Re: rank, hierarchy, and power

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUAIX.CSC.WSU.EDU)
Tue, 10 Jan 1995 09:07:18 -31802

eve, i see what you're saying, but i would need to know *on what basis*
you get to assert that one of these paramount chiefs is higher than the
others. if he is granted no deference or precedence by others in any
context, then clearly he's not higher. if he is granted precedence in the
ritual context, as you suggest, then that is the context in which you
will find him representing a larger whole, n'est-ce pas?
incidentally, societies are capable of sustaining multiple rank orders;
they don't have to be co-ordinated with one another.

harriet whitehead
anthropology, wsu

On Mon, 9 Jan 1995, Eve Pinsker wrote:

> 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