Colonial Foundation of Pahari Ethnicity

Last updated Sep 28th, 2021


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In 1869, Captain T. H. Lewin, the first Deputy Commissioner of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and also one of the first ethnographers of the area, wrote [1]: Among a simple people like our hill men there is no…desire [for excessive wealth]; their nomadic life precludes any great accumulation of wealth, and they enjoy perfect social equality.

Lewin may have overstated the simple, egalitarian nature of precolonial social life in the Hill Tracts, but he was certainly right in speaking of ‘our hill men’.

As an idealized type of humans, the ‘hill men’ were an invention; they existed not so much in any real time and place as in the imagination of the British.

Of course, the ‘hill men’ of the British corresponds to the people of the Hill Tracts who identify themselves, and are identified by others, as ‘Pahari’ (i.e. hill people) or ‘tribal’.

Their existence is real enough. But this does not mean that these Paharis always constituted a single category of people in the past.

My argument in this paper is that Pahari ethnicity was constructed during the British colonial period.

In British India, the term ‘hill men’ referred to all the ‘tribal’ peoples living in the hill tracts bordering Assam and Bengal.

These ‘hill tribes’ included groups such as the ‘Nagas’ and the ‘Kukis’ who used to carry out predatory raids in the plains to capture slaves, women and heads (as trophies).

When the British came to rule India, the ‘headhunters’ managed to capture not only a few heads from among the colonial intruders, but also the imagination of a great many of them.

The revulsion and outrage that the ‘savages’ aroused in the British soon gave way to an image of the former as the Children of Nature.

Of course, not all the hill men were headhunters, but they were savages all the same in the eyes of the British, and in due time, they were elevated to the status of Rousseau’s Noble Savage. Thus Lewin wrote of the ‘Chittagong Hill Tribes’:[2]

There is much that is loveable about them. They are very simple, and honest, and merry; but they have no sympathy with anything above the level of their bodily wants….[I]f these people could be taught to live according to Nature in its higher sense,…this would be the wisest and the grandest ideal.

Clearly, we can see that the category ‘hill men’ was constructed not so much with a view to place the people so designated in a proper historical and cultural context, but to have them serve as objects in a European discourse that went back at least to the eighteenth century (Rousseau’s Noble Savage).[3]

British views of the ‘hill men’ were also influenced by nineteenth century evolutionist thinking, as can be seen, for example, by Lewin’s reference to Maine’s Ancient Law[4].

Accordingly, compared to the people of the plains—the ‘Hindus’, the ‘Bengalis’ etc.—the ‘hill men’ were seen to be at a lower stage of cultural evolution.

As such, the ‘hill men’ marked the boundary of the Indian civilization, of the Hindu caste system, of the pre-British empire of the Mughals, and so on.

Again, no truly historical perspective was adopted towards the ‘hill men’, who simply served as a prop for the British in their ethnocentric attitudes towards the colonized majority of the plains.

When the Indians (or the Hindus or the Muslims or the Bengalis) came to articulate their nationalist aspirations, they largely accepted British categories of ethnic differentiation.

That the Paharis or the ‘tribal’ people of the Hill Tracts cannot identify with the Bengalis today, or vice versa, is usually attributed to British ‘divide and rule’ policies.

In order to divide, however, what the British had to do was, first of all, to classify.

The real legacy of colonialism is that colonialist classificatory schemes continue to be meaningful to date, and perhaps more so than before.

At least, that is the case with the Pahari/Bengali (or tribal/nontribal) dichotomy that we confront in the Hill Tracts today.

In what follows, I discuss more fully some of the basic issues that relate to the colonial foundation of Pahari ethnicity.

First, ‘Pahari’ and ‘tribal’ are synonymous terms; in this context, the implications that the notion of tribe has had for the societies so designated need to be examined.

Secondly, as already indicated, categories such as ‘hill men’ or ‘hill tribe’ were meaningful not only in terms of a general Western discourse on the nature of human society, but also in terms of how Indian society and history in particular were viewed in this discourse; this latter aspect of the discourse will be dealt with more fully in this paper.

Thirdly, I will discuss how the British ignored certain theoretical as well as empirical inconsistencies in their construction of the category ‘hill men’/‘hill tribe’.

Finally, I will show how British discourse has altered the boundaries of ethnic differentiation for the ‘hill men’ of the Hill Tracts, and for the Bengalis as well.

Evolutionism, Colonialism, and the Notion of Tribe
In common usage the word ‘tribe’ has various meanings and connotations. But even as a technical term, as used in anthropology, it has never been defined precisely.

Because, no matter how one defines it, in the real world, one is always confronted with the problem of determining where one tribe ends and another begins.

Nonetheless, the concept of tribal society, whether clearly formulated or not, is applied by almost every anthropologist and by scholars in other disciplines.

A tribal society is generally understood to be one in which social, political and economic relations are organized around kinship[5].

By definition, tribal societies do not live under state organization, and this is the primary feature that distinguishes them from ‘peasants’[6].

This conceptualization forms part of the accepted view of human social evolution.

It is the view that before the emergence of the earliest states—or civilizations as they are more popularly called—in a few isolated areas of the world, human beings everywhere were organized into small bands of hunter- gatherers or into larger tribal units of shifting cultivators and pastoralists.

With the emergence and expansion of state-organized societies, tribal people everywhere began to be incorporated into, or displaced/exterminated by this new type of society, unless, of course, they themselves were to make a transition to the advanced evolutionary stage.

This view of human social evolution became most clearly articulated by Euro-American theoreticians of the nineteenth century such as Lewis Henry Morgan, who wrote the well-known (via Engels) book Ancient Society.

Knowledge about ‘ancient’ or ‘primitive’ societies was actually knowledge about contemporary ‘tribal’ societies that Europeans came in direct contact with following their worldwide colonial expansion.

In the nexus of knowledge and power, Europe’s colonial expansion had by now come to be seen as the unfolding of an inevitable evolutionary process; the societies that they colonized were below and behind them in various stages of cultural evolution, the ‘tribal’ societies being at the very bottom.

Naturally, colonialism came to be seen as leading the whole world to higher stages of civilization; Europeans went around the world not only or even primarily for exploiting the resources in areas inhabited by less advanced peoples, but they had a moral mission: to civilize the natives, to show them the way to progress.

Not that there were no contending views regarding the nature of human society and history.

Marx and Engels, among others, saw the State as an instrument of oppression most evolved in its capitalist form.

But they harbored no illusion as to the viability of the tribal societies against the onslaught of the more evolved ones.

If existing tribal societies showed many elements of the ideal society, their survival could not be guaranteed against the march of history.

Thus the communists could not worry about the fate of the remnants of ‘primitive communist’ societies; their political task was to try to transform the whole world into post-capitalist communist societies. (This transformation would not take place simply as the act of evolution, but of revolution, in which human agents would seek to shape their own history.)

Marx and his followers no doubt saw European colonial expansion as bringing about a global system of exploitation, but in order to bring this system down, all societies needed to go through capitalism.

‘Tribal’ societies thus came to be seen as pre-capitalist societies, or at best, as incipient forms of feudalism. Their subjugation by states, whether capitalist or not, was mandated by history.

Thus the incorporation of ‘tribal’ peoples in colonial empires took place without any serious practical or ideological difficulties, except for the weak resistance the ‘tribal’ peoples themselves offered.

It was inevitable that the various ‘hill tribes’ living near Assam and Bengal would in time become subjects of British India, and thus citizens of the post-colonial states of Pakistan (Bangladesh) and India.

The Tribal/Non-Tribal Dichotomy in British Discourse
In British India, the category ‘hill tribe’ did not simply entail applying the notion of tribal society to people living in the hills.

It was part of a larger constellation of colonialist ideas, images and categories that formed the British ‘Orientalist’[7] discourse on Indian society and history. In this discourse, the category ‘hill tribe’ (or more generally ‘tribal’) was contrasted with various ‘non-tribal’ categories, e.g. ‘caste’, ‘Hindu’, ‘Indian’, ‘Bengali’ and so on.

Just as ‘communalism’ was a major theme in the British discourse on India, the tribal/non-tribal dichotomy became an important one.

Coupled with the theory—myth rather—of Aryan invasion, this dichotomy served to produce a clearly racialist interpretation of how the complex ethnic make-up of the subcontinent had come about. In this view, ‘Indo-European’ speaking ‘Aryan’ races came in successive waves to the subcontinent and over time formed the upper strata of the Hindu caste system; native races formed the lower strata; but there were also those who resisted being incorporated into the caste system, or simply remained outside of it due to ‘isolation’—the ‘tribal’ people.

Many of the ‘hill tribes’ were ‘Tibeto-Burman’ speaking “Mongoloid’ ‘immigrants’ who had managed to live in relative isolation from the societies of the plains.

It appears that it was difficult for the British to think and see beyond what experience of their own colonial expansion had been.

They were the last wave of the Aryan invaders! Even though they came to the sub-continent as Vaisyas (i.e. merchants) first, they would soon rule over it as Kshatriyas (i.e. royals), and as Brahmins (priests/scholars) as well.

British and other European scholars would soon uncover India’s forgotten glories of the past and re-write the known history of the inglorious present. In fact Europeans as a whole were now ruling—as Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas—over the Shudras of the world.

They even had their untouchables, the ‘Negroes’.* They had certainly brought many tribal societies under their rule, if they had not always displaced, or even exterminated, them.

The British must have felt that they represented a higher and purer type of caste than the Hindus and Muslims they came to rule.

Even if many Indians were to turn into ‘Brown Englishmen’ later, they were still to remain inferior replicas of the British, because at least skin color could not be changed.

On the surface, however, the caste system became a major sign of the state of moral degradation in which the British viewed the Indians to be.

In contrast to the people of the plains, the ‘hill tribes’, especially groups such as the Nagas, were seen as displaying many fine attributes, such as “courage and cheerfulness, their magnificent physique, truthfulness and independence, their absence of servility and lack of caste.”[8]

While in the plains the British were busy adopting policies designed to eradicate many social evils, in the hills they were concerned about how to preserve the good qualities they saw in the hill men.

Thus, in the foreword to an ethnography on the Nagas, Henry Balfour of Oxford declared:[9] The Nagas, with their fine physique, intelligence, and considerable potentialities, are worth preserving and capable of improvement if a process of gradual successive changes be adopted, and if they are allowed to absorb the ideas of higher culture in small doses whose effects may be cumulative [Emphasis added].

The emphasis on physical features and notions of ‘improvement’/’higher culture’ reflect the mixture of racialist and evolutionist thinking that was prevalent among European scholars in the nineteenth century.

Now, though the Nagas were not preserved literally, they were to become pickled in the ethnographic present of the ahistorical descriptions of them that would be written by administratorethnographers.

The Nagas and the other hill tribes were essentially ‘people without history’[10].

Government-initiated ethnographies would present them as isolates, as if they lived in time capsules without being affected by historical forces, not even by the colonial encounter itself that made such descriptions possible in the first place.

While colonial administrators did not try to preserve the people of the hills against the influence they themselves were exerting, they felt that these simple and vulnerable people needed protection against the ‘corrupting influence’ of the plains.

The British became the champion of the hill men’s concerns; they knew what their subjects liked and disliked. Thus Lewin wrote:

“The hill men like neither the plains nor their inhabitants.”[11]

That he himself disliked the plainsmen is clear in his own words:[12]

A tithe of the care and beneficence expended upon the Hindoo would make of these hill races a noble and enlightened people.

They have until lately been totally neglected, and yet a word of kindness, one sympathizing expression, and their hearts are open to you.

My great and distinctive feeling with them has been that they were my fellow-creatures, men and women like myself: with the Bengallee I have never been in accord. [Emphasis added.]

Why this discord with the Bengalis? It seems that it was the Bengalis, at least their elite segments including the ‘Babus’, who were, or had become, more like the British.

But perhaps the fact that a large number of the Bengalis were peasants who toiled for the empire prevented Lewin from being able to think of them as his fellow creatures.

Anomalies: Peasants and Slaves
Although the hill men were generally seen to be simple, honest and egalitarian people—thus distinct from the people of the plains whose moral worth was more dubious—not all of them fit this ideal picture.

Lewin particularly singled out the Tripuras as an exception: “[They] are the only hill people…among whom I have met with meanness and lying—the only people whose savagery is unredeemed by simplicity and manly independence.”[13]

While Lewin did not cite any instance of meanness or lying, it is clear where his low esteem for the Tripuras came from:

“The Tipperah [Tripura], where he is brought into contact with, or under the influence of, the Bengalee, easily acquire their worst vices and superstitions, losing at the same time the leading characteristic of primitive men—the love of truth”[14].

Lewin did not like the Bengalis, therefore it was only natural for him not to think too highly of the Tripuras either, who in his view had come under the corrupt influence of the Bengalis.

The Tripuras indeed have had close interaction with the Bengalis for at least five centuries, ever since the sanskritized* Manikya rulers of the Kingdom of Tripura welcomed a large number of high caste Bengali Hindus in their realm[15].

Lewin described the Tripuras he saw in the Fenny valley of the Hill Tracts as belonging to the ‘great Nowuttea [Noatia] clan.’[16] This ‘clan’, however, was no clan at all.

Rather, it was one of the five divisions into which the ‘tribal’ (Tripura or Tipra) subjects of the Manikya rulers came to be classed.

Of these five divisions, the Puran Tipras were closely associated with the royal family; the Jamatias constituted the ‘fighting caste’ of the kingdom; the Noatias, on the other hand, were mainly jumial peasants divided into a large number of loosely organized kin groups; the Riangs were also mainly peasants, but lineage organization seems to have been stronger among them, and they had also produced some heroic warriors in the kingdom’s history; the fifth division, the Halams, consisted of various ‘tribes’ who are supposed to be of ‘Kuki’* origin, but many of them speak the Tripuri language (Kokborok) today.

Like the Tripuras, the Chakmas—the largest ‘tribe’ of the Hill Tracts—too display signs of having been in close cultural contact with, among others, the Bengalis, as is reflected in their language.

Their socio-political organization in pre-colonial period seems to have been shaped by interaction with the Kingdoms of Tripura and Arakan, and by Mughal influences.

Likewise, the history of the Marmas is closely linked to Arakan and Burma. Both these groups professed Buddhism when the British came to rule them.

They also possessed some literacy. All such facts were known to Lewin, but he tried to stick to a homogeneous ‘Children of Nature’ representation of the ‘hill men.’

In a highly instructive manner, after a year of the publication of The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers Therein (published in 1869 from Calcutta), Lewin changed the title of his book to Wild Races of South- Eastern India (published in 1870 from London).

The idea of the wild races was no doubt a colonial fantasy. Such a category of people ought to have existed, so they might as well be invented. Thus the Chakmas, the Marmas, the Tripuras and others turned into ‘wild races’, though they were hardly worthy of such a romantic designation.

Actually, even the ‘wilder’ groups (the headhunters) were not deserving of the Children of Nature image which was more readily applied to them.

The fact that some of them used to employ slaves to work on their jum fields does not certainly confirm Lewin’s assessment that the hill men enjoyed perfect social equality.

In order to uphold the image of simple, egalitarian social life of the hill men, the British downplayed all instances of inequality, and at the same time, emphasized the democratic nature of village government found among some Naga groups, and generalized it for all the ‘hill tribes.’

The Naga example here reminds one of Plato’s Republic, because the ‘democratic’ Nagas too apparently owned slaves prior to colonial rule.[17]

The slave-owning headhunters, however, did not simply prey on the more civilized communities, but they also entered into military alliances with the latter from time to time.

It is in such a context that Morton Fried critiques the notion of tribe[18].

According to him, most societies that are reported as tribal societies in the ethnographic literature are not really representative of a pre-state mode of social organization, but rather, reflect adaptation to state societies.

The British administrators, however, could not have possibly dwelt over such theoretical issues, and glossing over the anomalies, they lumped together a diverse group of societies under the rubric ‘tribal’ or ‘hill men.’

Administrative policies for governing these people were supposedly guided by what the British thought were the essential characteristics of them—primitive, simple, honest, vulnerable; thus the paternalistic policy of ‘protective insulation’ was adopted.

However, one wonders whether in adopting such a policy the British were not also motivated by a desire to protect the boundaries of their empire.

During the Second World War, at least, the Nagas, having been befriended by the British, helped the latter in trying to stop the Japanese thrust to Kohima, the capital of the present-day Nagaland.[19]

As for the claim that the British tried to keep much of the ‘tribal’ principles of self-government intact, it starts to dissolve under close scrutiny.

For example, for the Tripuras living in the Mong Circle (roughly equivalent to present-day Khagrachari district), where they were the overwhelming majority when the circle was created, they could hardly accept the British-appointed hereditary Marma chiefs as their own because no kinship/ethnic ties bound them. What British administrative policies really did was that among the ‘tribal’ people, a land-owning class was created, whereas the rest were reduced into rent-paying peasants. Such facts are not compatible with the image of the classless egalitarian society that Lewin’s hill men were supposed to stand for.

The Shift of Ethnic Boundaries
However problematic the categories ‘tribal’ or ‘hill men’ may be from a historical or anthropological perspective, it is obvious that they are no longer simply a matter of British imagination.

In the Hill Tracts today, two terms, Pahari (‘hill people’) and ‘tribal,’ are used to designate the collective ethnic identity of Chakmas, Marmas, Tripuras etc. vis-à-vis the Bengalis.

That ‘Pahari’ denotes an ethnic category is obvious enough. But it is not difficult to see that ‘tribal’ also functions more as an ethnic/racial label than as an anthropological concept.

For example, when someone tells me that I look like a tribal, what he or she means is that I look like somebody who comes from the Hill Tracts. Of course, the anthropologist in me could respond jokingly to such an assertion by saying,

“Yes, you are right! But how could you tell by just looking at me that my social, economic and political relations with other people are guided mainly by kinship; that I don’t live in a state; that I am pre-literate, precapitalist; that I live in the Neolithic period, and that I am just about to collect your head as a trophy?”

Nonetheless, there is no denying the fact that the term ‘tribal’ is used by both Paharis and Bengalis alike as a meaningful category of ethnic differentiation in present-day Hill Tracts.

While ‘tribal’ and ‘Pahari’ are coterminous and interchangeable, the latter is preferred by a growing number of Paharis as well as Bengalis since it lacks some of the pejorative connotations of the former.

There is also a third label, the term ‘Jumma’ as employed by the Jana Sanghati Samiti, that has for some time vied with the other two for general currency.*

Curiously, the term ‘non-tribal’ is more frequently used to refer to the Bengalis than the name ‘Bengali’ itself.

Perhaps this practice reflects a collective attempt on the part of the Bengalis to de-emphasize the ‘communal’ nuance that the Pahari/Bengali dichotomy carries with it.

Those who prefer the term ‘tribal’ and ‘non-tribal’ perhaps also wish to deny the Paharis a separate identity apart from the Bengalis. Of course, neither of the pair really helps in this regard.

The significant thing about the tribal/non-tribal or Pahari/Bengali differentiation is that it had not existed, at least not in the same form, before the British introduced the categories ‘hill men’ or ‘tribal’.

For example, to designate ‘other people’, the Tripuras use the expression ‘Wanjwi-Shikam’, which literally translates as ‘Bengalis and Kukis’.

What this suggests is that the Tripuras in the past felt no closer affinity to the ‘Kukis’ than to the ‘Bengalis’. Similarly, the Bawms speak of ‘Kornu-Vaipa’,

literally, ‘Bengali women and Tripura men’ to designate their category of ‘other people’[20] (I cannot explain why different gender suffixes are used in this particular way here).

Now, to complete the picture, Lewin reports that even the Bengalis (of Chittagong) made a distinction between two classes of ‘hill men’:

“The friendly tribes living close along the Chittagong District border [are called],Joomahs [i.e. jumia, literally jum-cultivator, to which the Chakma word ‘Jumma’ is related], and all other hill men, more especially if unable to speak the vernacular of Bengal, are distinguished as Kookies.”[21]

This classification is no longer used by the Bengalis today, who are more likely to think of all the tribal people—no matter how well they speak Bengali—as belonging in the same category of not-so-friendly Shanti Bahini (former armed wing of the Jana Sanghati Samiti) supporters.

On the other hand, while groups such as the Tripuras and Bawms both still maintain an ethnic distance from the Bengalis, they no longer do the same with respect to each other, at least not when they speak of ‘We the tribal people (or Paharis).’

When Lewin presented ‘his’ hill men as a single category of people, he was well aware that “none of them appear to have any general term for all the hill dwellers.”[22]

The British categories ‘hill men’ and ‘tribal’ more than fulfilled this ‘inadequacy.’

But one wonders whether the tribal/non-tribal (i.e. Pahari/Bengali) boundary would have carried any meaning today had the British not altered the ways in which different groups articulated their identities in relation to one another.

In 1906, Hutchinson, one of Lewin’s successors as an administrator of the Hill Tracts, expressed his concern about the future of the hill men in the following terms:[23]

The dark and silent forests, at present the home of the elephant and tiger, will be succeeded by fields of smiling corn. But with this change the Hillman, with his simple ways and curious customs, will also disappear, and the charm and innocence of his present life will be a dream of the past.

That this fate will finally overtake the Hill Tracts I have not the slightest doubt, for the changes and progress of the last few years are in themselves an indication of what is to come.

It seems well, therefore, to collect while we may all available data as to the manners and customs of these interesting people ere, with the resistless march of evolution, they merge forth and become identified with the people of the plains.

Despite the simplistic colonialist notions, Hutchinson did correctly forecast many of the changes that would take place in the Hill Tracts since he ruled it.

But he was completely mistaken in thinking that the hill men would “merge forth and become identified with the people of the plains.”

If anything, the Paharis have diverged greatly from the Bengalis since the British, having drawn the Pahari/Bengali line of division, left the scene.

Of course, objectively speaking, cultural interaction between the Paharis and the Bengalis must have increased manifold, but the politically unequal nature of this interaction has only reinforced the gulf of social and psychological distance that separates the two categories of people.

The problem facing us is primarily a political one.

But it seems to me that it is no less important a task for the Paharis and Bengalis to seriously examine many colonialist categories and notions by which they think about their identities and about the differences between them.

That the categories ‘Pahari’ (hill men) and ‘tribal’ are products of British colonialist discourse may by now seem clear enough, but a corollary of this is that the categories ‘Bengali’ or ‘Bangladeshi’ may also be bound by the same historical forces.

In order for us to free ourselves from such restrictive power of history, we must examine even our ‘scientific’ categories of classification.

For example, we ‘know’ that most of the ‘tribal’ groups of the Hill Tracts speak ‘Tibeto-Burman’ languages; that they are of ‘Mongoloid’ origin, etc. But what do these mean?

Let us consider language first. According to the standard system of classifying languages into different ‘families,’ Tripuri (Kokborok) and Bengali apparently have no genealogical relationship with each other.

One is Tibeto-Burman / Sino-Tibetan, the other is Indo-European.

But this kind of classification is based mainly on the study of a select body of words (a core vocabulary), on the basis of which hypothetical proto- or parent-languages are postulated, and thus, the relationship between different branches of a family determined.

However, there are other ways of classifying languages.

Thus when we look at the level of syntax and morphology, we will find that Bengali and Tripuri have many similarities. In this sense they are very close to each other, closer indeed than the relation that either of them has with many languages belonging to its own ‘family’.

As for the racial category ‘Mongoloid’, we can see where it came from. Europeans got their idea of what a ‘Mongoloid’ looked like from their encounters with the Mongols, whom they saw as ‘yellow monkeys with slanted eyes’; the Chinese, a ‘Mongoloid’ people, on the other hand, described the Mongol invaders they faced as ‘red-faced hairy barbarians’ in their chronicles.[24]

Clearly, the Mongols themselves did not always look ‘Mongoloid’ enough because their men picked up wives from wherever they went.

The problem that arises here is not whether there are no differences of physical features among humans, obviously there are; the problem is the notion of a ‘pure’ type.

Different human groups have been interbreeding with one another throughout history, thus the assumption of there being or having been some original pure races was merely part of the Europeans’ racist ideology.

Yet we continue to see the Paharis as Mongoloids, and the Bengalis as a ‘mixture’ of different races. In reality, many Paharis look a lot like Bengalis, and there are also many Bengalis who could pass as Paharis.

The question as to where the ‘tribal’ people came from is also heard quite often.

It has some political significance if we consider the fact that the question of where the Bengalis came from is not usually raised, at least not with the same frequency.

If we go back long enough in human pre-history, every group came from somewhere else.

At any rate, what is important is the fact that the Paharis are living in the Hill Tracts, as they have been doing for a long time, although some wonder if they will in the future.

Some of the ‘tribal’ groups were in fact far more spread out in the past in what is now Bangladesh.

For example, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century, many Tripuras lived in places as far away as Dhaka, Tangail and Faridpur. The question that arises here is not where they came from, but where they all went.

All these issues are important because they influence how we imagine who we are, who we were, and who we want to be.

If we want to imagine the ‘imagined community’[25] of the nation-state of Bangladesh in such a way that the Paharis feel at home, and that the Pahari/Bengali differences do not translate into bloody conflicts, then we must begin to decolonize our received notions of who we are, our sociologies, and our histories.

This is a task both the Paharis and the Bengalis need to take up in earnest.


  1. Lewin, Thomas H., The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers Therein. Calcutta: Bengal Printing Co. Ltd., 1869, p. 116
  2. Ibid, p.115
  3. Diamond, Stanley, Anthropology in Question. In Dell Hymes (ed.) Reinventing Anthropology. New York: Vintage Books,
  4. Lewin, op. cit., pp. 27-28
  5. Sahlins, Marshall, Tribesmen. Englewood-Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1968.
  6. Wolf, Eric, Peasants. Englewood-Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1966.
  7. Said, Edward, Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.
  8. Sir Charles Pawsey, quoted in N. Maxwell, India, the Nagas and the North East. Minority Rights Group Report No. 17. London: MRG, 1980, p.3
  9. Mills, J. P., The Ao Nagas, London: MacMillan & Co., 1926, p. xxii
  10. Wolf, Eric, Europe and the People Without History. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1982.
  11. Lewin, op. cit., p.27
  12. Ibid, p. 118
  13. Ibid, p. 76
  14. Ibid, p. 86
  15. Sarma, Ramanimohan, Political History of Tripura. Calcutta: Puthipatra, 1987, p. 45
  16. Lewin, op. cit., p. 85
  17. Mills, op. cit.
  18. Fried, Morton, The Notion of Tribe. 1975
  19. Maxwell, op. cit., p. 4
  20. Probir Tripura, the author’s brother, who is fluent in Bawm, provided this information.
  21. Lewin, op. cit., p. 28
  22. Ibid.
  23. Hutchinson, R. H. S. Account of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Calcutta: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1906, p. 201
  24. De Vos, George, Class Lecture, Course: Ethnic Interaction. University of California, Berkeley. 1988
  25. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso. 1983. Paper originally published in The Journal of Social Studies, Dhaka, No. 58, 1992, pp. 1-16

Writer : Prashanta Tripura

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