Research Seminar in Anthropology: THE EVE OF THE MODERN: EARLY PHASES OF MODERNISATION IN THE SOUTH INDIAN HILLS
THE EVE OF THE MODERN: EARLY PHASES OF MODERNISATION IN THE SOUTH INDIAN HILLS
A talk by Paul Hockings, Editor-in-Chief of Visual Anthropology; Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of Illinois; and Adjunct Curator of Anthropology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago
In the 16th century the Badagas (meaning 'northerner') fled the crumbled Empire of Vijayanagar and sought refuge on the nearby Nilgiri Massif. A few hundred at most, they settled amongst quite unwarlike tribes — the Todas, Kotas and Kurumbas — who understandingly gave them land to cultivate. Thus began one of the most successful community transplants that South India ever witnessed. Numbering only 500 or so in 1603, the Badagas were 2,200 at the first rough British census in 1812. After a steady increase, today their population has stabilised at around 135,000. They occupy some 400 villages, with a mixed farming economy.
Their very successful adaptation to the hills has come about for several reasons — availability of land to farm, willingness to switch to new, profitable crops, ability to learn from British planters, healthy food and clean water, an indigenous system of herbal medicine, availability of loans, the presence of village schools since the 1820s, and a general appreciation of education at all levels.
Yet their present position was prefaced by a great deal of struggle and torment. Back in the 1860s it looked as though their society was coming to an end, because a few had been converted to Christianity. They tore down their temples, and massacred a few sorcerers. But then, around 1905, everything calmed down: the new Christian Badagas were accepted, the foreign missionaries became less aggressive, and farming became quite profitable. Today thousands are no longer farmers at all, but are professionals in the new urban middle class — teachers, lawyers, doctors, software engineers.