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Chapter 10 Alliance and Prestige Goods Exchange Exchanges of prestige goods between allied elites as a means of consolidating political power is characteristic of chiefdom-level societies (D’Altroy and Earle 1985; Earle 1987b, 1997; Friedman 1981; Frankenstein and Rowlands 1978; Johnson and Earle 1987: 208; Peebles and Kus 1977; Rowlands 1980). In Southeast Asian complex societies, where tenuously cohering personal alliance networks rather than more permanent unilineal descent groups are the core of political power, prestige goods exchanges with other elites are particularly critical to maintaining and expanding political coalitions. Once these goods have been obtained through foreign trade or through local sponsorship of luxury good artisans, exchange generally takes place in specific kinds of social contexts in which their symbolic value is maximized and participation of the nonelite can be restricted. These exclusionary events might include elite gift giving at chiefly ceremonial feasts, exchanges associated with marriage (often in the form of “bridewealth” payments to affinals), and ritualized elite prestations accompanying long-distance trade expeditions or military alliance. As tangible symbols of elite social prestige and political authority, these goods become part of a shared elite symbolic system that includes both materially expressed iconographies and behavioral texts. This “elite culture” often encompasses distinct architectural styles, dress and behavioral modes, language and writing systems, ritual pageantry, and esoteric knowledge that set the nobility apart from ordinary people as a distinct class (Freidel 1986; Hantman and Plog 1982:243–244; Marcus 1974; Renfrew 1986; Wright 1984:54). Prestige goods can also serve as bankable stores of value that can be converted into clientage relations and tribute flow to the elite by selectively funneling them down the political hierarchy to subordinates. As summarized by Johnson and Earle, “By channelling the distribution of valuables, ranking elites used them almost as political currency” (1987:208). Particularly in Southeast Asian complex societies, where political ties were highly volatile and predicated upon personal allegiance, strategic disbursements of prestige goods by chiefly patrons to local leaders were essential to attracting and retaining a large cadre of tribute-producing supporters. A generous outflow of prestige markers to subordinates translated directly into an Alliance and Prestige Goods Exchange 293 expanding inflow of subsistence surplus, raw materials, and exchangeable goods for foreign export. The ethnohistorical evidence, in early European writings and ethnographic accounts of Philippine chiefdoms persisting into the early twentieth century, suggests that Philippine chiefs were polygamous and that they strategically arranged marriages with both potential elite allies and subordinate chiefs to broaden their sphere of political influence. Control of enormous wealth in prestige goods and slaves was necessary for chiefs to acquire high-status and politically influential wives as well as to make lowerranking men indebted to them by “sponsoring” their bridewealth payments . In addition, the circulation of prestige goods was an integral part of trade partnerships, military pacts, and competitive status displays in elitesponsored ceremonial feasting. A major issue in the evolution of Philippine chiefly political economies is the impact of foreign luxury good trade on the scale and intensity of prestige goods exchanges. Comparative material on African and European long-distance trading polities suggests that new sources of wealth might be manipulated by elites to expand the geographic reach of their alliance networks and even to transform what were previously symmetrical relations into relations of subordination (see Chapter 1). Archaeological evidence presented in the second half of this chapter addresses this issue of long-term changes in the internal prestige goods economy of Philippine chiefdoms related to the early second millennium a.d. growth of foreign trade. Marriage Alliances and Bridewealth Exchange One of the most important social contexts in which prestige goods were strategically disbursed to increase the social status of the kin group and to expand political alliances in Southeast Asian complex societies is marriage negotiations and bridewealth payments. For chiefs and kings in particular, the creation of a widespread network of affinal ties that ramified horizontally and vertically through the sociopolitical hierarchy was of supreme importance in political coalition building. Subordinates presented their daughters and sisters to rulers as acts of fealty, while elites exchanged wives to consolidate their alliance, with elite polygamy “both an indication of status and a diplomatic weapon” (Reid 1988:151). Since bridewealth payments traditionally passed from prospective grooms to the families of selected brides throughout Southeast Asia (Reid 1988:146), it was incumbent on Southeast Asian maharajahs, sultans, and chiefs to accrue the enormous surpluses of prestige good wealth that would allow them to acquire numerous high...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780824864064
Related ISBN
9780824820350
MARC Record
OCLC
45843033
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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