By Tiatoshi Jamir
I was born on a land declared an ‘Excluded Area’: a previously colonized region. A geographic landmass formerly carved out of Assam: lodged between Myanmar to its east, Manipur to its south, bounded by the plains of Assam to the west and snow clad mountains of the sub-Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh to the north. Now tagged for tourism purposes as ‘The Land of Festivals,’ it is the very same homeland where Naga ancestors were once branded ‘wild’, ‘savage’, ‘primitive’ ‘uncivilized’ ‘barbaric’ and ‘head hunters’ by the colonial powers. This colonial stereotype of the Nagas continues and is reiterated in the neighboring states and Mainland India. A case in point is Manpreet Singh’s article The Soul Hunters of Central Asia (2006) published in Christianity Today that describes the Naga homeland as “once notorious worldwide for its savagery”, now “the most Baptist state in the world.”
Abraham Lotha (2007), a noted Naga anthropologist, maintains that British colonialism in the Naga Hills is a story of double domination: political and scientific. This is evident in the production of mass ethnographic materials, topographical survey reports and monographs that aided colonial administration in their attempt to control the colonized. The museum collections that began in the early 19th century conveyed a certain awareness of the Nagas to the rest of India and the West by putting them in ethnographic museums, on geographical/ethnographic maps, and in weighty books (Schäffler 2006b: 292, cited in Stockhausen 2008: 64). For a visiting European, the Naga Hills were a ‘museum-piece’ and the objects (both archaeological and ethnographic) were collected from the colonies and displayed in the West as a way to authenticate the primitive stages of human development. The region was perceived as a cultural backwater. This part of India, that was once a portion of the Hill District of Assam, later came to be recognized, after much political unrest, as the 16th State of India called ‘Nagaland’ on 1st of December, 1963.
Although I was born in a small suburban town in eastern Nagaland, I grew up experiencing a typical Naga life. As a teen, I learnt how to swing a dao (a local iron machete), how to sharpen the blade most effectively, and how to shoot a target with a gun. I slashed and burnt thick forest for cultivation, learnt the traditional skill of fire-making, carried loads of paddy on my shoulder after a bumper harvest, built traditional houses with my peers, laid fishing traps and other traditional means of fishing, read animal tracks and hunted, roamed the deep forests foraging and gathering for wild berries, fruits, and edible vegetables. Not only were these moments a part of my leisure time but I took great pride in what I learned for it was a part of my heritage. Inculcating such traditional values was not only key to one’s survival but was also considered gender assigned roles for a Naga man. Little did I realize that it was these early experiences that drew me close to anthropology, a discipline that would allow me to study about myself and our Naga culture.
I am going slightly out of depths with this post, traversing into the territory of yet-to-be-formed thoughts, which could either be speculations or reflections; responses, or idiosyncratic musings. Part of it emerges with the experience I’ve had so far working ethnographically, and from my previous research encounters and readings; but the other part is deeply contemplative, troubling even. Here, I wish to work with another concept that can be read along with ‘subalternity’ as I discussed in the last post – that of ‘margins.’
Therefore, I would like the reader to be aware of the tentative nature of the thoughts expressed in this post, and the assumptions that guide them, and the delicate nature of the interventions that I make.
I began to think of margins more concertedly after I attended a lecture by Pnina Werbner recently, where she spoke about political revolution in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements in 2011, and the aesthetics of effervescence and despair. She spoke of how such movements needed to be backed by politics so as to materialize the changes that guide them in the first place. Despite apparent failures, she argued that such movements do have an impression on the world: narratives, strategies, and so forth, which steer and shape protest politics in the world. While I am in agreement with her argument, I do think one element that was left relatively under-theorized – and one I think is crucial – is that of the margins of such politics. Continue reading
One hears a lot of exuberant talk these days about the futures of work. Offices will go away, we’re told, or be significantly scaled back as employees work from home or the networked coffee-shop of their choosing. Work will be parceled into micro-units that can be outsourced to hyper-specialists, thus producing a micro-task economy. Mobility and freelancing will become the dominant metaphors of our multi-tasking flex-ruled times—a fallback for conventional job instabilities and a route to more fine-tuned control over life, leisure, and employment choices. Crowdsourcing and outsourcing together will mean that work can be done by lots of dispersed people in lots of dispersed places. Workforces will become 3D: ‘distributed, discontinuous and decentralized.‘ Peer-to-peer networks will replace old hierarchies. The distinction between ‘work’ and ‘social’ will blur, networked collaboration having long since displaced isolated concentration. We will demand of our work and our employers more than we ever did before; we’ll even teach them a thing or two about what gadgets and technologies make work more efficient and enjoyable. In general, millennial sensibilities will rule.
As I suggested in my last post, however, it’s unclear whose futures these are. Only a few forecasts are ever localized for India, but global enthusiasm reverberates disproportionately and faith in the capacity of technology to widen work futures is immensely strong. While it is true that some younger office crowds in the big Indian metros can contemplate and even demand flex-futures shot through with millennial whimsy, bare laboring realities still exert themselves, and forcefully. The contrasts are especially hard to ignore in India, where, all around is also ‘work’ of a very different sort: running in parallel to the more prized but no less regimented office work, there is casual work, self-employment (a category which includes street vendors and domestic workers among others), un- or semi-skilled labor, daily-wage labor on construction sites, agricultural labor that leads nowhere and is seasonal besides, factory work, service work, specialized artisanal work that has long since been downgraded to manual labor and more—all of it low-wage, and apparently bereft of any real possibility of reinvention. Continue reading
Anthropologists are good at critiquing other anthropologists and themselves. We have a lot to be guilty about and we do a good job of pointing that out. The politics of anthropology, and the politics of the politics of anthropology are a major part of what we do. In fact, we’re so good at doing it that I think at times we forget what we have actually done wrong. We spend more time reading dismissals of our ancestors than we do the ancestors themselves.
One of my most memorable moments in graduate school was when Fredrik Barth — who I have a lot of respect for — came to give a talk to our department. The highlight for me was when he was describing how much he enjoyed spending time with people in Papua New Guinea during his fieldwork there. They were, he said, friendly and “the most wonderful shade of brown.” I think he was trying to be provocative and he succeeded — there was an audible gasp from the brown anthropologists in the room, as well as from pretty much everyone else.
And then there is Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf. Continue reading
Since we launched Savage Minds in 2005 the only time there were ads on this site was the short time last year between when we moved to WordPress.com for hosting and when we paid to turn them off. We apologize for that. The fact is that most of us use ad-blocking software so we didn’t notice the ads until they were pointed out to us and then we promptly got rid of them. We don’t intend to put ads here, and — even though we all put in a lot of work (and money) behind the scenes to keep the site going — we aren’t asking for your support…
OK, enough with the “we.” Although this is a group site and we make all major decisions (including posting this request) together, this is very personal for me. For the past three months I’ve been working non-stop behind the scenes to move to a new server, restore the archives, and redesign the site. If you paid a professional to do this kind of work it would cost at least $2,000, and maybe as much as four times that. I did it because I care about this site. If you also value this site and the work that goes into it, I’d like to ask you to support an organization that is very important to me: Budhan Theatre.