Brahmaputra   studies


People of the Margins

Hills and Plains in the Anthropology of NE India

Corresponding fieldwork :  Fieldwork on the Tiwa

One of the central issues when trying to understand the complexity of North-East India is how communities living in almost similar ecological settings have developed such differences in their cultural features, social structures and self-identities? This question is indeed directly connected to its reciprocal: how far different natural milieux induce different social and cultural morphologies?. Philippe Ramirez is approaching these issues by investigating on the particular case of those who may be called "people of the margins", i.e. human groups who reside at the fringes between hills and plains. A first comparison, based on short fieldworks among the Dimasas, Karbis and Tiwas have suggested that the relationships between identity, cultural patterns and practices may be built in very different ways according to places and times.*

The data presented here deal more particularly with the Eastern Meghalaya plateau, i.e. the present Eastern Meghalaya State and Hamren subdivision of Karbi-Anglong district of Assam. Our main hypothesis is that the exchanges between the Ahom State of the plains and Jaintia State of the hills have done a lot to shape the present cultural features. Some of the presently recognized "ethnic groups" or "tribes", corresponding to fixed labels (Bhoi-Khasi, Tiwa, Karbi, Jaintia...) may have originated or been maintained as "go-between", not only in the trade of material goods, but in the political and ritual links as well. The focal point will be the Tiwa, because of their peculiar cultural and social dichotomy within a single and relatively cohesive entity in terms of self-identity. But we will systematically watch at the Tiwa from a broad point of view, as a part of a system which largely extends beyond the borders of the presently Tiwa inhabited area.

* Ramirez, Philippe,  "Politico-ritual variations on the Assamese fringes: Do social systems exist?"  In : Social dynamics in the Highlands of Southeast Asia : Reconsidering political systems of Highland Burma. F. Robinne ; M. Sadan (Eds), Leiden: Brill, 2007, p.91-107.

About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy - Copyright | Contact Us | ©2007 CNRS - Brahmaputra studies