From parasitic feudalism to responsible hierarchy: The emergence of a “political” vocabulary among the Sora of Tribal India

Piers Vitebsky


The Sora language reveals a sharp division between the vocabulary of command and rule, with no terms of indigenous origin for such positions or procedures, and an indigenous vocabulary of intimate negotiation among horizontal equals to regulate daily life. Historically, vertical relations with distant rajas passed through predatory local agents with little redress, using terms derived from outside languages. Christianity introduced literacy and created a new administrative and moral terminology derived from Sora roots, but also offered a model of patronage which likened Jesus to a benevolent classic Hindu king. This redistributive reciprocal relationship with authority figures had never before been experienced by the Sora; but as they move from a parasitic to a hierarchical experience of verticality, it is now readily transferred to political leaders as young Sora participate in the modern electoral state and incorporate non-Sora terms into their lives as agents, rather than victims, of their political situation.

Full Text:


DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/723788