In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 67-82)



The preceding chapters have sketched in the background features of Muria country: it is now time to turn to the major problems to which this thesis is addressed. It is a question, essentially, of situating the Ghotul in its sociological setting, a problem which - as will be argued in more detail later - Verrier Elwin’s voluminous writings left unsettled. This failure on Elwin's part arose from the insufficiencies of his attempts to give a coherent picture of Muria social organization. One sympathises with his efforts, and Grigson’s, in this respect, because it is indeed the case

that Muria social organization often seems maddeningly fluid and

arbitrary; but the history of the last twenty years in Anthropology has been marked by many efforts to comprehend instances of social organization which resemble the Muria in their degree of apparent structural ambiguity and some of these efforts have been very successful in demonstrating unusual degrees of ’order’ where, it would have appeared, only disorder was present. Indeed, partly what the thesis demonstrates is that the problem of the Ghotul, the rationale for its persistence and its centrality in the web of Muria village institutions, is intimately connected with the prevailing structural context of ambiguity in the institutional framework of Muria life. The Ghotul with its strong loyalties, and complex cultural embeddedness acts as a social focus which both modifies the autonomous status of the extended families which make up a Muria village, and ties them together in the pooling of their adolescent membership in a village- centred ’super-household’, a household of households. The Muria are staunch defenders of the village dormitory institution as essential to the organizational requirements of their society (so that strong moral pressure is applied on parents to ensure attendance by their offspring); yet it is this same institution, the Ghotul, which is the source of a great proportion of the conflicts and disputes which are so common and so disruptive an aspect of Muria village life. This is the central paradox with which we need to come to terms in the ensueing chapters. In order to do so, it is first of all necessary to give a complete account of the contextual factors - the clan system, the village and territorial system,

and the domestic unit - which impinge on the Ghotul and at the same time are responsive to its presence.

When we consider these factors, what we find - and this is only what would be expected - is a multitude of conflicting elements: clanship

conflicting with territorial alignments, village membership with

household interests, economic self-interest with established alliance obligations and so on, so that the net result is by no means a stable equilibrium, but a series of situationally specific compromises that are united only by the fact that a common language and set of concepts are in play in negotiating each particular outcome. Anthropologists have become very familiar with these problems and perhaps the most convenient and relevant examples can be found in the debates in the literature on ’loose structure’ in the Mew Guinea highlands, and in S.E. Asia. The study of tribal societies in India would benefit very much from the launching of a comparable debate to these ones, but the chances of such a debate are diminished by the quite major difficulty of defining a suitable frame of reference of ’roughly comparable' societies selected from the range of Indian so-called ’tribal’ societies, not all of which bear any mutual resemblance. Comparative considerations must therefore be deferred - except for the references I shall be making to the Khond or Kond of Orissa

described by Bailey (1957), and more important references to the Ghotul

system prevailing among the Hill Maria. But the problems which are central to the debates between specialists in other ethnographic areas have a family resemblance to the issues which arise in the description of Muria social structure - or, one is tempted to say, lack of it. The issue, so far

as the present chapter is concerned, is the presence of a clan

organization which seems at one level to provide a representation of the total society, its segmentary parts and the relations of exchange (i.e. marriage alliance) which theoretically obtain between these units, but which does not define action groups or property-holding groups at all concretely. Muria clans are more than dispersed naming groups but less than corporate groups in the full sense, even at the level of the commonly residing set of members of a particular clan found in a single village (the level of the local sub-clan as one might call it, following the usage of Leach 1958). Understanding the role of the clan as the maximal unit of Muria social structure is the first major problem encountered in the

description of Muria society: it is not that Muria clans recruit members in non-unilinear (cognatic or locality-based) ways - though this does occasionally happen, but more that clan identity plays an ambiguous role in aligning actors socially. This ambiguity in defining the social meaning of clan membership has implications well beyond the sphere of clanship as such giving rise to a more pervasive ambiguity in reference group definitions which is relevant to the structural interpretation in which kinship, matrimonial alliance and locality and residence all play a part.

The indigeneous term for Muria clans, 'per' is linguistically related to 'par* or ’pari’ which refers to the mud embankments bordering vedang fields. In the light of the following discussion on Maria clans, it will be seen as fitting that the term pari which designates a division of physical space is indistinguishable from the one used to mark the boundaries of the social group as well: among the Maria pari is the word used for clan. Muria clans are patrilineal, membership passing from father to son. Clan membership is normally passed on to sons at birth, but in the case of adopted or illegitimate males, it is conferred as a result of residence with their adoptive parents, i.e. a woman’s illegitimate child becomes a member of her legitimate husband’s clan. Women are excluded from formal inclusion into the system of clans. When asked for the name of their clan, women will simply assert that their sex excludes them from clan membership and say that women do not have clans; when pressed for an answer they will state that they are the ’’daughters” of their fathers’ clan. In the case of women living with their second husbands, the response to enquiries about clan affiliation is usually made in terms of the clan of their previous husband, and not the original clan of their fathers. In the system of clans, women are poised between paternal clans of origin, and the clans of

their children’s fathers, without being ’members’ of either. There is an

acknowledgement that their fate eventually is to become identified with another clan. When I remarked to a man who had informed me that frying rice pancakes was taboo for his clan that I had on several occasions seen his sisters frying them, he said that it did not matter what they did as he had ’’already given them to other clans” . I may add that in this instance no suitor had been found for one of these girls so that this man was stating what he simply regarded as a foregone conclusion - women must be given away to clans of affines and therefore are outside the scope of their

paternal clan taboos, though they will have to observe their husbands’ taboos eventually. This socially accepted fact that women are destined to become identified wlith their husband’s clan is structurally important when considering the place of the Ghotul in Muria society, and within the

village in particular. The ’daughters and sisters’ (helar-miar) of the

resident clans in a village are collectively seen as affines of the village via their role as mothers of in-marrying brides (father’s sisters = mothers-in-law: on the terminological details, cf. below). Prior to

becoming identified with their husband’s clans with the social

categorization as affines, the younger helar-miar are consigned, for a period, to the Ghotul, which also, and for this reason among others, stands in an ’affinal’ relation to the village as a whole, which I will explore in greater detail later on.

It is not possible to elicit a comprehensive picture of Muria clans from any one informant. The list of clans given by men vary in composition and do not always overlap. Men generally enumerate somewhere between seven and ten named clans. Not only does the total number of clan units enumerated vary, but it is also impossible at times to identify and compare the level at which the units themselves have been defined. For example, a man may qualify a particular clan he has mentioned by reference to a territorial district - thus, the Korami of Vargama etc. but make no verbal discrimination between the Hallami clan of, say Mahima Gwari and Hallami found elsewhere.

One cannot use territorial maps to indicate the boundaries of clans; Muria clans are dispersed and it cannot be determined that at some archaic period they had definite geographical boundaries. Today the clan names are not associated exclusively with any particular territorial division, although informants when attempting to specify clans outside their immediate social experience will often associate a clan with a particular geographical area. This is purely a verbal shorthand however, and no homogeneous territorial clans are found upon investigation. The frequent references to village or broad territorial region which one finds in informants’ statements is a device intended to segregate the members of a particular clan with whom the informant has some degree of social acquaintance from the wider, general clan about which the informant has no

p e r s o n a l knowledge b u t which he i s aware e x i s t s . Rat her t h a n a s s e r t i n g a p o l i t i c a l hegemony o v e r t h e a r e a by t h e p a r t i c u l a r c l a n , such s t a t e m e n t s r e c o g n i z e t h e f u t i l i t y o f g e n e r a l i z a t i o n from one l e v e l t o a n o t h e r and acknowledge t h e l o c a l l y s p e c i f i c n a t u r e o f ’p a r t s ’ o f t h e same c l a n . The c l a n p i c t u r e must be b u i l t up pi e ce me al ; t h e t o t a l i t y i s a r r i v e d a t by a m e ch a n i c a l p r o c e s s o f adding t o g e t h e r s c a t t e r e d p i e c e s o f t h e c l a n . At t h e p r e s e n t t h e r e i s no v i l l a g e , l e t a l o n e a d i s t r i c t which i s n o t a m u l t i - c l a n e n t i t y .

The l o c a l dominance o f a p a r t i c u l a r c l a n w i t h i n a gi ve n a r e a i s a d i f f e r e n t q u e s t i o n , and i s a common enough phenomenon. Manjapur was s i t u a t e d i n an a r e a o f Korami c l a n d om i n a t i o n i n t h a t t h e most i m p o r t a n t p o l i t i c a l and r i t u a l o f f i c e s i n t h e v i l l a g e were h e l d by Koramis a s t h e y were i n t h e two n e i g h b o u r i n g v i l l a g e s o f Atargaon and Bargaon. I t was t h e Koramis who were s a i d t o have been t h e ’e a r l i e s t ’ s e t t l e r s i n t h e v i l l a g e and who were e n t i t l e d t o p r e s t i g e on a c c o u n t o f t h e i r s t a t u s as t h e o l d e s t r e s i d e n t s . There were more Koramis i n Manjapur t h a n were members o f any o t h e r c l a n and between them t h e y owned more l a n d t h a n any o t h e r s i n g l e c l a n . However, t h e y were n o t a t any economic a d v a n t a g e v i s - a - v i s t h e o t h e r c l a n groups i n t h e v i l l a g e i n t e r m s o f t h e l a n d h e l d pe r head o f t h e c l a n p o p u l a t i o n . In t h i s r e s p e c t t h e r e c ou ld be s a i d t o have been an e q u i t a b l e d i s t r i b u t i o n o f la n d r e s o u r c e s i n t h e v i l l a g e . Nor di d t h e Koramis d i s t r i b u t e r i g h t s t o t h e c u l t i v a t i o n o f Manjapur l a n d . In f a c t , d u r i n g t h e y e a r t h a t f i e l d w o r k was c a r r i e d o u t , t h e r e was a r e a c t i o n a g a i n s t t h e p o l i t i c a l dominance t h a t l a r g e r numbers gave t o t h e Korami c l a n i n v i l l a g e p o l i t i c s , and i n t h e g e n e r a l s p i r i t o f r e s e n t m e n t , a man s o l d h i s l a n d t o a Hallami c l a n member, even though he was b e i n g o f f e r e d a h i g h e r p r i c e by a Korami f a mi l y . The Korami p o p u l a t i o n o f Manjapur, Bargaon, Atargaon doe s n o t c o n s t i t u t e t h e e n t i r e Korami c l a n . Other p a t c h e s o f Korami c o n c e n t r a t i o n e x i s t i n g e o g r a p h i c a l l y d i s p a r a t e a r e a s - around Remawand, f o r example, which l i e s i n a t e r r i t o r i a l d i s t r i c t t o t h e n o r t h - e a s t o f Chotta Dongar, i n a d i f f e r e n t p a r g a n a a l t o g e t h e r , some t we nty m i l e s d i s t a n t from t h e Korami-dominated b e l t around Manjapur, and s e p a r a t e d from i t by a r e a s dominated by o t h e r c l a n s .

In document The ghotul in muria society (Page 67-82)