Saturday, August 29, 2009

Socio-Economy Pattern

It can be said that highlanders belong to the peasantry. In terms of their cultivation practices, they can be divided into three groups: dry rice cultivators, wet or irrigated rice cultivators and combinations of these. There are also three principal forms of land use:

1.Pioneer or primary swiddening, shifting cultivation in the real meaning where farmers move from place to place.
2.Land rotation of cultivable fields, sometimes called cyclical bush fallow. This system is based on permanent residence and can be said to be a stable or permanent form of agriculture.
3.Wet rice cultivation.
Pioneer swiddening is usually employed be opium-poppy growing people who can also be considered as a cash crop-oriented sector of the peasantry. The second type of land use, the rotational farming system, is practiced by the Karen, Lua, H'tin and Khamu, who do not traditionally grow opium. This rotational system does not exhaust soil fertility and operates within fixed village boundaries. The Karen and the Lua also construct wet-rice terraces in the lowlands, uplands and high valleys. (Wherever there is sufficient water for irrigation).
To sum up, on the one hand, the non-opium poppy-growing people practice a relatively stable system of agriculture and grow mainly rice and a variety of other crops, primarily for home consumption with a little surplus for sale. On the other hand, the pioneer swiddeners and poppy growers rely heavily on their earnings from opium to purchase their daily necessities.
In traditional highland society, two corporate structures form the most important social institutions. The largest institution is the village, made up of houses mainly of the same ethnic group. However, in the villages of the opium poppy-growing groups, there may be one or more houses of traders who are "Haw" or Yunnanese Chinese, Shan, Lue or Northern Thai. There are also other ethnic persons who do seasonal work as wage earners for opium producing households. These migrant workers are often paid in opium and are usually addicts who have chosen to take up residence in that village.
Villages of the same ethnic group are widely scattered and may be surrounded by villages of other ethnic groups (see the TRI map prepared for Highlanders of Thailand). Normally there is a main settlement with one or more small hamlets located in the general vicinity. Such hamlets form because there may be limited space in the original village, some people want to live closer to cultivable land, or some wish to live in a group consisting of only their own relatives.

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