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Chapter 4 Political Cycling in Philippine Chiefdoms In this chapter, I examine long-term processes of sociopolitical evolution in Philippine polities and changes in the political landscape of the archipelago over the millennia prior to European contact. The ecological, demographic, and cultural elements that were seen in Chapter 3 as contributing to a decentralized political structure in many historically documented and ethnographically known Southeast Asian chiefdoms and kingdoms also created an exceptionally high degree of instability in political power bases when viewed over the long term. In particular, many of the island Southeast Asian chiefdoms and states have political histories characterized by relatively shortterm oscillatory transformations between simple and complex forms of political structure with no clear unilineal trajectory toward higher levels of political integration. This phenomenon has been described by a number of anthropologists as “political cycling” (e.g., Anderson 1994:1–52; Carneiro 1990:185–187; Earle 1991:13–14; Flannery 1972, 1995; Marcus 1992a; H. Wright 1984, 1986). The regional political landscapes created out of these highly volatile political relations rapidly transformed over time as peer polity interactions, factional competition, conquest warfare, manipulation of elite ideologies and foreign religions, and changing external trade relations with more complex Asiatic states and empires led to expansion of some polities at the expense of others. Political Cycling in Chiefdoms and States Political cycling is a process in which individual polities within a “peer polity” interaction sphere recurrently oscillate between political expansion and political fragmentation, fluctuating between “complex” forms with two-level administrative hierarchies and “simple” forms with one-level decision-making hierarchies (Anderson 1994:8–10; Carneiro 1990:185–187; Earle 1991:13–14; H. Wright 1984, 1986). Thus, cycling is “the recurrent process of the emergence, expansion, and fragmentation of complex chiefdoms amid a regional backdrop of simple chiefdoms” (Anderson 1994:9), a process that may occur over a long period of time without any overall regional evolutionary trajectory toward state formation (Wright 1986). This oscillatory fluctuation between simple and complex forms (Fig. 4.1) can be Figure 4.1. Simple and complex forms of chiefdoms, showing variation in settlement and control hierarchies. (Adapted from Anderson 1994) Political Cycling in Chiefdoms 87 analyzed for individual polities by tracing their specific political histories through ethnohistorical and archaeological evidence, but it must also be studied at an expanded regional scale by examining geographic shifts in power centers through time over a larger political landscape. This pattern of cycling between simple and complex forms of chiefdom in individual polities, and frequent long-term instability of regional political power configurations in multipolity landscapes have been recognized widely in archaeological studies of periods before state formation in the Near East (Adams 1966:9; G. Johnson 1987; Kohl 1987; Stein 1994; Wright and Johnson 1975), Mesoamerica (Drennan 1991a; Flannery 1976; Flannery and Marcus 1983: 53–64; Marcus and Flannery 1996: 93–120; Kowalewski 1990a; Parsons et al. 1982), South America (Carneiro 1990; Drennan 1991a), Africa (H. Wright 1990), and Japan (Barnes 1987; Pearson 1990). In a broadly comparative analysis of evolutionary trajectories in pre-state complex societies of Mesopotamia, the Indus River valley, Mexico, and Peru, Wright (1986) found that long periods of political cycling between simple and complex forms of chiefdoms generally preceded state emergence, with changing local political configurations but no overall increase in regional sociopolitical complexity. Although state structures usually appear relatively abruptly, state formation appears to be related in many cases to a long-term but intensifying process of competition and conflict, or “peer polity interactions ,” between adjacent chiefdoms (Earle 1987a, 1991; Renfrew and Cherry 1986; H. Wright 1977, 1986). Archaeological and ethnohistorical investigations have also documented long-term political cycling phenomena in regions where no primary statelevel societies evolved, similar to the prehispanic Philippines. In broad evolutionary terms, continual but possibly escalating peer polity competition between multiple chiefdoms, oscillation between complex and simple political hierarchies, and rapidly reconfigured regional political landscapes characterized a “stable” process over long periods in these regions owing to factors discouraging permanent larger-scale political formations (although contacts with foreign powers of greater complexity in some cases eventually led to secondary state development). In many cases, there was an overall regional trajectory toward chiefdoms of greater complexity, although this occurred over many repeated cycles of political consolidation and collapse. Some examples are historic and prehistoric Polynesia (Bargatzky 1988; Cordy 1981; Kirch 1984; Petersen 1982; Sahlins 1981), prehispanic Central and South America (Drennan 1987, 1991a; Helms 1979), Bronze Age and Iron Age northern Europe (Champion and Champion...


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