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Naga ethnography and Leach's oscillatory model of Gumsa and Gumlao

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Chapter Summary

In Political Systems of Highland Burma Edmund Leach interpreted the concepts of gumlao and gumsa as political models in Kachin society. This chapter focuses on Leach’s attempt to establish his oscillatory model as a general theory of social change applicable to segmentary societies in this part of Asia by comparing it with neighbouring societies of the Indo-Burmese border, especially the Nagas. It argues that, while some of the Naga systems can be viewed as gumsa-like organizations, a model such as Leach’s gumlao as defined in Political Systems cannot be found anywhere in the Naga Hills, according to the ethnographic material collected to date. This assertion, which corroborates F. K. Lehman’s findings about the Chins of Burma, casts some doubt on the validity of Leach’s oscillatory model.

Keywords: Edmund Leach; gumlao; gumsa; Naga ethnography; oscillatory model



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