‘Against State, Against History: Re-writing the pasts of the tribes of Northeast India’
Dr. Jangkohmang Guite,
Assam University, Silchar.
This paper examines the pasts of the hill tribes in Northeast India. In the long view, the highland region is seen as a ‘region of refuge’ to several numbers of people who inhabited the surrounding valleys. In contrast to the dominant civilisational discourse, the migration history of the hill people has it that they once lived in the surrounding plains, some even claimed to have their ‘kingdom’, from where they migrated to their present habitats for some good reasons. In a more metaphorical expression, they mentioned factors such as ‘great’ flood, fire and darkness or ‘powerful’ enemy, connoting in different ways the harshness of state-making projects in the valleys. In this sense, they are seen as what Scott has called ‘state evading population’ and their culture and agriculture as the culture of defiance against control and appropriations. The scores of dispersive population and settlement patterns, the plural, porous and fluid social formations, the baroque form of political structures ranging from what is often termed as ‘democratic’ to ‘despotic’, and the thriving economies of deliverance, are therefore discussed. They are seen as a political choice conceiving out of the necessity of keeping all forms of control and oppressions at arm’s length. While freedom from control and oppression is a relative term, it is considered here as a monolithic concept that played a critical role in the formation of the hill systems. Nineteenth century was a watershed in that these hill practices have experienced a major shock in the face of new ideas and practices under British colonialism. The overflow of power and authority into the hills was considered as one major change-maker. How the hill systems acted, reacted and interacted with the new ideas and practices is discussed. Of the several reactions, subjects like raiding, headhunting, slavery, and of conversion to Christianity and of ethnogenesis are taken up for discussion. The resilience of these ‘traditions’, of the state-evading practices, in various forms within the new systems are also discussed. Above all, this paper is about the pasts of the populations at the margins of state and empire and how they acted, reacted and interacted to the latter over a long period of time.
Dr. Jangkhomang Guite is an Assistant Professor in Department of History, Assam University, Silchar. He did his BA from University of Delhi, Delhi and did his MA, M. Phil and Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.