The Institution of Chieftainship in Darlong Society
By. Jeremiah Darlong, Saibual, TPS.
The concept of ‘Chieftainship’ has taken place among the tribal society in the early stage of evolution of their group life. Inter village rivalry among tribal was common in the past. Every one was enemy to each other and the stronger rule over the weak.
In such circumstances the need for a strong single authoritative figure was essential to lead them in defending the village. The need to solve tribal problems be it social, economic or political gave birth to the concept of chieftainship to maintain justice, protect them from external threat, to administer the village and to protect and preserve the established customs of the villagers.
The Darlong chieftainship therefore was a historical requirement and his duties was manifold one of which was defence of the villagers. In due course of time he came to be recognized as the village chief. Village chief is a person belonging to younger branches of the family clan and another type is hereditary chief who is the head of the clan.
In this regard Scelumphere writes:
'Each of the clan has one great Rajah(King), supposed to be the main branch of the original stock...'
The Darlong traditional form of governance is based on chieftainship. Every village was like Greek city-states. Each village has got a chief(King) which the Darlong called it Lal, it is hereditary. He is the owner of ancestral lands and is traditionally the repositories of all powers of administration dealing with the village. His rule is autocratic but not despotic
Chieftainship goes by hereditary succession and this is strictly observed. The first born child ‘Naipa ulian’ succeeded as the village chief and inherited his father's property.
In case, the eldest son is incapable the next eldest son would automatically succeed. But, if the chief happened to be without any male issue the succession pass on to the nearest male issue of the eldest surviving brother of the deceased.
Succession by youngest son however is practiced among Lushai, Hmar and Kuki tribes. In any case, a daughter cannot become heir to the father.
Supreme Administrative Head:-
The Darlong chief enjoyed enormous powers. He possessed Executive, Legislative, Judicial and Military power. His word was law within his Chiefdom and his decision were final. He appoints important posts in the village. The decision of his Upas without consulting the chief cannot be taken as final. The chief has right to dismiss any upa if found incapable.
The Darlong chief also enjoys numerous legislative powers. Matter relating to issuing of ordinances, framing of rules and regulation were made by the chief. Villagers who disobeyed were severely punished or expelled from the village. He decides all civil and criminal cases and assumed important judicial roles. He was the supreme judge in deciding all civil and criminal cases of the village.
The village court of justice is composed with the chief as chairman and the council member of the village council. He was also Chief ¬in-Command of the village Army.
The success or failure in war with other tribes or villages entirely depends on the chief's capability. His duty and responsibilities as Commander-in-chief of the village were described by W.W Hunter (1973:60) as:
'He shall direct in war, he is last in the advance and rear most in the retreat. The messages and errands of ‘Lal’ are done by his favorite slaves; they are his Ambassadors in war. To collect his people or, in fact, to authenticate any order, the chief's spear is sent by a messenger from village to village. Should the message be hostile one, the messenger carries ‘Dao’(Chem) to which a piece of red cloth is attached.'
Privileges of the Chief:-
Darlong chief is owner of the land within his boundaries and were entitled to receive customary title and tributary privileges. He was paid for the following reason:
•In due recognition of the chief's authority and legitimacy over the land ownership,
•In recognition of service rendered by the chief,
•In gratification for which they got privileges of enjoying the amenities of village life,
•As a mark of respect, and
•To honor head of the clans by the younger chiefs in case of the clan chief.
Besides, they were given priority to select the jhum site before all the others. Also, when a case is tried a fine of a Pig or (Sial) was usually fine on the loser of the case. The chief and upas used the animal for their entertainment. The chief also accompanied upas on his official visit to other village. The chief runs his business through the help of upas.
Chieftainship : An Analysis
The Darlong chief enjoys enormous powers. His was the guardian of law and the absolute owner of the village and the land within it. His word was law. He can appoint and dismiss or expel anyone in the village. There was sufficient room for a Darlong chief to become tyrannical but in practice he was governed by the customary laws.
The chief acted for pragmatic and useful purposes. The village chief has ordinarily never used his right to deny a resident member of the village, his fair share of plot. He had to protect the interest of the villagers by providing security socially, politically and economically.
His role was to settle dispute, provide care and protection of the villagers. In recognition to his service he enjoyed various tributaries.
These tributaries privileges were understood a material ethics of obedience and not exploitative. It therefore would be wrong to equate “Zamindari system” with Darlong Chiefship. The chief was the land protector and not dictator. He was distributor of the land for jhuming purposes.
The Darlong chief act on with love like a father in the family. He was the source of Customary Laws, and the mechanism by which customary laws were interpreted and enforced. In short, the Darlong chieftainship was not exploitative.
The institution of chieftainship is the perennial source of Darlong Custom and tradition. It is also their unity and integrity. For the Darlong’s it is their culture and identity which nothing can replace it. Some theorise it as God's blessing to the Darlong’s as Israelites kings were to their people. Their political system too is base on chiefship. It is the pivot around which all their administration and others evolved.