Nobody Owns the Land: How Inheritance Shapes Land Relations in the Central Plain of myanmar

TitleNobody Owns the Land: How Inheritance Shapes Land Relations in the Central Plain of myanmar
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHuard S
Secondary TitleJournal of Burma Studies
Key themesFormalisation-titling

ABSTRACTED FROM INTRODUCTION: In this article, I use Ko Kyaw’s statement as a line of enquiry to describe and analyze how the dynamics of kinship and the moral and social obligations between family members organize and have maintained a degree of continuity in land relations in the countryside of central Myanmar. Saying that nobody owns the land does not mean that no one can claim ownership or that no one has secured land rights. It is thus not directly about how land tenure has been formalized by a state at times lacking consistent infrastructural control and often dispossessing locals. It rather means that it is uncertain who will own this or that piece of land in a context where land disputes occur mostly between villagers. Hence, it is a statement about the temporalities of family relationships, about the dynamics of property transfers, and about how people craft their lives. Exploring the transmission of inheritance as a redefinition6 of authority and responsibility crisscrossed by uncertainty shows that what makes a family—hierarchy, commensality—and the mutual obligations between its members—gratitude, care—create entitlement to property. Ko Kyaw’s statement is thus a point of entry into a study of ownership in the Burmese context. The issue of inheritance is conspicuously missing from many discussions about land, wealth, debt, and gender. Therefore, this article attempts to address some of these gaps in recent perspective shows that land needs to be seen in its connection to other aspects of social and political life. Foregrounding the fact that land is entangled in multiple relationships, my contribution, based on an ethnography of land relations, is an effort to describe how my interlocutors think about these relations in their own terms to provide an understanding, among others, of how rights are conceived. I choose to highlight inheritance transmission because it shows that in the current context of rapid recommodification of land, what is important is not only who owns the land, but also who will in the future. Thus, the core focus is the process, the temporalities of family relationships, and the outcome a redefinition of ownership not in terms of rights, but of stewardship (ok-chok-hmu).


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