Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Village headmen tasks

Anthropologist Michael Moerman spent 1959-61 in the village Ban Ping, Chiang Kham district, Chiang Rai province to do anthropology fieldwork. One of the publications based on this research is the 1969 paper A Thai village headman as a synaptic leader, which I found in the book Modern Thai politics. Though probably quite outdated, the paper gives a lot of interesting facts on the work of a village headman 50 years ago. One of the most interesting sections is the following, and I would be surprised if the described behavior wouldn't still be found today.
Keeping records, like keeping the peace, is a major duty which the government requires of the headman who obediently maintains a census of animals and issues animal registration forms; enters marriages, births and deaths; notes the amount of rice which villagers claim to have planted, lost and harvested; witnesses claims of virgin land; and records contributions pf labor, supplies, and money to village projects. He also maintains a list of landholdings which is used by village and regional leaders. The headman of Ban Ping is proud of his ability to keep these records legibly, but ignores discrepancies (so that calves are born to those who have no cows). He permits villagers to falsify information when it benefits them, as by under-reporting landholdings in order to avoid taxes. He advises them about how to misreport (e.g., Should the amount of rice lost to floods be exaggerated in the hope of tax concessions or minimized to avoid the possibility that the government will restrict rice sales and thereby lower rice price?) He boasts about incorrect reports (as of the number of young men or oxcarts available for corvée that help the village. The headman's manipulation of records and information for the benefit of his constituents is a striking role activity.


john francis lee said...

When did Chiang Kham "move" to Phayao?

Andy said...

That was in 1977, as then the province Phayao was created, taking seven Amphoe out of Chiang Rai province.