Where honour depends on appearances

A previous post about Peter Burke’s History and Social Theory (2005) includes one that is entitled: Narrative has regained prestige as a way of understanding the world

The nature of honour

Page 74 of Burke’s 2005 study refers to Pathan society, “where honour depends on appearance,” and to a study by Barth (1959).

Burke notes that Barth”combines vivid description with penetrating analysis.”

He notes as well that Barth observes patronage as seen “from below as well as from above” and with a view toward both “the economics and the politics of reciprocity.”

Swat and East Anglia

“If we look for a moment at England in the fifteenth century” Burke adds on p. 74, “more especially at East Anglia as revealed in the correspondence of the Paston family, we find a society which resembled Swat in certain important respects. In England too the acquisition of land was one of the major goals for adult males, and the competition for land sometimes took a violent form, as in the case of the seizure of John Paston’s manor of Gresham by his powerful neighbour Lord Moleyns. In England too the ties between local leaders (‘lords’ or ‘masters’) and their followers (known as ‘friends’ or ‘well-willers’) were fundamental to the organization of society.

‘Good lordship’ of the great

“The small men needed the ‘good lordship’ of the great. Followers courted leaders not only with deference but with gifts. As a corre­spondent of the Pastons once remarked, ‘men do not lure hawks with empty hands’ . On the other hand, leaders needed followers in order to increase their honour or ‘worship’ (their izat, as Pathans would say). Hence they kept open house and offered their followers ‘livery’ – in other words, presents of clothes in the colours associated with the lord’s family, which were worn as a demonstration of loyalty and support. Social behaviour which historians once interpreted as no more than a reaction to the temporary breakdown of central author­ity during the Wars of the Roses turns out to be an example of a much more general social phenomenon.”

[End of excerpt]


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