Leadership in Public Arenas

Leadership in kin groups and the political arena demonstrates varying degrees of joint gender roles (Du, 2002; Wang & He, 1999, p. 292). The overlapping of gender roles in leadership is derived from the cosmological and social ideals of male-female coheadship, as expressed by the common saying, "A pair of male-female masters rules together." At the beginning of the 21st century, most Lahu villagers in Lancang still adhere to the traditional institution of "male-female masters of the household," focusing on the joint authority and responsibility of household coheads in making consensus decisions (Du, 2002; Lei & Liu, 1999, p. 246; Wang & He, 1999, p. 114). Whereas indigenous institutions of male-female coheadship at the village and village-cluster levels have been fundamentally disrupted or eliminated in most Lahu areas since the establishment of the P.R.C. in 1949, it has been revived in a few village clusters after the relaxation of state policy in China in the 1980s. For example, parallel to the state-appointed officials, there are three pairs of traditional village leaders in each village of the Fulqhat village cluster. In particular, the village head couple is responsible for maintaining social order both within and beyond the village, especially enforcement of customary laws. The head couple of spiritual specialists represent the villagers in serving village guardian spirits, especially performing rituals at the temple of village guardian spirits. The leading blacksmith couple performs rituals to assure spiritual security for a village's agricultural production, which is also symbolized by tool-making for the village. At the level of village cluster, there is also a Buddhist monk couple, serving at the pair of Buddhist temples located at the center of the village cluster. Nevertheless, the male coleaders of Fulqhat tend to play more important roles than the corresponding female coleaders, and they receive near-exclusive recognition by the state and outsiders. Although warfare seemed to be an exclusively male role in historical records, elders of some Lancang villages recollect young women's participation in village military defense in the 1940s.

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