Tribes and Tribal Studies in North East: Deconstructing the Politics of Colonial Methodology

By: Raile Rocky


British colonial administrator-ethnographers in India were pioneers in surveys and carried out intensive expeditions on tribes. Nevertheless their methods were and remains questionable. Their survey reports and documents became the source of invaluable information about varied regions and at the same time a tool for insidious expansion of their colonial administration. However by using official machinery and tours for documenting realities they bypassed the ethical considerations of research. Their writings in many ways ended up contorting many indigenous communities which they collectively ascribed as ‘tribes’ as being synonymous with being backward, uncivilized and barbarous. This paper critically analyse the notion of ‘tribe’ in India as perceived and studied by colonial anthropologists. It also interrogates the Ontology and Epistemic premises of their Knowledge Production on tribes in India and concludes by deciphering the politics of their methodology.


The multiethnic, multilingustic, multi religious, and multicultural nature of Indian society is both a boon and a bane. Cultural pluralism adds colour and dynamism to Indian society but at the same time it is also a stumbling block to economic integration and societal cohabitation. Due to the varied geographical topography and social groupings that inhabit India, no two social groups would have a comprehensive knowledge about the others. This misinformation becomes more pronounced in the context of the understanding of ‘tribes’ in India whose history for long has been documented and interpreted by others. For a community that constitute 8.6% of India’s population the label of barbaric, savages, uncivilised, backward, criminals etc. thrust upon them by the Britishers, anthropologists and Indian administrators alike has been slow to erode and continues to colour the perception of the general populace on tribes in India. As Smith notes, ‘They continue to frame the discourses on indigenous issues of a particular society and account in part for the very specific use of language, including terms of abuse, the sorts of issues which are selected for debate and even the types of resistance being mounted by indigenous peoples’ (Smith 1999:79). Misra (2012) further adds, one cannot deny the fact that colonialism was the cause of large scale dissemination, displacement, pauperization and creation of a deep sense of inferiority among indigenous population the world over. This paper critically analyse the notion and characterization of tribes in India as perceived through the writings of colonial administrators cum ethnographers with special references to the Naga tribes of North East India. It also interrogates the Ontology and Epistemic premises of Colonial Knowledge Production on tribes in India. The paper concludes with a discussion on the politics of methodology.

Positioning and Categorizing Tribes in India

‘Tribe’ is one of the most contested terms particularly in India, no official definition exists till date. ‘There has been more concern with the identification of tribes than with their definition. These criteria ranged from such features as geographical isolation, simple technology and condition of living, general backwardness to the practice of animism, tribal language, physical features, etc. The problem however lay in the fact that they were neither clearly formulated nor systematically applied’ (Xaxa, 2006). Essentially the word tribe is a relic of the colonial writers that referred to certain groups of people who were largely cut off from the rest of the larger society and mainly resided in the forest or its vicinity or in other remote areas. ‘Colonial administrators used the term tribe to describe people who were heterogeneous in physical and linguistic traits, demographic size, ecological conditions of living, regions inhabited, stages of social formation, and levels of acculturation and development’ (Xaxa 2005, 2008: 2). The term is synonymous with being primitive and with savagery and hence is derogatory in many ways. ‘Tribes are primarily seen as a stage and type of society. They represent a society that lacks positive traits of the modern society and thus constitute simple, illiterate and backward society’ (Xaxa 1999).

In India the Constitutionally recognized term for this particular category of people is Scheduled tribe; these tribes are spread across the country, they are highly concentrated in the central and peninsular and north eastern of the country. Generally, three widely accepted terminology for the group of people referred to as Scheduled tribes are: a) Tribals b) Adivasis and c) Indigenous People. This can be clearly observed from the fact that the tribals in the Central, Western and Southern part of the country prefer calling themselves Adivasis rather than Tribals. The term Adivasi however have little acceptance amongst the tribals in the North eastern part of the country with the term generally being used by them to refer to the tribes who work in the tea Gardens in Assam. “The term ‘Adivasi’ therefore, remains a generic name in East and North-East India for identifying the migrant tribal laborers and small peasants from central India. The local tribes in these States find it humiliating to identify themselves as ‘Adivasi’ ” (Burman, 2009).

The beginning of the tribal studies or documenting and writing monographs on tribal can dates back to 1774 with the setting up of the Asiatic Society of Bengal by Sir William Jones. Anthropologist has divided cultural studies of tribes into four chronological phases of development as per with the Indian anthropology, viz. (i) The Formative Phase (1774-1919), (ii) The Constructive Phase (1920-1949), (iii) The Analytical Phase (1950 -1989), and (iv) The Evaluative Phase (1990-present). In the ensuing section, I will highlight the various arguments on the construction of the category of ‘tribes’ by anthropologists in India.

The British administrators were the pioneers in documenting and preparing monographs on tribes in India with the motive of promoting their interest and enhancing their power. The works of J.H. Hutton a British administrator cum anthropologist on the Nagas particularly the Sema’s and Angami, Christoph von-Fuhrer Haimendorf on the Gonds of Adilabad are two notable examples of such endeavors. As far as anthropologists in India are concern, Verrier Elwin remains one of the most influential anthropologists on tribal policy in India. Elwin initially came to India as a Christian preacher but later abandoned it and went to write extensively on tribes in India starting with the Baiga tribe and later on the tribals of North East India particularly on tribes of present day Arunachal Pradesh then known as NEFA. V. Elwin was a fervent advocate of the ‘isolationist’ framework for tribes which basically argued for tribes to be left alone and be kept separate from mainstream Indian society.

In direct opposition to Elwin’s ‘isolationist’ framework was G.S. Ghuyre, it was he who advocated the policy of assimilation of tribal with Hindu society. He argued that ‘almost all the so-called aboriginal tribes of the region have a Hinduized section, small or large, that they been in fairly intimate contact with the Hindus for a long time, and that they have common interest with the Hindu in matter of religion and gainful occupation’ (Ghurye: 1963:18). Essentially for him tribals were nothing more than Backward Hindus. Some of the notable categorization of tribes by anthropologist in India includes tribes as ‘nationalities’ by Burman, ‘ethnic group’ by Doshi, ‘Aborigines’ by Pathy, ‘ethnic minority’ by BK Roy Burman, ‘Nation and Nationalities’, ‘primitive to post primitive’, vulnerable by Oomen, ‘culturo-political entities’, adivasis by Devalle and ‘indigenous people’ by Xaxa. To summarize Vidyarthi (1977) notes that as far as tribes in India was concern, they have been categorized by i) region, (ii) language, (iii) race, (iv) their level of integration with rural folk to which they are connected, (v) their economy, (vi) their cultural pattern as a whole, and (vi) their level of education. The next section of the paper will deal with delve into the writings of British colonial administrators on the tribes of the North East India with special reference to the writings on the Naga tribals. An attempt will be made to highlight their overt euro centric biasness as they set about recording, decoding and labelling what they saw as a lesser people and civilization.

Tribes in North East

North East India comprises of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, and Sikkim. What distinguishes these states from the rest of country is the sensitive geopolitical location with the existence of diverse ethnic groups with different historical backgrounds. Predominantly there are two views of the North East viz. outsider’s and insider’s view. The former sees the region as a relatively unitary entity, delimited by India’s boundaries with other countries and the latter sees it as an extreme diversity: of tribes, communities, languages, religions, customs, traditions and histories (Miri 2007). However diverse the views about the region may be, the fact remains that the North East as a whole is not a single entity with a common political destiny; rather it comprises of eight states. The region covers a geographical area of 2.55 laks, which is just 7% of the total country’s area. It is connected to India just by a narrow corridor known as the ‘chicken neck’ between Nepal and Bangladesh. The region is a gateway to South East Asia as it is bordered by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal and China. The North East Region (NER) of India is perhaps one of the most vibrant and complex areas to administer; of the 600 odd ethnic communities that inhabit India, well over 200 ethnic groups are found in this region.

‘Tribal communities in Northeast India are living on the fringe of three great political communities-India, China and Burma. Historically, some of them played roles of buffer communities, and others the roles of bridge communities in between these three great political communities’ (Toppo 2000: 73).

After East India Company extended help to Ahom Kingdom to defeat the Burmese invasion, they signed the Treaty of Yandaboo, by which the Ahom King ceded a part of his territory to the British East India Company as a reward. Thereafter British continuously expanded their administration in the region. ‘The history of the North East until independence in 1947 is a history of the expansion of British rule and of social, economic and political changes in the region’ (Inoue nd: 17). According to Elwin (1960), the British Government was inclined, on the whole to leave the tribesmen alone, partly because the task of administration, especially in the border areas, was difficult and unrewarding. Until 1874, Assam was part of the Bengal Province. The two princely states of Manipur and Tripura after British conquest in 1891 came under the British paramountcy. The expansion of colonial rule into the hill region took shape in reorganization and demarcation of geographical area as Gangmumei Kamei points out,

Another aspect of the British expansion was the conquest of the hill tribes and establishment of their areas into various districts. For example, the Naga areas were constituted into Naga Hills District and the Mizo (Lushai) areas into Lushai Hills District. The tribes living in the southern slopes of eastern Himalayas were brought under political control and later on brought under the North-Eastern Frontier Agency (p: 66).

The British rule in India followed the policy of non-interference when it came to the hill communities particularly in North East. Moreover, ‘the policy of non-interference was followed by area expeditions that were resorted to in order to quell opposition of the hill communities to the colonial extension of commercial activities in and through their land ’(Shimray 2001:3674). Subsequently, tribal communities who predominantly inhabited the hills area were forcefully merged with the princely state and into different districts for so called ‘administrative convenience. Eventually the hill communities in North East India were brought under different territorial administrative authorities and hence the concept of territorial politics was thus introduced, hitherto unknown to the hill communities (ibid.)

Situating the Context: Nagas

Nagas are not only confined to a political boundary of Nagaland State but can be found in the neighboring states like Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and even Burma owing to the geographical demarcation set by the Indian government who at that time were ignorant and indifferent to the place and its habitants. The present Nagaland state has undergone tremendous alteration due to, not only by the colonial rulers, but also by Indian state as well as by Burma. The confusion and conflict regarding the geographical area of Nagaland state and subsequently the demand for Greater Nagalim arose due to callous nature of the colonial rulers, Burma and the Indian state that were oblivious of Nagas and their homeland yet divided and demarcated Nagaland without the consent of Nagas.

Nagas and Nagaland state are riddled with various complex issues among which the origin of the word “Naga” is intensely debated, discussed and contested, and yet, there is no universal explanation which “Nagas” adhere to. Perhaps the earliest reference to the Nagas occurs in Buranjis, the officially compiled chronicles of the Ahoms (Horam 1975). He further writes regarding the nature of ambiguity in the name Naga,

“The Nagas themselves- and specially the border Nagas, as in all probability the name was first used for them by the plainsmen- are unable to throw much light beyond a few stories regarding the meaning of the word” (1975)

The origin of the word ‘Naga’ has been a source of much debate among different scholars (Sema 1986). The word “Naga” itself is shrouded in mystery and it is, most probably, a name given by non-Nagas (Chasie 2000). The Nagas are a result of the age-old contact between the Mongols and Caucasic people (Horam 1975). The people known as the Nagas, comprised of many tribes, are of mongoloid stock (Chasie 2000). Regardless of the various paradoxical theories regarding the origin of the word “Naga” hitherto it has been used to refer to various tribes inhabiting Nagaland, few districts in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Parts of Myanmar (Burma).

As soon as one confronts the complex and vague narrative of the word ‘Naga’ and its origin he/she is faced with another equally complex issue i.e. the number of tribes. As we have seen the usage of the word ‘Naga’ to represent various tribes, yet we are still unsure about the exact number of tribes i.e. the number (exact) of tribes falling under the umbrella ‘Naga Tribe’. In literature we can find that the number of tribes has been increasing, Sema (1986) has given 20, Horam (1975) 32, Shimray (2005) has listed 40, Asoso (cited in Chasie) lists 50 tribes. The complexities don’t end here; in fact it is riddled with other complex issues such as language, culture, geographical location etc. The Nagas have no common language but speak different dialects belonging to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group. The dialects not only vary from tribe to tribe, hill range to hill range but also from village to village in many cases.

The beginning of the 19 th century that marks the epoch of modernity initiated the process of change and transformation among the Nagas. The early 1830s saw the British explorers surveying the Naga Hills, which was immediately followed by the Christian missionaries. Subsequently Nagas were introduced to modernity through the invasion of the colonial rulers and the wide spread of Christian ideology. The free homeland of Nagas which was never conquered by outsiders was just divided along the so called Indo-Burma boundary by the Britishers’ under the Yandabo Treaty in 1826 without the knowledge and consent of the Nagas.

Nagas in the year 1929 submitted a memorandum to Simon commission stating their desire to remain independent. On August 14, 1947 Nagas declared independence and the message was sent through telegram to the United Nations as well as the Indian government, yet it was ignored by the newly formed Indian government and the Indian state suppressed the wishes and decision of the Nagas violently. There was a voluntary plebiscite on May 16, 1951 at Kohima whereby 99.9% of the voters voted for a sovereign independent Naga Nation. The Naga movement for independence is one of the oldest and longest movements in India. “It is a process of absorption of various tribes into a common generic name “Naga” for the different tribes brought under a single administrative roof and law, accompanied by introduction of English education and Christianity spread by the supporters of the colonial rule” (Kamei, 2012:72).

On Colonial Methodology

The British were keen to survey the tribal area to know about its material wealth, which could eventually be siphoned off to build industries back home (Majumdar 1994 as cited in Saksena et al. 2006: xv). ‘The British were also interested in studying tribal people and their institutions, not only for making an academic contribution to the understanding of the other, but also for administering these societies better, so that peace could prevail in them and they remain subservient to the colonial rule’ (Saksena et al. 2006: xv). Colonial ethnographers were deeply embedded with positivist approach and as such they considered social facts as things as propounded by Durkheim. For them ‘reality is out there’ and one has to just merely collect it rather than unravelling reality within the society. For instance, the assumption that colonial administrators like Hutton had was that people were changing very fast and therefore information on them had to be collected before all was lost. The information he collected would be of historical value in future. For him, reality has to be captured before its influence by others or before it changes as time pass by and document it and preserve it for future references. But how objective they were in this endeavour is questionable.

It is best to quote Elwin himself about how the colonial ethnographers collected for their monographs and also the limitations of their approach. He writes,

The men who wrote these extracts found it difficult to get information. The Naga languages in those days, before English or even Assamese had become popular, were some of the most complex and difficult in the world. Visitors to the Naga Hills nearly always had to go under escort and Dr. J.H. Hutton points out how difficult this made inquiries even in his own case as late as 1923. He and his party could go nowhere, he says, during a tour in what is now called Tuesang without armed sentries standing over us like warders guarding a recaptured convict. Captain W.B. Shakespear, who commanded his escort and who should at least have had a sort of family feeling for ethnology was sympathetic but took no risk (Elwin 1969: 2).

In agreement with this point, Hutton himself admitted about the difficulties he faced while on tour cum data collection for profiling Nagas. Even though their methods of data collection were not clearly mentioned in their monographs, nevertheless one can conclude that participant observation would not have been the case as they did not speak or understand local language which they themselves admitted. Their methods of data collection were solely based on ethnographic survey and non-participant observation. For instance, Hutton was escorted by armed personnel and coolie for his entire tours cum data collection expeditions. To quote Hutton, he states, ‘one advantage we had, which does not always attend such trips; our escort included two pipers and a drum, which in the shyest of villages succeeded in luring from obscurity a few of the more curios or musically inclined’ (Hutton 1986: 1). This is rather ironic as when the ruler visits their subject, and when their subject knows that they are been observed, one cannot rule out the possibilities of fake behaviour and demeanour, a facade so to speak. The authenticity of data here is questionable and more so when their visits were officially communicated.

Overall there is a lack of clarity as to how did they know what they documented in their monographs. The discourse generated by colonial ethnographers needs to be critically revisited to examine the authenticity and interpretation of data by comparing against the lived experience of Nagas. As the Nagas have no written history, it is essential to understand the meaning attached to specific practice such as head hunting, various rituals and rites etc. to capture the multiple epistemologies and position it against the interpretations of these ethnographers.

Interrogating the Ontology and Epistemic premise of Colonial Knowledge Production

It is crucial to examine some fundamental questions on the nature of colonial administrator-ethnographers construction of reality with pertinent questions such as how did they see the world of the Nagas? What exist in the world of Nagas according to them etc? This section explores the colonial ethnographer construction of reality with regard to the Nagas. For the administrator cum ethnographers, the Nagas socio-cultural life was a field of study. Along with their official tours, they collected data with the help of interpreters and wrote extensively on what they observed in the field. Well known colonial ethnographers who make an extensive documentation about Nagas includes— J.H. Hutton who wrote The Angami Nagas (1921) and The Sema Nagas (1921), J.P. Mills, wrote on The Lhota Nagas (1922), The Ao Nagas (1926) and The Rengma Nagas (1937). These writings provided a comprehensive account of the Naga tribes covering physiological traits, village economy, village administration, social organisation, customary laws and practices, religious beliefs, rites of passages, folklore, domestic life, food habits, dress, ornamentation, housing styles etc. A complete ethnographic account of many of the tribes has been documented by them which till date remains widely quoted. In the absence of any other authentic written documentation on the tribes either by the tribesmen themselves or by other Indian writers these accounts are taken as an authorative description of the tribes. So influential are these accounts that they continue to be widely quoted and referred to by academics across the North East.

Granted that such accounts are fairly comprehensive documentation of tribes and are invaluable but their writings in many ways are reflective of their biasness and euro centric valuation of people and societies so much so that it out rightly racist in many cases. One cannot but notice the air of cultural supremacy in many of the colonial writings. As argued by Bhabha ‘The objective of colonial discourse is to construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types based on racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction’ (Bhabha 1994: 66). On reviewing the literature on Nagas by colonial ethnographers, we find that the discourse is frequently flooded with terrifying stereotypes as ‘savages’, ‘wild’, ‘untameable’, ‘witch doctor’, ‘heathen tribes’, ‘barbaric’, ‘uncivilised’ etc. These characterizations are best exemplified by their accounts of the head hunting practices, physical beauty and personal character of the Nagas.

The many accounts of the head hunting act as barbaric and savage among the Nagas are indicative of the British ethnographers’ inherent value system guiding their judgements over contextualized valuation of such acts as honoured acts. To quote Hutton (1921) ‘There is, after all not so much to separate a sportsman’s desire for, say, a fine buffalo head and a Naga’s desire for the head of a man’ (p: 158). Further while writing about Angami Nagas, Hutton describes them as ‘bloodthirsty omnivorous’ knowing no distinction between heads. He writes,

It is agreed by all Angamis, as well as by other Nagas, that head taking was essential to marriage in so far that a buck who had taken no head, and would not wear the warriors’ dress at festival, not only found it exceedingly difficult to get any girl with pretensions to good looks or to self-respect to marry him, but was help up to ridicule by all the girls of his clan (Hutton 1921: 165).

“The general perception of the British about the people in the Naga hills and beyond was that they were all wild savages, continuously at war with each other, seeking all the ‘heads’ of their enemies as trophies” (Misra 2012: 63). Another colonial writer Woodthorpe term the Nagas as ‘bloodthirty, treacherous and revengeful all Nagas,’ even the best are, and the Angamis, though in many ways, perhaps the finest and best of their tribes, is no exception. With them, as with the others, it is an article of faith that blood once shed can never be expiated except by the death of the murderer or some of his relatives (cited in Elwin 1969: 55).

Such conclusions are however far removed from the actual purpose of such acts, in the Naga tradition, bringing the heads of an enemy to his village by a warrior was not a game as perceived by colonial ethnographer it served many intrinsic purpose. Elwin measured reasoning on the prevalence of head hunting practice among the Nagas is perhaps closest to the truth, he writes;

The reasons for head-hunting are complicated and interesting. The practice is probably based on a belief in a soul-matter or vital essence of great power which resides in the human head. By taking a head from another village, therefore, it was believed that a new injection of vital and creative energy would come to the aggressor’s village when he brought the head home. The Nagas have always been a warlike race and the warrior, especially the young warrior, who had taken a head held a great advantage over his fellows in attracting the most beautiful girl of his village for marriage (Elwin 1961:11).

Moving forth with Elwin’s rationalization; for the Nagas the act of cutting of heads and bringing them home are usually accompanied by chants invoking the Gods and not some senseless act as it is made out to be. It was a customary practice that had over time gained recognition and was widely acknowledge as a sign of bravery and in many ways intrinsically connected with religious rites and ceremonies of the Naga tribes. In retrospect the following points with regard to head hunting practices are widely agreed upon by Nagas themselves. These points are detailed rationalization for head hunting practice against what the British ethnographers’ notes as being barbaric. These rationalizations are derivatives from an emic perspective; a rationalization from the lived reality of the tribes themselves.

The enemies’ heads were chopped off and brought home for the purpose of religious ceremonies and rituals. There was widespread belief that the vital power resided in human head. ‘…by taking a head from another village, it was believed that a new injection of vital and creative energy could come to the aggressors’ village when he brought the head home. This was valuable for human and animal fertility’ (Thong 2012:15).

Head hunting was also done whenever a chief’s house or Morung (Boy’s dormitory) were to build or ceremony of new chief’s, a head was needed to appease ancestral ghosts. Head hunting was practiced so that individuals could be conferred the right to wear certain dresses and ornaments which ordinary man were not entitled to consequently, thus recognition by society played a key role for the practice of head hunting. Additionally head hunting was also associated with proving oneself as a warrior for superiority status among peers and also to attract respectable bride for marriage. To appease gods in worship and also for human sacrifice of their deities for their general well being For acquisition of more natural resources and land for cultivation, hunting, fishing etc. As an attribute to clashes and rivalry owing to illegal trapping of domestic animals or sheltering an outcast or for non-fulfilment of a promise. Headhunting as a barbaric practice, done solely with the intention of sadistic pleasure is a construction of the colonial administrator; their description of this act would ordinarily lead a reader to view head hunting as simply barbaric and done simply for the pleasure of it. However as evident from the points made above, chopping the heads of an enemy and bringing it are closely associated with many factors of establishing well being and propriety, the practice was to say the least a rational act and not just a game for pleasure.

Physical appearance is another area which reflects the deep rooted biasness of the colonial ethnographers, Hutton again in the context of Sema Naga writes: ‘The women, except in one or two villages, are seldom really pretty’ (1921a: 21). Further he writes, ‘Many have quite fair skins and among the men good features are often to be met with, sometimes even handsome ones. Among the women, however, ugliness is the rule, a pretty Sema girl is hardly to be found, though the exceedingly plainness of the majority of the sex makes the few who are less ill-favoured sometimes seem almost pretty by comparison. The women are generally very short, squat and horny-header. In fact, beards among men are about as rare as beauty is among women’ (ibid as cited in Misra). Hutton’s measure of beauty is not clear but his statements are downright derogatory by any measure, it only reflects his euro centric notion of beauty.

A third aspect of such over sweeping generalization are comments on the character of the Nagas, for example on the character of the Sema, a Naga tribe Hutton writes, ‘As far as his untruthfulness is concerned it must be admitted that the Sema readily takes a false oath’ (ibid. :26). He further commented that ‘the charge of thievishness that is frequently brought against the Sema is likewise well founded … it is doubtful, however, if he is as bad as the Ao, who is at least as big a thief and a bigger liar’ (ibid. 26). One is not sure as to how Hutton arrive at such generalization in the absence of substantive recorded data on ‘thievery’ among the Nagas in colonial record.

There are many other instances of such generalization, which in effect reflect colonial biasness against ‘uncivilized’ people so to speak. A holistic approach to understand multiple realities was ignored in totality by colonial ethnographers as they objectified facts and undermined contextualised generalisation. Identification of practices, issues and understanding of meanings from the perspective of tribes is not reflected at all throughout their ethnographic work, as the Colonial ethnographers observed as a third party and solely relied on interpreters for their descriptive ethnography. Moreover, their description contains many negative connotations about the people under observation and many a times they smack of deep prejudice and disdain of their world view. To be able to capture the reality of social and cultural practices of tribes or be it any society, one needs to be embedded deeply into the field, take the position of tribal epistemology rather than just treating the subjects as things.


What makes research different from a work of fiction or everyday knowledge is its methodology. No research would be considered as good research without its methodology or the logic of inquiry. It is natural that the debate on different approach of research will emerge as we are dealing with human society with all its complexities. While engaging on knowledge production and discourse, neither methodologies nor methods are constructed or chosen in isolation from ontological and epistemological positions. Thus, the way we get at knowledge and the techniques we use to collect evidence are directly related to our image of reality and the way we think we can know it (Jayaram 1989, 2006). Smith (2005) argued that ‘the notion of research as an objective, value-free and scientific process for observing and making sense of human realities is taken for granted by many social scientist’. It is also true when it come to research on tribes by various scholars; often their epistemological position tends to be of researchers and not on the standpoint of researched.

While researching on tribes by anthropology, the very term tribe becomes synonymous with problem or backwardness in the eyes of researcher. Accordingly research questions are framed around the problem, and tribals are blamed for their backwardness, being disinclined to modernity, etc. For us, the issue is not just that we are blamed for our own failures but that it is also communicated to us, explicitly or implicitly, that we ourselves have no solutions to our own problem (Smith 2005). It remains a challenge to confront the popular tribal discourse as postulated by anthropologist or any other researchers who do not as yet give credence to the world view of the ‘researched’. Another crucial area of contestation on the methodology of anthropologists is attachment of meanings and interpretation of tribal folklore, folk tales, narratives etc. as the vocabularies of tribals cannot be truly presented in third language and vice versa. The essence of meanings diverts it away from the original concept when it get translated in the process of research. This is also due to the fact that the vocabularies of researchers and researched are limited and cannot be replaced. So given the situation of tribal oral history and non availability of tribal script, how do anthropology comes to know what they know and claimed to know in totality? To unravel this aspect, one need to be culturally sensitive and comes out from within.

“Eventually by 1872, the British Government arbitrarily redivided the land of the Nagas who were then ignorant of their homeland being bifurcated. Some parts went to Assam; some went to Manipur; some to the erstwhile NEFA (Arunachal); and the central part was formed as Naga Hill District. Finally, Eastern Naga went to Burma (Myanmar) which was divided into three, with the north-east drawn into Kachin state and the south to Sagain Division, leaving the central portion as “Naga Hills”. However, when General Ne Win came to power, his regime abolished the Naga Hills unit of administration and divided it between the Kachin State and Sagain Division without the consent of the Nagas” (Shimray, 2005)


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