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Translating Gumlau: History, the 'Kachin' and Edmund Leach

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Chapter Summary

When Edmund Leach published Political Systems of Highland Burma in 1954, the rupture in the case of ‘Kachin’ ethnography became irrefutable. This work significantly transformed the textual domain of the category ‘Kachin’ and set it on a new trajectory as a globalised ethnographic term. When Leach catapulted the term into an academic Other-world, however, ‘Kachin’ became an anthropological trope in the sense that it became the centre of a discourse about its meanings whilst being dissociated from this kind of epistemological complexity. This chapter attempts to evoke this distinction by variously enclosing the term in scare quotes or not. History could have no explanatory force upon these systems, and the occurrence of, for example, gumlau revolts had no historical agency other than the system itself. The longue durée in this context was merely a temporal framework in which directionless oscillation could be modelled more extensively.

Keywords: Edmund Leach; gumlau; Kachin; Political Systems of Highland Burma



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