Saturday, September 12, 2009

Headman of LISU

Headman: The Lisu political headman(xwa thu pha) should be a person who has a 'good heart and good mind'. When the elders choose him, they kill a pig or chicken and have a feast. They pray that he will have a long life and be taken care of 'seven times a day by the sun, and nine times a night by the moon', their poetic couplet signifying 'forever'. They also pray that the people not separate, and that more people will move into their village. At the end of the ceremony they tie a string around his neck to ensure food health, and to keep his soul leaving him, being overwhelmed by all this attention.

Lisu want their headman to be more of an arbiter and judge than a ruler. For example, if one person's pigs get into another person's field and eat some rice. The aggrieved man complains to the headman. Who then sets a time when both sides, with their friends and any witness, should meet at his house. Each faction tells its version of the incident, and the headman decides what should be done. The spirit of competition is so volatile in Lisu society that serious arguments are likely to ensue. The headman may appeal to the elders, who almost automatically align themselves according to clan and family, thus the side with the most clansmen nearly always 'wins' the case.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the headman exacts a fine, which may simply be to donate a bottle of liquor to be enjoyed by participants. In the case of a monetary fine the headman takes a share, and the balance goes to the wronged party. Often the defendant refuses to pay the fine. And the case continues unresolved. The headman must attempt to gain the cooperation of all concerned, because failing to do so might result in disgruntled villagers moving out. It has been reported that parties losing a case have killed headmen, for Lisu are determined to be winners.

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