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Chapter 3 Chiefly Authority and Political Structure The geography and cultural history of Southeast Asia had a significant influence on how complex societies were structured and how they evolved. A geographically fragmented and ecological diverse landscape, comparatively low population densities relative to productive agricultural land, the pervasiveness of polygamous marriages, and cognatic descent rules weakening claims of chiefly succession were some of the factors that promoted the development of small-scale, ethnically fragmented polities in which leadership was ephemeral and political coalescence a relatively temporary state within endless cycles of political consolidation and fragmentation (Andaya 1992; Winzeler 1976). As summarized by historian Barbara Andaya: “The typical Southeast Asian ‘kingdom’ was a coalescence of localized power centers, ideally bound together not by force but through a complex interweaving of links engendered by blood connections and obligation . Leadership, conceived in personal and ritual terms, required constant reaffirmation. On the death of each ruler, therefore, his successor’s authority had to be reconstituted with a renewal of marriage bonds and a vow of loyalty” (1992:409). Philippine polities like Sulu, Manila, and Magindanao , even at their height of political expansion, never rivaled the scale and complexity of many maritime-trading polities of island Southeast Asia outside the archipelago. Even so, the nature of political power relations and other core elements of political structure are similar and suggest parallel trajectories of evolution (Hutterer 1977a; Junker 1990b, 1994b). An archaeological emphasis on widespread architectural styles and historical reliance on epigraphically prominent polities have in the past given an impression of Southeast Asian political history as the progression from one enduring civilization to another—Funan, Champa, Srivijaya, Angkor, Pagan, Majapahit (e.g., Coedes 1972; D. Hall 1968). The advent of regional-scale archaeological investigations and new approaches to historical analysis have begun to emphasize the multicenter nature of premodern Southeast Asia and the generally fragmented structure of power relations that resulted only rarely in coalescing local power centers into a tenuously cohering centralized state (Andaya and Andaya 1982:20; B. Andaya 1992; K. Hall 1985, 1992; Reid 1993a; Wheatley 1975, 1983; Winzeler 1976, 1981).1 Historically known Philippine chiefdoms appear to represent the less complex end of a spectrum of Southeast Asian polities that share core ele- 58 Structure and Evolution ments of political structure that differentiate complex societies in the region in evolutionary terms from complex societies elsewhere in the world. Thus, this chapter will begin with an analysis of general models of Southeast Asian political structure, examining in more depth such concepts as “segmentary polity,” “theater state,” and “galactic polity” as a way of characterizing these societies and those of the prehispanic Philippines. I will also examine the role of environmental, demographic, and cultural factors in creating the highly fragmented political landscape and personalized power relations core to Southeast Asian polities in general and, by analogy, to those of the Philippines. Another significant issue to be addressed in this chapter is the “evolutionary status” of Philippine polities and the analytical utility of neo-evolutionary models that would classify most Philippine complex societies as “chiefdoms” rather than “states.” In this general comparative analysis of Southeast Asian political structures, I will also examine the role of foreign religious ideologies, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam in shaping local concepts of rulership and legitimating political authority. A general discussion of Southeast Asian political structures establishes a comparative framework for analyzing the nature of political hierarchies, political power relations, and chiefly authority in traditional Philippine complex societies. I will begin with an analysis of political organization in the sixteenth-to-nineteenth-century Sulu polity in the southern Philippines, since the Sulu sultanate has received the most extensive historical and ethnographic treatment of any traditional complex society in the Philippines . The well-documented Sulu polity will then serve as a baseline for examining the nature of chiefly authority and regional political structures in other Philippine polities for which there is a less detailed ethnographic and historical record. The many polities for which we have no details of political organization, but only Chinese-recorded names and locations, or archaeological evidence but no historical validation are significant in the diachronic study of changing political configurations in the late first millennium to mid–second millennium Philippines. The Segmentary Polity: A Model for the Decentralized Chiefdoms and States in Southeast Asia Southeast Asian complex societies are generally characterized by a decentralized political structure in which political hierarchies are weakly integrated even in the most developed “states,” and political authority relies less on hereditary...


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