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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Political Structure


Even before the occupation of British government the Zomis have specific political system which can be classified into three groups: chieftainship, headmanship and family administration. Stevenson classified into two groups autocratic and democratic. “The tribes themselves are primarily cultural and linguistic entities, having no other functions, and can be divided into Autocratic and Democratic groups” (Stevenson 1970:17). He divided only into two groups the chieftainship and headmanship, leaving out the local or family authority.
The statement made in connection with the position and power of the chief as “Lord of the Soil” has multiple meaning in the Zomi society in matters of authority. E.R. Leach writer of “Political System of Highland Burma” pointed out four areas of authority that a chief enjoyed in relation to the Kachins who are the same racial group. A chief has judicial, military, economic and religious authority (Leach 1954: 183-186). There was no classification of judicial, executive and the like among the Zomi chiefs. The judicial, executive, and civil laws in fact originated from the customary law of the tribal group (Nok Swan Lian 1984:75).
The role of the chief in matters of judicial includes settlement of cases dealing with debt. As mentioned before debt incurred by family members can lead to slavery. The inheritor is supposed to redeem his family members from debt. The role of a chief includes settlement of debt cases among family members. During Kam Hau’s reign he was helped by seven members of a council with different portfolios. The chief maintains his role in judicial matters only in his particular village where he resides. Other village under his jurisdiction was ruled by headmen approved by him. “The chief is a member of the council simply in his capacity as head of his own linage; he has no special judicial powers. … The chief’s role in the council is thus more frequently that of litigant than that of arbitrator” (Leach 1954:184).          
Military leadership can be described in the following. As noted before, tribal raids were common and defending the territory was important role of the chief. Imposition of taxes was carried out in exchange of protection from enemies called “protection fee” (Leach 1954: 186).  People gladly pay taxes for they were under protection of an able chief. It was regarded as prestige and pride to belong to a certain chief like Kam Hau.   In exercising authority the chief orders his able men to go and raid certain village or people who were regarded as enemy. In 1871 the Suktes (Kam Haus) raided Lalburha of Champhai in which three of the Lushais killed and one Sukte man wounded (Carey and Tuck 1976:18). The people obeyed the order of the chief and there was no resistance whatsoever.
A chief’s role in economic affairs is high as the “thigh-eating chief” of the domain. The chief’s house is the store house of the subjects by means of taxes (Leach 1954:187). In return he is expected to “give bigger and more frequent feasts than anyone” as a means of redistribution of economic goods. The Zomis have a saying “I want to give you my thigh flesh” when they want to return on something very special received. The chief is said to have eaten the thigh flesh of his people which means living on the labor of his people. Economic power is one of the important factors that contribute in carrying out of authority.
Another role of a chief is in religious matters. A chief is not a priest and his role is passive one. During the “Tual Biak” (Communal Ritual) the chief provides the animal for sacrifice on behalf of the community usually a pig for slaughter. Being the provider of the animal he is regarded as the sacrificer of the rite. A chief provides the materials for the feast and employs a priest (village priest) to recite the appropriate ritual chants. “In many ways the prestige of a great priest outshines that of a great chief” (Leach 1954:191). The activity of the priest was regarded as of the chief who initiates the function. Therefore, political authority has a connection with religious rites in which a chief involves.
Village Headman
Village was under the rule of a headman which Stevenson called democratic rule. The headman is subordinate to the chief empowered with executive and judicial powers including collection of taxes out of which he received 10% (Stevenson 1970:17).
The really significant political figures are the headmen. Not only they have the judicial powers to cover all offences short of murder, but their executive powers are strengthened by their position as organizers, with their councils, of almost all communal activities. They control the daily life of the people in a much more direct way than the chiefs, all of whom are incidentally, headman of their own village of residence (Stevenson 1970:18).
The political system is more democratic for the fact that no headman will “organize any important work or settle any case” without consulting the village council. Cases of murder, theft, marriage, divorce, inheritance, succession, village cultivation, gardening, control of domestic animals, fire and so on fall under the rule of a village headman. In a real sense the headman is more an organizer rather than a political ruler. The role of the headman includes seeing water supply of the village, land for cultivation, control of fire, and of animals etc. In many cases traditional judgment of the councilors has more lasting impact on the people. For example, If a man rape a woman (married or unmarried) he will be charged with one mithun, two pigs and one pot of “zu” (according to the customary law of Kam Hau). The mithun and one pig is meant for the victim’s family as compensation, one pig and the pot of “zu” is meant for consumption during the negotiation with the village councilors and those who are involved in it (Nok Swan Lian 1984:41).  Judicial and executive matters pertaining to the villagers are settled amicably by village council under the leadership of the headman.
As a peasant group, each year the village council will administer the distribution of land for cultivation. The land will be portioned to each family for a particular year by lottery (Stevenson 1970: 82). The village will put serious consideration about making a footpath to the field, burning of the field and control of fire. The council will decide date and time for construction of footpath to the field. By the time of burning the field, utmost caution is taken to control fire so that no other area catches fire from the field. Another role is to maintain inter-village road or communication every year. Each family is required to lend a hand for clearing or repairing the road at least two times a year during summer and winter so that communication is maintained throughout the year (Stevenson 1970:82). This is called “Tangna sem” or social work. There is no excuse except in case of illness. One person from each family must join the social work.
When a traveler gets sick or dies, the community lends hands to transport the person. As there was no motorable communication villagers will pass on from one village to another until it reaches the destination. It is the responsibility of the villager to transport within the territory and the neighboring village will receive from the boundary. The pulling of human power together for the well being of a village or villagers is the duty of the headman and his councilors where its democratic feature remains.  The role of a headman as organizer is more comprehensive, more exclusive than that of the chief in a real sense as it includes judicial, economic and ethical areas at the grassroots level.
Family Administration
Society begins in a family so also authority starts in a family. The average Zomi family consists of a father, his wife and children. The wife and adult children are consulted in matters of selling and buying of property. However the final word vested with the husband. “The duty of the father is to support his wife and family, to provide wives for his sons, arranges husbands for his daughters. The duty of the wife is to serve and obey her husband, to till his fields and breed his children, to supply him with nicotine water called “Tuibuuk” to feed and clothe her family and to guide them all in the way of good living” (Stevenson 1970:107).  On the table, the father will deliver his daily schedule where all the family members are supposed to present. The father instructs his family members for daily duties who and when to go to the field, what to take and to bring from the field etc. If there is a social work, the father will assign one of the family members to join the group and the rest will go to the field. The success of family work in the field depends upon the ability of the father’s administration at home. If one can not rule his family, he can not rule the church (1Tim.3:4-5).
Diagram V
Pyramidal Political Structure
The structure of power and authority has been well developed among the Zomi society indicating its homogeneity of the tribe. Even today people seek local system of settlement in case of dispute. For example some years ago, one boy was stabbed to death by his friend in Manipur. Instead of going to the Magistrate the father of the victim called a meeting of his closed relatives and negotiated with the relatives of the criminal according to local custom. The victim’s party forgives unconditionally. But the criminal party according to the local custom killed one pig for making feast, give a traditional shawl called “Si tuamna” (covering the dead body) and a pot of zu (tea instead of zu) as a sign of submission.  This kind of action is called “Lutna” which is an act of submissiveness. They settled the matter amicably and unconditionally according to local custom (Vumson 1986:244).
The social work system might have originated from the tribal raid in which all men in the family were required to go for raiding at the order of the chief. This system might have been applied to other duties pertaining to community and national interest. As might was power pulling human force together was the source of power at local as well as national level. The collective system produce obedience from the subjects and any sign of disobedience was regarded ostracism by the authority. Therefore loyalty to superiors is one of the characteristics of the Zomis. For example during WWI other tribes like Haka and Thado did not comply with the order to supply labor force but the Zomis complied with the authority and benefited in social and economic world view. On the other hand, collective mentality changed conversion pattern to Christianity. If the chief or headman was converted most of his subjects will follow sooner or later. If one family converts to Christianity two or three close families will join with them. Today the church represents the most collective force and play important role both in social and religious matters.
Another important feature of political system was a policy of alliance with other chiefs in confronting the enemy. During WWI Germany and its alliance fought against the British and its alliances. Way back in the 1800s Kam Hau in alliance with the Zahaus, the Tahsons, the Ramthos, and the Khuanglis fought against the Lushais and Manipuris that led his success in expanding his kingdom to Civu (Cikha) in the Manipur South (Sukte Chronicle 2004, Vol.IV: 12). Kam Hau was good in diplomacy making alliance with neighboring tribes like Zahaus and Tahsons.

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