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Chapter 5 Social Stratification in Contact Period Societies One of the primary features of pre-state complex societies or chiefdoms is the presence of social ranking—that is, at least partially hereditary social status differences that are given structural rigidity through symbolic expression and, in most cases, confer distinct economic advantage (differential access to resources) on an “elite” stratum (Carneiro 1981; Earle 1987a, 1991; Service 1962). In chiefdom societies, there is a “pervasive inequality of persons and groups in the society” (Service 1971:145). However, Sahlins (1958), Goldman (1970), and Oliver (1989:883–956) note that status systems in the Polynesian chiefdoms vary considerably—in the degree to which ascriptive assignment may be modified by achieved rank, in their overall structural complexity (i.e., how many social strata are defined), and in the degree to which social strata are continuously graded or qualitatively defined. The traditional view contrasting strict hereditary ascription as characteristic of chiefly status systems (exemplified by Polynesian chiefdoms) with primarily achieved rank in “big man” systems (exemplified by Melanesian “tribal societies”) (Sahlins 1963) has recently come under fire as an unrealistically simplified dichotomy (e.g., Thomas 1989). Social stratification is manifested behaviorally in the presence of strong “taboos” or proscriptions on interclass marriage and social interaction (Goldman 1970; Oliver 1989; Sahlins 1958) and materially in insignia of social rank (Peebles and Kus 1977), differential energy investment in mortuary ritual (Goldman 1970:522–536; J. Brown 1971; Peebles and Kus 1977; Tainter 1973), differential wealth in households and varying energy expenditure in constructing residences (Feinman and Neitzel 1984; Plog and Upham 1983; M. Smith 1987), and dietary differences between individuals and households (Crabtree 1990). This chapter will focus on ethnohistorical analysis of social stratification in contact period and later Philippine chiefdoms. Sixteenth-to-nineteenthcentury Spanish accounts and early-twentieth-century ethnographic work are used to reconstruct traditional systems of social rank differentiation, and their behavioral and material manifestations, over a broad range of contact period complex societies in the Philippine archipelago. While this ethnohistorical study has limited time depth, it provides the baseline for the investigation in Chapter 6 of the evolution of these ranking systems in Philippine chiefdoms between the early first millennium a.d. and the mid– second millennium a.d. Social Stratification 121 Ethnographic and historical sources are remarkably consistent in describing basic social and political forms that appear to be characteristic of all Filipino complex societies as well as many chiefdoms and states in other regions of insular Southeast Asia. These include at least partially ascribed social strata, but with significant fluidity of movement between classes; positions of hereditary but highly unstable leadership; and hierarchical but not strongly vertically integrated political organization (i.e., decentralized polities) structured through highly personalized social alliances rather than territorially based units. The gradational and highly fluid social ranks, rather than rigidly defined social stratification, characteristic of these societies appear to have been manifested materially more often in quantitative than in qualitative differences in house form, household wealth, personal ornamentation, access to subsistence resources, and burial modes. Chiefs and Other Elites Spanish documents of the early phases of colonization indicate the presence of a well-developed system of social stratification in many sixteenthcentury Philippine lowland societies (Alcina 1688b:100–123; Loarca 1582a: 143–153; Morga 1609a:296; Plasencia 1589a:173–175; Chirino 1604b: 302–308; Dasmarinas 1591; Isla 1565:232; San Buenaventura 1613; see summaries in Alip 1965; Jocano 1975a; Krieger 1942; Scott 1980, 1994: 127–146). Early accounts were explicit and consistent in recognizing three or four distinct inherited social ranks or “classes,” at the apex of which stood a series of regional “chiefs” (Alcina 1688b:100–123; Morga 1609c: 50–51; Plasencia 1589a:173–175). It is likely that the early Spaniards would have been biased toward emphasizing indigenous social class differences because of their experiences with complex societies in the New World and their desire to justify their own social oppression of the archipelago’s inhabitants . However, Spanish claims for strongly developed systems of social stratification are supported by descriptions of ascriptive ranking in latenineteenth and early-twentieth-century ethnographic accounts of extant chiefdoms such as Bagabo, Bukidnon, Maranao, Sulu, and Magindanao in the southern Philippines (Biernatzki 1985; Claver 1985; Cole 1913, 1956; Ileto 1971; Kiefer 1972b; Mednick 1965, 1977b; Saleeby 1905; J. Warren 1985). For example, anthropologist Fay Cooper Cole’s turn-of-the-century description of social organization among the Bagabo of central Mindanao indicates that at least three distinct hereditary social ranks were...


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