Social Scientist. v 11, no. 127 (Dec 1983) p. 3.

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The Ahom Political System: An Enquiry into the State Formation Process in Medieval Assam {1228-1714}

IN ANTI'DUHRING (1877-78) Engels had suggested that classes and state emerged in primitive society through a gradual transformation of the managerial functionaries, customarily in charge of common affairs, into an exploitative power. In that process, a part of the community's property was transformed into private property, and the customary functional power into state power. In his Origin of Family, Private Property and State (1884), Engels continued his probe and brought into focus the roles of force, wars of conquest and slavery (the latter, a form of surplus-yielding labour) as crucial factors leading to a rupture of the gentile constitution and the appearance of classes and state. While this general theory of state formation is still valid in its essentials, there is scope for further enriching it by trying to answer questions raised but not answered by it. In this paper, we try to explain the time lag—an observed fact—between the emergence of property relations within a tribe and that of a state organisation per se. We also make an attempt to identify stages in the relevant political development. All this we try to do on the basis of fresh data from our case study of the Tai-Ahoms of Assam.

Conceptual Frame and Methodology

The transition of tribes to statehood in north-east India was varied in point of time and space. The kingdoms of Assam, Jaintia, Gachar, Tripura and Manipur emerged as sovereign states in medieval times and survived till the early 19th century. All these kingdoms provide us with opportunities to study the problem of state formation in depth. To any study of the transition from tribalism to statehood, both history and social anthropology can contribute: the former by examining extant records and recorded oral tradition and the latter, by scrutinising the fossilised traces of the process which are still extant within the tribal social structures. A study of select cases, as the one presented in this paper, is sure to yield new information for further clarification or modification of the current theories of state formation.

*Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta.

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