Munda - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. We have already seen that many tribes are internally divided because of some ritual fault or disagreement over custom, etc. The Birhor, Korwa, and some Asur distinguish settled groups from nomads. Most tribes distinguish landowning clans from tenant clans with use rights only, though since the clans involved vary with the village, this does not entail a tribewide class system. Santal clans are unusual in being ritually ranked, and there is some hypergamy between them. In all tribes, village officers command a marked degree of respect, though this rarely leads to a class system or to hypergamy between them and the ordinary Villagers (the Sora are an exception in this regard). Kinship remains the basis of social organization, and there are a number of ritualized friendships for both men and women, between villages and even tribes, that are assimilated to it. Although all tribes distinguish affines from agnates (i.e., marriageable from nonmarriageable persons), these are relative designations only: despite the system of affinal alliance, there are no sociocentric categories of the sort associated with dual Organization or four-section systems of some Australian Aboriginal peoples. The Juang and possibly other tribes have a system of generation moieties in which Ego's generation is linked with those of his grandparents and grandchildren in opposition to the set formed by those of his parents and children. This impinges on both stereotyped behavior and marriage choices: joking is only allowed with members of one's own moiety, which is also that from which one's spouse must come (and even then there are numerous exceptions in both regards), while avoidance or respect in behavior and avoidance of Marriage and sexual relations is enjoined toward members of the opposite moiety.

Political Organization. The elected government gram panchayat was introduced in this region soon after Independence in 1947, but it often has to compete with the traditional village assembly or panchayat. This consists of the headman, other officials, and typically household heads at least, if not all males in the village. It is unusual but not unknown (e.g., among the Santal) for women to participate in decision making, though they are often called to give Evidence in disputes. The headmanship and other offices (assistant headman, messenger, etc.) are mostly hereditary in the male line, though there may be an elective element in the choice, and the eldest son can always be replaced if believed to be unsuitable. Village headmen are no more than first among equals, for they have to consult the panchayat on all important matters and are removable for misconduct or incompetence. In Chota Nagpur, though not Koraput, villages are often grouped into federations (often called pirh ), which may have originated as regional clan councils, especially since their main concern is breaches of the rule of clan exogamy. There is scarcely any institutional expression of tribal unity today (though some tribes had kingdoms or at least tribal assemblies in the past), and tribal identity is now only a matter of language or perhaps a common origin myth. Sovereignty and most authority now lie with the Indian government.

Social Control and Conflict. The old sanction of expulsion from the community ( bitlaha ) has fallen into disuse, and fines, along with provision of a feast for the panchayat or even the whole village, are now the common penalties. Most conflicts concern land rights or marriage. Resort to violent direct action by an aggrieved party is by no means uncommon, though long-term feuding is less marked than among the neighboring Dravidian-speaking Kond, for example.

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