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Chapter 11 Competitive Feasting Many components of Philippine status rivalry and political competition for followers converge within a single category of social action: the ethnohistorically reported institution of competitive feasting associated with calendrical ritual and life-crisis events. Similar to “feasts of merit” in other regions of Southeast Asia, competitive feasts in Polynesia, and the potlatch among populations of the northwest coast of North America, these elitesponsored feasts served to reproduce social relations. Both community cohesion and social rank differentiation were expressed through elite gift exchange, chiefs’ oral narratives, animal sacrifice, food prestations, and ancestor-invoking ritual. In Philippine chiefdoms of the early sixteenth to twentieth centuries these feasting systems functioned to reaffirm and renegotiate social relations through ritualized exchanges of meat and valuables between the hosts and participants. In particular, social prestige or “merit” as well as expanded political patronage were accrued by feast sponsors through the creation of social debt among feast participants. The distribution of faunal and floral remains that might be associated with ritual feasting, the presence of specialized food preparation and serving assemblages at prehispanic settlements, and the archaeological study of specific spatial contexts associated with feasting in periods before European contact suggest some ways in which these feasting systems may have transformed over time. Increased production of high-value foods such as pig, water buffalo , and rice, and their differential distribution across elite and nonelite residential zones at fifteenth-to-sixteenth-century Tanjay supports arguments for a widening social participation in feasts of merit and an inflationary scale of material goods exchanged compared to earlier periods. Archaeological evidence from a number of chiefly centers suggests that foreign porcelain serving assemblages become an increasingly important component of elite feasting paraphernalia in the few centuries before European contact. At the same time, expanded production of local status wares may be tied to the emulation of elite feasting rites by lower-ranked individuals who did not have access to elaborate foreign porcelain assemblages. While the archaeological data document these material trends, one must turn once again to the ethnohistorical evidence from the Philippines and elsewhere in Southeast Asia to develop ideas about how an expanding system of competitive feasting might relate to broader transformations in chiefly political economies. 314 Foreign Trade and Internal Transformation Competitive Feasting in Philippine Complex Societies: The Ethnohistorical Evidence What the sixteenth-century Spaniards described as “feasts of ostentation and vanity” (Colin 1660b:75) were a central feature of the political economy of virtually all Philippine complex societies. Ritual feasts are described by Spanish observers and early ethnographic accounts as the cornerstone of social, political, economic, and religious life in these societies. These events were essential signifiers and mediators of (1) “life-crisis” events (e.g., birth, pregnancy, death, illness and curing, and marriage); (2) occasional events (such as the construction of a chief’s house, chiefly succession, maritime raids, alliances with former enemies or peace pacts, and the initiation of a lengthy trading expedition); and (3) critical points in the annual agricultural cycle (Relation of the Conquest of the Island of Luzon 1572:164; Boxer manuscript 1590b:190, 201, 213–214; Chirino 1604b:262–271, Colin 1660a:65, 75, 89–90; Loarca 1582a:149–151; Navarrete 1648:415; Pérez 1680:102–103, 110; Pigafetta 1521a:65–66; Plasencia 1589d:190– 195; Santa Ines 1676:78–79) (Fig. 11.1). Ethnohistorical evidence suggests that feasting in the Philippines simultaneously transacted values of sociopolitical integration and asymmetries, wealth accumulation and generalized redistribution, socially restricted ritual potency, and supernaturally reinforced community well-being. Although I recognize the danger of generalizing about a series of ritual actions that may have very different symbolic content in different sixteenthcentury Philippine complex societies, these events do share a number of features that suggest strong functional and structural similarities. These features include (1) sponsorship (though not always exclusively) by elite individuals (most frequently, chiefs); (2) the performance of sacrificial rites using animals (usually pigs, chickens, or water buffalo), other subsistence goods, or manufactured goods contributed by individuals in a tributary or subservient role to the sponsor; (3) elite exchanges of valuables (e.g., porcelain, gold jewelry) as part of ongoing reciprocal exchange partnerships; (4) reallocation of meat and other feasting foods for consumption according to kinship ties and social rank relations with the sponsoring elite; and (5) the conferring of social prestige on the feast’s sponsor in accordance with the feast’s lavishness and the social debt created through the sponsor’s prestations. The Philippine case parallels the...


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