AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 132

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Session 132: Who counted kin, and how: Warrior groups, state regimes, and social boundaries in Central, East, and South Asia, c. 1200 - 1850 C.E.

Organizer: Ramya Sreenivasan, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Chair: Michal Biran, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Discussant: Michal Biran, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

This is a broadly comparative panel about warrior groups in Central Asia, China, and South Asia. We explore their kinship practices – what kinds of relationships recruited kin for such warrior groups, and what the social and affective implications of such degrees of kinship were. We also explore how their encounter and engagement with the settled regimes in their region brought fresh scrutiny to their kinship practices. That is to say, we are concerned with the impact of the fresh dynamics of state formation triggered by such encounters, upon the making and remaking of social boundaries among warrior groups. This panel thus revisits the historiography of pre-modern marriage and kinship to argue for the centrality of kinship practices in the forging of polities in Central, East, and South Asia. Anne Broadbridge’s paper suggests a revisionist history of the Mongol empire by examining and foreground the role of women in its institutional formation. Ruth Dunnell’s paper addresses marriage and career patterns of some prominent Tangut semu in Yuan China. Ramya Sreenivasan examines the narrowing boundaries of marriage among Rajput elites between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, and highlights its role in re-defining the boundaries of an emergent elite ‘caste’ within the context of Mughal imperial consolidation. Indrani Chatterjee investigates the genealogy of levirate marriages among warrior groups in the hills of the Indo-Burma borderlands, beginning with a British colonial archive but pushing backwards in time and uncovering other contexts for such practices.

Imperial Marriages in the Early Mongol Empire
Anne F. Broadbridge, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA

Although the Mongol warlord Temüjin is best known for his assumption of political leadership in 1206 as Chingiz Khan, it was actually in the adjacent years that he made crucial organizational changes to his military, which resulted in a massive restructuring of steppe society. First he created an imperial bodyguard in 1203, then reorganized the rest of the army from 1204 to 1209. This established military institutions that powered the creation of the Mongol Empire through remarkable conquests into China and the Middle East. When discussing these conquests and the institutions behind them, scholars have overlooked the participation of women, even though certain women were crucial to both this institutional formation and the establishment of the Empire. These were Chingiz Khan’s female relatives—his chief wife and her five daughters, his mother, his secondary wives and daughters. Women’s involvement in empire-building was above all political, since they made strategic marriages with Chingiz Khan’s military allies. These marriages then reflected and shaped the military reorganizations, since sons-in-law held important military positions, and enjoyed special privileges by virtue of their marital status. Chingizid marriages also influenced the conquests, since the princesses’ husbands made particular contributions of leadership and men because of their special privileges, while the wives acted as general managers of their husbands’ wealth, as political advisors, and as informants for their father and his wives. This paper will therefore presented a revised history of early Chingizid institutions and events to account for the vital roles that women played in them.

Social Boundary-making among Tangut Semu in Yuan China, 13th-14th centuries
Ruth W. Dunnell, Kenyon College, USA

This paper addresses the social category of semu by looking at some well-documented Tanguts who worked for the Mongol government during the Yuan dynasty (ca. 1260-1368). The term semu (“various kinds”) refers to non-Chinese peoples, mostly from regions to the west of China proper, who served the Mongol conquerors and rulers of the Yuan dynasty, and occupied a position of political and legal privilege midway between their Mongol masters and the conquered Chinese population. Use of this terminological category probably originated with Chinese advisors of early Mongol rulers. Although a diaspora people, unlike most modern diasporas, Semu became elite members of the Mongol conquest establishment in China. The relationships of Semu with each other, with Mongols, and with Chinese changed over time; the category itself is unstable and slippery. Although conventionally defined as an ethnic or racial classification used to disadvantage Chinese, modern scholars of the Yuan have understood that the complex social landscape of Mongol China requires more nuanced analysis. By examining inscriptional and textual evidence for several prominent Semu of Tangut (Hexi/Xi Xia) origin, this paper seeks to explore the paths that some Semu followed in careers, residence, and marriage patterns, and implications of those choices or paths for the construction of social boundaries (and social or associational identities) in the often violently shifting political winds of the 13th and 14th centuries. The family histories generated by these Tanguts self-consciously look to the past, as they position themselves to meet the future.

Marriage and the evolution of an elite ‘caste’ in northwestern India, c. 1550-1750
Ramya Sreenivasan, University of Pennsylvania, USA

In the arid and semi-arid zone of Rajasthan in northwestern India, warrior groups started to form Rajput clans and establish chiefdoms from the early centuries of the second millennium onward. Drawing on categories derived ultimately from colonial anthropology, the scholarship has conceptualized the basic socio-political unit in this formation as ‘clan’, and has assumed that marriage relationships defined membership in the extended clan and generated a network of political alliances. The basic character and structures of the ‘clan’ have then taken to be unchanging between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries. This paper explores how the boundaries for who constituted a ‘true’ (asl) Rajput gradually narrowed between the late sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The political context for this re-drawing of social boundaries was regional state-making projects within the context of Mughal imperial consolidation. I explore how changing taxonomies for the exchange of women within and beyond the Rajput lineages were critical to the process by which a more hierarchical jati (‘caste’) group with an elite at the top was formed in northwestern India in the early modern period. This paper is concerned both with political marriages and with the emergence of regulatory practices governing them. Such practices included the emergence of genealogies of increasing depth by the seventeenth century. The boundaries of the Rajput ‘clans’ thus narrowed by the eighteenth century, even as the obligations of clan membership continued to be contested throughout this period.

Plural Marriages in the Making of Colonial Savagery
Indrani Chatterjee, University of Texas, Austin, USA

Levirate marriages are referred to in Biblical, Rabbinic, Zoroastrian and Hindu epics (Mahabharata). Yet their historical existence in South Asia has gone unattended because of the shaping of historiography by British colonialism. I attempt to reverse this by tracking a case in 1832-34, when the British East India Company disallowed the widow of a local governor in Cachar (hills of lower Assam) from assuming the dead man’s office on the ground that the woman, once the widow of the dead man’s elder brother, had subsequently lived with the younger brother. British tax-collectors tried to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the Sanskritic Hindu names of the parties concerned (Govinda Chandra, Indraprabha etc) with what they considered an un-Hindu marital system. Their resolution was to locate such clans as ‘tribals’ and to present such ‘looseness of morals’ as the tenacious hold of a tribal ‘religion of light’ which had persisted despite their recent conversion to Hinduism (Vaisnavism). I read all such colonial explanations as unwitting clues for a political history of cosmopolitanism across South and Central Asian societies. I argue that these polyandrous clans were avowedly Zoroastrian and Manichean clusters of refugees and exiles in the region. Their histories can be traced in epigraphic evidence as well as in songs written down at the end of the nineteenth century. British colonial mystifications of clan, polyandry, sanctuary and history promoted a pattern of savagery towards these long-settled communities – the ‘tribals’ – that has hidden from view a broader Asian history.