M.A. Theses: Michael Joseph Clarke, 1998

Feasting Among the Akha of Northern Thailand: An Ethnoarchaeological Case Study

Feasting is an activity which has in recent years become of great interest to many archaeologists. It may have played an important role in the transformation of egalitarian societies into stratified societies in prehistory, as well as in the orginal domestication of plants and animals. However, there is very little information available on feasts which suit the specific needs of archaeologists, and there is no clear way to test archaeologically some of the theories which have been proposed regarding the function of feasts in prehistoric societies. This thesis is an exploratory case study, and my main goals were to: 1) define the range and parameters of feasting activity, 2) study the relationship between economy, politics, and feasting, and 3) to study the material culture of feasting.

My research is on the feasting of the Akha of Thailand, in the villages of Mae Salep and Sam Soong. My methodology consisted of participant observation and household interviews. The research consisted of four main sections: 1) I gathered information on as many feasting events as was possible; 2) I documented the inequalities in wealth, social power, and social status, and correlated them with feasting frequency and ownership of feasting paraphernalia; 3) I analyzed the constraints on surplus production; and 4) I analyzed the material culture of feasts, especially in regard to animal use, vessel use, and refuse production and disposal.

My basic findings were that there are fairly large inequalities in wealth and power which are most easily seen at the lineage level. Individuals and lineage groups use feasting to accomplish social goals. The two main goals are the creation of a life crises support group network, and the acquisition of labourers and social status. Lastly, I found that serving and cooking vessel size and number, as well as the use of delicacies and the ownership of domestic animals, is indicative of feasting activity. Furthermore, the degree of ownership of these items is represented in the refuse associated with particular households.