THE SHAN TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
SHAN TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS
ELDERS. IT is the Shan tradition to treat elders respectfully for the following reasons: -
- Knowledge derived from long experience.
The Buddhist religion, spread into the Shan society nine years after the Lord Buddha attained His enlightenment (Mong Mao Chronicle) and came to Loi Seng monastery to teach Buddhism among the Shans (Dai/Tai) people. The Loi Seng monastery is still at the same place situated near the Mong Mao district town known to the Chinese as Ruili today. Naturally, Buddhist religion emphasizes respect to the elderly. It became a tradition of the Shans since then.
Religious learning, self-training through meditation, reflection on one's deeds and the study and the assessment of the Law of Nature as Buddhism teaches made them acquire wisdom. The younger generation's respect for the elders' wisdom also became a tradition.
Their long personal experiences in a wide range of social, cultural, economic and management affairs. etc. were invaluable to the grassroots community. Without their guidance, the continuation of social and other links would be broken. Therefore, the elders were always chosen by the village and village circle community as advisers and consultants on quite a wide range of subjects. Most of their advice was always taken seriously and followed. PU GE, PU MONG, PU HENG, PU MHIN, PU SAEN, etc. indicate their level of civil service position. The PU which literally means GRANDFATHER would always be put in front of their rank. Sometimes TAO, which means GRAND OLD AGE, would be used to refer to them in respect. Although the aggressive measures taken by the military regimes, since independence, to destroy the Shans on every sector of Shan society, this culture still survives. Shans abhor their actions such as renaming the Shan states' cities, towns and villages with Burmese names.
The word TAO GE referring to individuals showing respect is still being widely used in Thailand. TAO literally mean old and Ge also means old, both in Shan and Thai; and of course, Dai (Tai) Neau, Leau, Kheun and Lao.
SELECTION OF VILLAGE HEADMAN (PU GE, PU GANG) AND VILLAGE COUNCIL
VILLAGE CIRCLE LEVEL SELECTION OF (PU HEING) AND COUNCIL MEMBERS SUCH AS (PU HMONG, PU MONG).
Villagers' meetings, compulsory for every household of a village to attend, would be held at an elder's house or usually at the village monastery. The meeting would select the headman and the council by a majority vote either by voice or raising hands. The village elders would nominate the headman, traditionally by the eldest or the next eldest as the situation dictated. The result would be reported to the head of the village circle and its council through him for approval. However the council of the village circle had the power to reject the headman or change the village council through the village circle council meeting attended by the directly concerned and its neighboring villagers. The traditional power of the circle council was to control the criminal elements penetrating into the administration. But there was never an instance when the village selection result was ever rejected. This proves there were high moral standards, respect of law and elections.
SELECTION OF CIRCLE HEADMAN (PU HENG, PU HMONG, PU MONG) AND THE CIRCLE COUNCIL.
All the village headmen, village council members of the same village circle had to attend the meeting. Interested villagers had the right to attend and participate in the meeting with equal rights. (Proposals, nomination, rejections, voting) The nominated or elected individuals almost always tried very hard to reject the nomination or being elected. But they were always obliged to accept the selection by the elders and the majority. Their efforts to refuse the positions were always sincere because of their love for peaceful existence. Moral obligations were always the paramount factor in their acceptance. Only harsh and extreme encroachment on to their peaceful existence would make them turn into violent reaction against the aggressors.
On the other hand, the traditional ruling family's descendants were given priority in the nomination for selection even at the village level. The simple reason behind this was in recognition of the opportunity for administrative and other related knowledge acquired by the children of the ruling family compared to other children, especially the eldest or the elder ones. But the decision of the majority was always final. Their decision could be changed only at a higher level meeting under the rule of traditional and customary laws. Again, this was by the majority decision, although the elders' knowledge of tradition and customs would influence a decision.
APPOINTMENT OF SAO HPA AWN
(PHYA, MYO SA, or SAO PERNG)
At this higher level, the immediate descendents of the traditional ruler of that particular subordinate state would be chosen by the Sao Hpa Gang or Sao Hpa Long, according to the recommendation of that state's council plus the Sao Hpa's own council. Basically the selection by the people and the council of that subordinate state by influenced heavily by the decision of the Sao Hpa Gang or Sao Hpa Long. (Medium size states' rulers are refered to as Sao Hpa Gang and big states' rulers are Sao Hpa Long.) It was because of the priority given to keeping Peace, Law and Order of that state under his rule.
At the highest level, for medium and big states, usually the eldest son would inherit the Sao Hpa's position if he is accepted by the people. Otherwise, the people are given freedom to choose their ruler from one of the sons of the Sao Hpa Long/ Gang of that given state. In 1945, the youngest son of the Sao Hpa Long of Hsipaw, Sao Kya Seng was chosen to become the Sao Hpa Long of Hsipaw state instead of his eldest son Sao Kya Sung.
TRADITIONAL DUTIES OF VILLAGE HEADMAN AND VILLAGE COUNCIL
RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS: He must oversee, supervise and lead the villagers in their customary responsibilities to look after the monastery and feed the monks and the novices. He calls the village council meetings to organise every religious merit-making ceremony, general welfare of the monastery and other unforeseen matters concerning the monastery and the monks, according to the orders given to him by the Abbot of the monastery. The Abbot or chief monk of the monastery enjoys quite a lot of influence over the villagers and the headmen. He also acts as a coordinator between his village and the council of the village circle-his immediate superior-through the village circle headman.
Household and population registration - This would be done by filling in a chart
A general sample.
NAME OF THE VILLAGE
|1.||Long Ai||46||M||farmer||2T||1T||1SL||H/Head||Paying||also trade|
NA=Wet rice field were referred to in LOKE and TONG as there was no standard measurement. The capacity to absorb young plants to be planted measured in the amount of seeds was the standard calculation taken because of the terrace farming making it impossible to build the blocks equally. Loke = a block of small rice field. Tong = combination of lokes. HAI = Hill slope dry rice farming measured in TING, TING = 160 square WA. A Wa = 6 ft. SONN = Orchid, plantation or garden. 1 SL = 1 sonn long. L = big H=Household.
Agricultural product registration - Same as above.
But the chart will be readapted according to the needs. The total production of farm goods registered may differ a little from the real production, as traditionally allowed, to meet the fair and just handicap for that particular village in paying the state taxes.
Most of the product would be paid in kind except those goods that risk decay, such as tangerines, which would be collected in cash. Non-economic crops, such as vegetables and fruits (peaches, plums etc.) were tax free.
SAMPLE. HOUSEHOLD TAX FORM
No. Name Age Sex Occupn Owned Land Tax/cash Tax/Kind T/Exempt Remark
Tax collection - 10% of the product in kind would be collected. The 10% of the collected product was shared among the council members and the headman. The rest of the collected product would be sent to the village circle headman. Regarding the 10% Tax collection, although it was a traditional law, it was customary for the village council to decide upon actions which were fair and just to the villagers and fulfilling the law requirement at the same time. The disabled, councillors, security servants, monastery servants (Pan Ta Ga) and divorcees whether men or women with a child or children were exempted from state taxation. Their decision would be based on the principle that the rich pay more, the poorer pay less and the average meets the tax requirement. Their sense of humanitarian obligations and kinship feeling were the main factors enabled this to done.
Construction of monasteries, pagodas, road and bridges, canals and irrigation, dams and water supply management.
LAW AND ORDER: The headman must personally lead in keeping law and order in the village. He must take action against robbers and thieves; protect the village from criminals and wild animals; keep order to natural disasters such as fire, floods and storms; call Village Circle meetings on issues that need the advice and cooperation of the villagers, in local legal civil cases empowered by the traditional laws for judgment, e.g. internal family quarrels, household quarrels, cattle/buffalo intrusion into farms and destruction of crops, transferring of property and land ownership, permission for creation of new farming area or land from arable land under the jurisdiction of the village etc. All these local proceedings were carried out according to the customary laws handed down from generation to generation, unless there was a new order affecting these customs by the ruling Sao Hpa Long of the state which was customarily considered as the law of the state.
This council advises, shares in responsibilities and duties, oversees and takes part in implementation and above all checks and balances the headman to be just and fair in carrying out his duties according to the customary laws. Protection of watershed area, sustainable timber collection, sustaining wildlife and environment were integrated into the tradition and customs.
The village elders and council members were morally and socially obliged to educate the new generation, in all the matters mentioned in previous chapters. Naturally, they were all done in their own capacity of knowledge and jurisdiction. Knowledge gained from customary means (verbally handed down generation to generation), experience gained and the education learned through the study of Dhamma from the monastery would make an individual qualified for a higher position from the village level to the circle level, mostly through the recognition of the majority of people and the circle council, the Sao Hpa Awn council or the Sao Hpa Awn himself. Sometimes, the Sao Hpa Long himself or his council would ask the Sao Hpa Long to promote him and the promotion order would be directly issued by the Sao Hpa Long himself in recognition of his ability. It would be considered a high honor.
The circle villagers would be proud of him. Even the Sao Hpa Awn would be careful not to mistreat him. His promotion to the council of Sao Hpa Awn would be assured. Now he could even hope for the position of becoming one of the Sao Hpa Long's state council.;
Hsai Lern Kham