This trail leads us right up to one of the most complex regions in South Asia – the north east of India. The region, populated by several tribal communities who have a had a vastly different interaction with colonial rule when compared to mainland India – and have been, pre-colonially, distinct in their own cultural and social right – is a region that allows one to explore a range of things very different from other parts of India.
From a matrilineal heritage amongst the Khasis in Meghalaya, the hundred drum festival of the Garos called the Wangala, the animistic practices of the Mishings where the Sun’s feminity and Moon’s masculinity become spiritual coordinates and the forest Rabhas who perform the Nakchung Reni dance that celebrates fishing in forest rivers – there are various different forms of social life to experience.
This trail will introduce any traveller to the myriad social, political and economic lives of tribal communities and their unique lives interlinked with the surrounding hills and forests. Read more on our blog.
Verrier Elwin (1902-1964) was unquestionably the most colorful and influential non-official Englishman to live and work in twentieth-century India. A prolific writer, Elwin’s ethnographic studies and popular works on India’s tribal customs, art, myth and folklore continue to generate controversy. Described by his contemporaries as a cross between Albert Schweitzer and Paul Gauguin, Elwin was a man of contradictions, at times taking on the role of evangelist, social worker, political activist, poet, government worker, and more.
He rubbed elbows with the elite of both Britain and India, yet found himself equally at home among the impoverished and destitute. Intensely political, the Oxford-trained scholar tirelessly defended the rights of the indigenous and, despite the deep religious influences of St. Francis and Mahatma Gandhi on his early career, staunchly opposed Hindu and Christian puritans in the debate over the future of India’s tribals. Although he was ordained as an Anglican priest, Elwin was married twice to tribal women and enthusiastically (and publicly) extolled the tribals’ practice of free sex.
Later, as prime minister Nehru’s friend and advisor in independent India, his compelling defense of tribal hedonism made him at once hugely influential, extremely controversial, and the polemical focal point of heated discussions on tribal policy and economic development. Savaging the Civilized is both biography and history, an exploration through Elwin’s life of some of the great debates of the twentieth century: the future of development, cultural assimilation versus cultural difference, the political practice of postcolonial as opposed to colonial governments, and the moral practice of writers and intellectuals.