from the party-recommended candidates and under the leadership of the xiang party committee. The xiang government appoints the head of the administrative village while the villagers elect the head of the natural village.

Social Control and Conflict. Traditional Jingpo principles ( htungtara ) and common law still play an important role in Jingpo life. Faith in gods and commitment to the mayu-dama relationship are the essence of the principles. For example, in the case of adultery or other sex scandals, "face washing" by cattle sacrifice and compensation according to the common law are always taken for granted and tacitly approved by the village heads. Other disputes, such as those over debts, stealing, fighting, or injury are mostly settled through the mediation of the village heads and elders in accordance with htungtara. A traditional way to resolve major conflicts and disputes—to grab cattle by force—is still accepted by the cadres and villagers, especially when the offender is a wrongdoer who refuses to pay the compensation.

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