Re: rank, hierarchy, and power

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Mon, 9 Jan 1995 17:08:30 CST

RE Harriett Whitehead's assertion that rank difference ALWAYS implies a
hierarchy of levels -- it's not true, since I've run into counter examples in
my own field area. Status titles in Pohnpei are ranked, but only the very
highest-ranking titles have anything to do w. part-whole hierarchies. And the
island is divided, currently, into 5 roughly pie-shaped paramount chiefdoms,
which are ranked in relation to each other, but the highest-ranking chiefdom
(Madolenihmw) has no hierarchical authority over the others; it's "first
among equals" and has ritual precedence, that's it. Any attempt by the
paramount chief of Madolenihmw to insist that he had authority over the others
or by definition was supposed to represent them -- i.e., had a part-whole
relation to them -- would be met be met w. scorn, or the assertion "Pohnpei
sohte eu" (Pohnpei is not one).
IN the mid-eighties the paramount chiefs, at the instigation of the governor's
office, did form themselves into a body which met periodically, and they
elected a chairman, first the paramount chief of Kitti, and then they replaced
him with the Nahnken (or "talking chief") of Nett, who was actually the lowest-
ranking member of the group, as far as traditional calculations of rank went.
They were pretty clear that this idea of meeting as a group and making group
decisions was not a "traditional" one, and the act of choosing a member to
chair the meetings and in some sense "represent" the group -- which does
correspond to a hierarchical relation -- had nothing to do w. traditional rank.
The rankings still existed, Madolenihmw still was the highest, but that didn't
have anything to do w. the hierarchy imposed in the government context.
I'm not saying that rank and hierarchy never coexist -- clearly they do
in some contexts, and it's important to look at the differences in the way
they relate from one political system to another. In island- and island-group
-wide political organization in Micronesia, for instance, if you look at the
differences between Yap and Chuuk (Truk) lagoon and Pohnpei, rank and hierarchy
co-exist to some extent in all 3 areas, but in different ways -- Chuuk
has the least emphasis on hierarchy, with most relationships between units
being ranked ones; Yap has the most emphasis on hierarchy, although even there
the political system can't be understood in strictly part-whole terms and rank
(e.g., of estates) plays an important part; and Pohnpei's in-between, with
less emphasis on part-whole relations than Yap but more than Chuuk.

Eve Pinsker