Re: rank, hierarchy, and power

Eve Pinsker (U56728@UICVM.BITNET)
Tue, 10 Jan 1995 19:17:33 CST

I sent this to Harriet Whitehead in reply to her comment on my last post;
then I noticed she'd sent her comment to the list, so I guess I should send
my reply to the list, too. It's long, however, so don't read it unless you're
interested in Micronesian cases of ranked or hierarchical relationships, and
any comments you have for me on the specifics of these cases should probably
be addressed to me at Eve Pinsker
----------------------------Original message----------------------------
As you imply, I think, there is not necessarily one context one can proclaim as
"the" ritual context: there are different kinds of rituals or ritualistic
contexts (including elective-government connected rituals) and different kinds
of hierarchical or ranked relationships may be marked in different contexts.
But as far as whether, for instance, the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw necessarily
represents a "whole" when he is given ritual precedence, say, at a feast
(seated in the position
connected w. the highest-ranking person present, served food first, given the
largest portion of food distributed, given the first cup of kava, etc.) you
have to specify which "whole" you mean: he is related through both rank and
hierarchy to other inhabitants or title-holders of Madolenihmw, he does re-
present the whole that is Madolenihmw BUT NOT the whole that is Pohnpei, at
least that is what the Pohnpeians say. All the 10 paramount chiefs and
talking chiefs _together_ represent the whole that is Pohnpei. But that's not
the same as the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw by himself representing the whole.
At the next part-whole (hierarchical) level of community up from Madolenihmw,
-- Pohnpei Island or what the Pohnpeins call Pohnpei pwun (Pohnpei-as-a-whole)
-- the relationships among the chiefs within that level (the paramount chiefs
) are NOT hierarchical, they're ranked.
there may be, in some other ethnograph
ic cases, a distinction to be made between hierarchical relationships where a
chief "represents" or "embodies" a set or superset of people or people and the
land, etc. they are connected with and hierarchical relationships where the
chief has a relationship of control or command over a set of people
-- both of these
sorts of relationships are hierchical but one may want to distinguish between
them -- but in the Micronesian cases I'm looking at, I'd say, pretty much, that
where the "embodying" or representing relationship exists the control-command
relationship does too. BUt one has to be careful insofar as a group (like the
group of paramount chiefs) can "embody" a island-full of people and _as a
group_ have a hierarchical relation to those people, even though the relation-
ships within that group of chiefs itself are ranked and not hierarchical.
Which means that the highest-ranked member of that group, as a personage, does
not have a hierarchical relation to the set of all people on the island.
This is connected to the tendency for Pohnpeians to _avoid_ creating situations
in which the highest-ranking chiefs from different municipalities are in the
same place -- even though there_are_stated rankings among these chiefs, there i
s no command/control relation between them, and the chiefs from the other
municipalities do not acknowledge that the paramount chiefs from Madolinihmw
can, in any sense,t ell them what to do. Most of the contexts in which these
chiefs come together are connected w. the American-instituted, elective
government -- sometimes indirectly connected, like when all 5 highest chiefs
conferred a "traditional" title on the then governor -- I mean that's less
of a direct connection to the introduced gov't than inviting them all to a
gov't conference.
Prior to the u.s administration (even under the Japanese, Germans,
and Spanish) there were very few contexts in which all the chiefs would be in
the same place. After all, they, or the young men under them, used to fight
each other -- the present sets of titles and boundaries are the results of wars
in which one chief would establish dominance and control over the lands and
people connected w. other leaders. Part of the argument here for saying that
the relationship among the chiefs is ranked and not hierarchical is based on
ideology, that is, what the Pohnpeians say about it (which does constrain what
the chiefs can actually do and what people can do in relation to them); part of
the argument is based on how Pohnpeians conduct activities involving the
chiefs, and whether there are observable command/control relationships.
As far as "embodiment relationships,
Whether relationships of "embodiment" exist or not has to be based on analysis
of some sort of symbolic discourse, whether it's verbal discourse (ideology) or
nonverbal (what Suzanne Langer called "nondiscursive") symbolisms like the
movements or food prestations and distributions that are part of ritual
feasting (e.g., the Nahnmwarki of Madolenihmw cannot decide, at a feast that is
n't taking place in Madolenihmw, how food is going to be redistributed to non-
Madolenihmw people.He should be seatedin the highest-ranking seat in the meetin
g house that was built as a Pohnpei-wide meeting house behind the governors'
house, but in that context he won't be able to redistribute food to non-Madolen
ihmw people; hence I would argue that he does not "embody" Pohnpei as a whole,
not as a personage by himself).
Throughout Micronesia, there are part/whole hierarchical levels of communi
ty that have ranked, NOT hierarchical, relationships between leaders at the
highest level of community -- that has causedproblems for foreign administrator
s, who, like you, do tend to think these things should coexist, so they ask for
" the chief of the island" and creat one if he doesn't exist. Even in Yap,
which I would argue has the most hierarchical traditional political organiz-
ation of the islands now in the Fed. States of Micronesia, at the topmost level
of the political organization of the island (and including the traditional
vassal relationships to the atolls to the east) there is a triumvirate of 3
triads of estates that represent the whole of Yap, and those estates have a
ranked and not hierarchical relationship among themselves -- no one of them
represents the whole of Yap, not even the triad (or the estate that triad
) that is spoken of as the highest ranking (or the "eldest" -- pilbithir).
Yapese talk about the 3 triads as 3 rocks upon which rests the pot of Yap.
One rock alone does not hold a pot up.
People do talk about rank a lot in Micronesia, and use some of the same
metaphors we do, like Pohnpeians talk about someone "going first" -- 'tieng' --
or about someone being "lapalap sang" "bigger than" somebody else or higher --
the high ranking people are called "soupeidi" -- those who look down, because
they get seated on a raised platform. Chuukese talk about someone having
"high thought" (namanam tekia) -- that's pejorative and means they're acting
snobbish; the corresponding Pohnpeian term is "aklapalap" "acting big."
Micronesians in general have a sort of ambiguous feeling about rank; being of
a higher-ranking lineage, etc. does have its advantages and other people are
supposed to show you deference (how specifically varies from island to island
and community to community) but if you act like you demand it, people won't
like you. Because of differences in how rank is publically constructed and
acted on from island to island, people from one island make judgements about
how people on other islands handle these things (if they interact w. them) --
Trukese and Pohnpeian outer islanders, for instance, tend to see Pohnpeians as
overly preoccupied w. rank, in the sense that they're stuck-up "namanam tekia"
or "aklapalap."
But in statements like the one the Yapese make about the pot, and
Pohnpeians saying "Pohnpei is not one," Micronesians talk about hierarchy,
too, and I do think it's useful to distinguish that from rank.
Thanks for your comments; I think they've helped clarify my own thinking
about this.
Eve Pinsker