Working Paper 72

Feuding, Mediation and the Negotiation of Authority among the Nomads of Eastern Tibet

Fernanda Pirie

Project Group Legal Pluralism

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 72

Before their occupation by China's Maoist forces in 1958, the nomads of Amdo formed segmentary tribal groups, whose relations were characterised by warfare, feuding and elaborate processes of mediation. In the 1980s, following a period of collectivisation, reforms allowed them substantially to re-create their tribal groups under new leadership. Investigating the relationship between these groups and the Chinese state, this paper describes how the nomads resist centralised control by continuing to feud until proper mediation has been conducted, on their terms. Nevertheless, their leaders, concerned with the maintenance of order, turn to government agents in order to complement their own authority. Comparing examples of tribe and state relations from East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, it is argued that the tribal forms of the Amdo nomads were based on the organising ideas of group loyalty, revenge, defiance towards authority and the reluctant submission to processes of conciliation. These continue to be organising ideas in the contemporary period, giving rise to new dynamics in the relations between tribes and state.

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