Tibetans - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The web of bilateral kin associated with households was the basis for local social organization. Villages had headmen and head irrigators who coordinated agricultural projects.

Titleholders coordinated estates into social units. Monasteries and nunneries operated as independent social units within communities. Tibetans also form associations called skyid sdug for a variety of purposes: to coordinate prayers, dances, singing, religious festivals, marriages, pilgrimages, funerals, commercial ventures, and other activities.

Political Organization. Much of the Tibetan plateau has been governed, since as early as the seventh century, by a central dynasty or theocracy with a small administrative bureaucracy. This bureaucracy was supplied with officials from the elite nobility and the monasteries in exchange for intermediate title to estates of land. For 300 years prior to 1950, the government was headed by a Buddhist monk, the Dalai Lama, who, upon death, reincarnated into a small child and resumed leadership in a new body. Under his leadership, the bureaucracy was divided into an ecclesiastical branch and a secular branch that handled a redistributive economy based on taxation by household. Networks of monasteries controlled by sects of Tibetan Buddhism were also important political players. Local authority was placed in the village headman or estate steward, who coordinated tax collection and corvée and handled local disputes. Historically, Tibetans have embraced the union of religion and politics and left the functions of the military, thought to be irreligious, to foreign groups such as the Mongols or Chinese. Since 1950 Tibet has been gradually incorporated into the government of the PRC.

Social Control. Tibetans have an ancient and unique set of legal procedures that were based on early law codes and commonly used throughout the plateau. There were few governmental sanctions for any crimes other than murder and treason. A variety of forums was available for the settlement of disputes, and most cases remained open until all parties had agreed. Traditional social control was based on family and village relations.

Conflict. Conflict occurred over land boundaries, animal ownership, commercial agreements, injuries, fights, and a wide range of other issues. In general, it was disdained as an indication of a lack of religious training.

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