(4.2) Collective funds: taxes and donations
Tax collections, (temple-) donations and the maintenance of joint village-, temple- and family-funds are another very important aspect of gava. Here the connection of money and love involves the larger settlement structures of various Badaga communes. In fact this is a very complex topic since the numerous funds and treasuries reflect virtually all levels of territorial, political, social and ritual integration. Foundation mythology, the notion of first houses, first temples, main villages and associated hamlets, the existence of different phratries (or sub-casts) among Badagas, the norm of patrilocalty and its frequent violations, the structural separation of brothers and the practical intersections of various political and social units (from houses to village and territory as well as from family to lineage and clan) are essential to any deeper understanding (see Zickgraf 2018). Here, however, I shall only mention a few general aspects.
First, among Badaga-settlements each main-village and most of the hattis (hamlets associated with and subject to the political authority of a particular main village) keep one or even several funds. These funds are commonly associated with a local temple which often stands in straight connection with a first-founded house. Like a temple and like a first house a collective fund reflects a certain political or territorial unit and is managed by a council. The funds are used for many common goods including the maintenance of temples, the conduct of rituals and public feastings but also a great number of worldly purposes ranging from political gatherings to investments in village infrastructures, the repurchase of ancestral lands, and the foundation of community-based businesses up to the possibility of extending cheap credit to village-members in times of emergencies.
Second, although the maintenance and management of a fund can involve a number of internal conflicts and even fraud, a well-fed and well-functioning fund is almost generally equated with the strength, solidarity and prosperity of a local commune. This is highly relevant both for the insiders’ perception of internal relations and with regard to the question how a commune is perceived by outsiders – not only, but in particular by affines (i.e. potential bride-givers) and by superordinate villages and councils. In many respects, the prosperity of village funds and related flows of money are thus publicly staged and experienced.
Third, village funds are commonly fed both by “taxes” and by “donations”. Taxes are levied for various purposes but “only” from members (i.e. houses) of the particular commune who keeps the fund. Taxes are equal for each member and at least the regual taxes are commonly collected in the course of a house-to-house procession – often during one or several annual temple festivals. Typically donations, too, are made before or during festivals. Yet in contrast to taxes donations may be given by anyone (even Non-Badagas) who likes to express in this way some kind of “gava” in relation to the commune. Donations are crucial because they can help integrating distinct social units far beyond the patrilocal village. Married daughters, for example often donate for festivals or temple-constructions in their native villages. Likewise entire villages donate money for each other’s festivals or for example for new temple constructions or in emergencies. Local factory owners and politicans, too, are among the major donors. Donations can be given in one’s own name, anonymous, or in the name of someone else, in the name of a house or a village, a tea factory or any other local enterprise etc. There are thus many different ways of making donations and of expressing gava and particular relations. There is hardly any cap on the size of donations. Therefore huge donations are also a political instrument. Donors seek to increase their recognition, influence and reputation (i.e. by “showing” their gava). The latter is particularly relevant, where donations are made in kind – mostly with reference to public feastings and with regard to the question where exactly (i.e. in which neighborhood or hamlet) these feastings are held and how many visitors they can host and attract. These latter kinds of donations necessitate a high degree of advance planning and need to be authorized by the responsible village council or temple committee.
Fourth, there is a certain dialectics between taxes and donations as well as between competition and solidarity among villagers. As I said, taxes are equal and compulsory for each member. With regard to the collective funds they represent the core monetary circuit which is carefully staged in the course of a festival procession. The tax is levied under an idea that all villagers are equal members and that a commune should be able to bear all the necessary expenses for temples, rituals, processions and feastings. At the same time it is this tax-circuit and each of the houses and places that are visited by the festive processions which attracts multiple donations. The donations in turn reflect both the internal and the external relations of any given commune (i.e. of a village, a house, a neighborhood, a factory, a family, etc). Making donations can be a a pure act of devotion and generocity, but inevitably it also highlights the importance of particular individuals or sub-groups within the whole. Crucially, however, donations substitute in part for costs that would otherwise fall into the shared responsibility of the commune. It is thus predominatly the donations which make a particular fund accumulate and prosper over time. Moreover it is because of donations that festivals can be celebrated all the more flamboyant and that festivals become all the more visible to outsiders.
Fifth, and crucially, it is hardly ever easy to make money go round smoothly in and around the villages and during festivals. Villages and villagers are fractioned in many respects through kinship (in particular the separation of brothers), neighborhood, violations of the general rule of patrilocality, land disputes, political agitations, economic differentiation and the strive for individual profits in everyday businesses. Throughout the year internal conflicts are the norm rather than the exception and often conflicts are simmering for many decades. Yet in order to collect a tax and to attract a great number of donations, these conflicts need ideally to be settled. Indeed it happens that a festival cannot be celebrated and that a tax collection cannot be conducted because of prevalent conflicts. However, ist is in the interest of all village members to avoid such situations and to pacify all conflicts in advance and at least for the time being. Why? – because gava knits them together irrespective of internal factionism and personal conflicts; and because at any level of political or social intergration it is in the interest of all members to demonstrate and experience the unity and togetherness which gava implies and which makes prosperity for both: communities and funds.