Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Local political autonomy and loyalty in Razadarit Ayeidawpon

There was a high degree of local political autonomy in the western and central regions of mainland Southland Asia (c. 1350-1600). That's perhaps the best way to summarise the situation of shifting identities, loyalties, and alliances, political fragmentation, and incommensurable historical records mentioned in my last posting.

In the complicated war narratives of Razadarit Ayeidawpon, scholars sometimes forget that there were three (not two) possible loyalties for Lower Burma settlements such as Bassein, Myaungmya, Myanaung, Martaban, Khepaung, and Prome:

1. Razadarit's Pegu whose power and influence was on the rise
2. Ava in Upper Burma
3. Local loyalty to the settlement itself (overlooked)

Before 1390 when Razadarit celebrated his successful consolidation of Lower Burma, these Lower Burma settlements seem to be fighting for their own independence not always out of loyalty to Ava. Some were, of course, such as Laukpya of Myaungmya who, according to the Burmese chronicle, invited Ava to intervene in the politics of Lower Burma in the first place.

Furthermore, the ethnic composition of the ruling elite in these Lower Burma settlements does not always seem to be Mon. Laukpya sounds Burmese, not Mon, and the name has neither of the two prefixes that Mon ruling elite typical attach to their name: Smin and Bannya.

How autonomous were these settlements before Razadarit launched his military consolidation (1385-1390)? Was Razadarit merely reasserting a control that his father the previous king already had, or was he asserting an entirely new stronger control over these settlements? What tax did he extract after consolidation? Troop levies for campaigns and defense against Ava? Monetary taxes on maritime commerce passing through Bassein and Dala? I remember Subrahmanyam making the statement that we have very few sources for 14th-15th century Lower Burma. Are the Kalyani inscriptions in the later 15th century and Tomes Pires in the early 16th all we have?

Elite circulation across localities problematizes the very notion of local autonomy. In the extreme case we have local inhabitants tied to the land and wandering armed rent-seeking elite with a Weberian "monopoly of force" extracting wealth whereever they can find it.

Anyway, it's fun to speculate, but stick to the fact trail in the historical record, let the sources tell their story before we get too carried away with interpretation, that's my first rule.