Author Biography

Arkotong Longkumer (PhD, Religious Studies, University of Edinburgh, 2008) is an anthropologist, specializing in South/Southeast Asian religion and culture. His research and teaching interests lie in the intersection between local religions, Hinduism and Christianities. He is also interested in nationalism, the performance of identity, and the politics of place in India. His research is very much at the interface between the different disciplines of anthropology, religious studies, and history.

Abstract

This paper focuses on how a national culture emerges by examining the Nagas of India. To appreciate this process, the confluence of British colonialism, the postcolonial situation, and contemporary performance of Naga identity (visible in the Hornbill Festival) must be analyzed. I will argue that the colonial era representation of ‘primitivism’ of the Nagas continues into postcolonial narratives of ‘imperialist nostalgia’ disseminated primarily through travel, popular media and museum exhibitions. I will argue that the Nagas are not simply passive onlookers, but active participants in this enterprise through the strategic articulation of a distinct Naga national image. I will demonstrate that the Nagas are using these colonial era images of ‘primitivism’ for certain purposes, while also promoting a revitalization of traditional culture. First, this process mimics the cumulative notions of primitivism through a reverse gaze. Second, revitalization acts as a vital force in claiming historical agency predicated on the ‘performance of identity’ and cultural hybridity. Finally, both of these processes help illuminate how the Nagas position themselves within the larger international discourse of indigeneity whereby images, once represented as primitive, now legitimize a distinct national culture.

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