Sunday, May 14, 2006

Rule of one or many?

Guillon, Emmanuel. (1999) The Mons: A Civilization of Southeast Asia. James V. Di Crocco (tr. & ed.). Bangkok: Siam Society.

Problems in Dhammazedi’s reign dates reveal problems with the traditional notion of sovereignty.

Rule can be decentralized as well as centralized and unified. The notion of segmentary state describes decentralized rule. In the limit, as appanages become equally as powerful as the center and capital, power is spread equally over two or more localities. Geographical impediments as well as underdeveloped transportation and military technologies can favor such a dispersion of power. Fissions among the ruling the elite can also favor it. Circulation of ruling elite and the building of bonds between localities through shared religious textual and artistic traditions and inter-marriage ties can concentrate power in alliances (cooperative confederations like the Tai confederation that ruled Ava c. 1527-1555) and make it less disperse.

Historical sources disagree on when Dhammazedi became king of Pegu. The Yathemyo inscription in Pegu of 1456 poses problems for the most reasonable dating of Dhammazedi’s ascension to 1470 or 1472 because it mentions Dhammazedi’s name.

Shorto hypothesized that Shinsawbu (Banya Thaw) might have ruled jointly with Dhammazedi. Guillon further speculates that Dhammazedi ruled over Pegu and Shinsawbu ruled over Dagon [Yangon] (Shorto, Dictionary of Mon Inscriptions, 317, Ramadhipati ; Guillon, 1999, 172). Dagon had been the traditional appanage of Mon queens according to Guillon (170).

Guillon offers a detailed description of Dhammazedi's religious works of merit, but he observes that there was also a political side to the religious. By 1480 he proposes there were 15,666 reordained monks in Pegu under the new Sri Lankan system of ordination and, "from the viewpoint of religious sociology it [the new ordination system] installed a new form of organization of the [monastic] Order. It no longer was a Community freely associated under the initiative of reformers, but rather a 'church' organized by the temporal power" (Guillon, 179). Harvey’s early history also pointed at a political motive:

"Shinsawbu had extended the glebe lands as far as Danok, and finding this excessive Dammazedi reduced them; in compensation he measured his weight and the weight of his queen in gold four times and dedicated that amount to overlaying the pagoda with scroll work and tracery. He also dedicated a great bell there" (Harvey, History of Burma, p. 119, citing Shwemawdaw Thamaing).

Since Harvey’s history was based on the notes of Charles Duroiselle, his Burma Research Association colleague and superintendent of the Archaeological Survey in Burma, these notes and history probably summarized the consensus of scholarly opinion at the time of publication in 1925 when Harvey’s history was published.

Guillon more recently imputes another possible motive for this reduction in lands dedicated to religious orders:

"She [Shin Saw Bu] may actually have been ousted by her successor as suggested by certain indications; for example, the reduction in size of the fief of Rangoon by Ramadhipati when he became king" (Guillon, 173).

Enough evidence exists to at least put forth the tentative hypothesis that Shin Saw Bu and Dhammazedi ruled different parts of Lower Burma at the same time (c. 1456-1472). How to falsify (or not) this hypothesis?

More archaeology in Lower Burma in the area of traditional Mon settlements might help.