Caste Systems Essay Research Paper Caste distinctions

Caste Systems Essay, Research Paper

Caste distinctions first became prominent in Northern India following Aryan migration into the subcontinent. During the postclassical era, the caste system became securely established in Southern India as well. The postclassical era brought a series of political, economic, and social challenges to India s caste system. The caste system plays a crucial role in India in determining the class and status of not only its people but also migrants. The caste system adapted to the arrival of migrants and helped to integrate them into Indian society. For instance, as Turkish peoples or Muslim merchants pursued opportunities in India, they gained recognition as distinct groups under the umbrella of the caste system. They established codes of conduct both for the regulation of behavior within their own groups and for guidance in dealing with members of other castes. The caste system also accommodated the social changes brought about by trade and economic development. As merchants and manufacturers became increasingly important in the larger economy, they organized powerful guilds to represent their interests. Merchant guilds in particular wielded political and economic influence, since their members enjoyed access to considerable wealth and contributed to the economic health of their states. Guild members were then able to forge new group identities by working within the caste system. Merchants specializing in particular types of commerce, such as the silk, cotton or spice trade established themselves as distinct sub castes.

Economic development aided this process by encouraging commercial relationships between southern merchants and their caste-conscious counterparts in the north. The emergence of merchant and craft guilds in southern regions strengthened the caste system since guild members usually organized as a sub-caste. Powerful temples also fostered caste distinctions. Brahmins who supervised the temples provided the only formal education available in most regions and also served as centers of local social life. By about the 11th century C.E., the caste system had become the principle basis of social organization in Southern India.

Men dominated Aryan society. All warriors, priest and tribal chiefs were men, and the Aryans recognized descent through the male line. Women influenced affairs within their own families but had no public authority. As the Aryans settled in agricultural communities throughout India, they maintained a thoroughly patriarchal society. Only males could inherit property, unless a family had no male heirs, and only men could preside over family rituals that honored departed ancestors. Also, since they had no priestly responsibilities, women rarely learned the Vedas and formal education in Sanskrit remained almost exclusively a male preserve. The patriarchal spokesmen of Vedic society sought to place women explicitly under the authority of men. Through the Law Book of Manu women and men reinforced the cultural norms of India as it dealt with proper moral behavior and social relationships including sex and gender relationships. This book advised men to treat women with honor and respect, but it also insisted that women remain subject to the guidance of the principle men in their lives, first their fathers, then their husbands and finally any surviving male relative such as a son. Finally, the law book also specified that the most important duties of women were to bear children and maintain wholesome houses for their families. The caste system not only endowed social groups with a powerful sense of identity but also helped to maintain public order.

Africans in kingdoms, empires, and city-states developed complex societies with clearly defined classes: ruling elites, military, nobles, administrative officials, religious authorities, wealthy merchants, business entrepreneurs, common people, peasants and slaves. In small states and stateless societies of sub-Saharan Africa, social structures were different. Small states often generated an aristocratic or ruling elite and they always recognized a class of religious authorities. However, outside the larger states, empires, and kinship, sex and gender expectations and age groupings were the principle considerations that determined social position is sub-Saharan Africa.

Extended families and clans served as the main foundation of social and economic organization in small-scale agricultural societies. Unlike most societies in North Africa and Eurasia, the institution of privately owned property did not exist in sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, communities claimed rights to land and used it in common. The villages of sub Saharan Africa generally consisted of several extended family groups. Male heads of families jointly governed the village and organized the work of their own groups. They allocated portions of the communal lands for their relatives to cultivate and were responsible for distributing harvests equitably among all members of their groups. Sex and gender also influenced the roles individuals played in society. Gender largely determined work roles. Men usually undertook the clearing of land and preparing it for cultivation. Both men and women participated in the planting and harvesting of crops, and women also tended to domestic chores and took primary responsibility for child rearing. As in India, men largely monopolized public authority. However, women in sub-Saharan Africa generally had more opportunities open to them than women in other lands. Women enjoyed high honor as the sources of life. In some instances, women made their ways to positions of power and aristocratic women often influenced public affairs through the prominence within their own families. Women merchants commonly traded at markets and they participated in both local and long distance trade in Africa.

Muslim women in sub-Saharan Africa socialized freely with men outside their immediate families and they continued to appear and work openly in society in ways not permitted to women in other Islamic lands. Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa did not honor the same social codes as other Muslims. In a few societies upper class Muslim women wore veils and led secluded lives.

States and societies of sub-Saharan Africa differed considerably from those in other parts of the world. The foundations of most sub-Saharan societies were the agricultural economy and iron-working skills that Bantu speaking peoples spread throughout most of Africa. As Bantu peoples migrated to new regions and established new communities they usually based their societies on kin groups rather than state structures that predominated elsewhere in the eastern hemisphere


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