Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's the Nats

We all remember Douglas Adams' theory of elections: ""Because if they didn't vote for a lizard,the wrong lizard might get in."  Finnerty and Marcus explain how this stuff works among the Kachin of North Burma:
The ancestors of every lineage became masha nats, “ancestor spirits,” and every household had shrines to them. Ancestor spirits were thought to intercede with the celestial nats on behalf of their descendants. When the Kachin were in rank mode, their chief had two household shrines, one for his human ancestors and one for Madai. Lower-ranked households, on the other hand, had only one shrine, at which they supplicated or scolded their human ancestors before making sacrifices to less-powerful nats. ...
 In Kachin society the lineages that worked the hardest and produced the greatest surplus could sponsor the most prestigious sacrifices and feed the most visitors. Their fellow Kachin, however, did not attribute such success to hard work; they believed that one only obtained good harvests through proper sacrifices to the nats. Wealth was seen not so much as the product of labor (and control over others’ labor) as the result of pleasing the appropriate celestial spirits. The key shift in social logic was therefore from “They must have pleased the nats” to “They must be descended from higher nats than we are.”
So there you have it.  Not the lizards, but the nats.

Flannery, Kent (2012-05-15). The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire (Kindle Locations 3914-3794). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

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