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Archives on Colonial Assam and their Famous Colonial Anthropologists

Archives on Colonial Assam and their Famous Colonial Anthropologists

One might ask, why do we need to dig up old texts from the past which were penned by our colonial masters or their allies? This question, ironically founded the branch of Postcolonial Studies in Literature from countries which were colonial subjects to Europe’s imperialist designs. This study is fast fueling the base for a new form of offshoot, Decolonisation (Studies) from these former colonies, which is the empire writing back with the intent to break the myth of Europe’s glorified colonial imperialist status. 

These voices of marginalised communities and nations problematizes the knowledge produced (on them) by gazing into the colonial print culture and the authorship per se. Most of these writings were curiously ethnographic works, hence, anthropological in nature. In the 1986 published book “Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography”, Talal Asad chapter The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology, holds the reporting colonial administrators and missionaries (from the mission fields) accountable for the early caricatures of bias-ed narratives. Today, after nearly three centuries (or more) of colonialism (and the end of this imperial enterprise), we have historically arrived at a time and place where we can afford to look back as free-d “natives” of these (previous) colonies.

However, it must be added that most often these authors were not colonial administrators, some were philanthropists, missionaries or had pure love for the native cultures, but one cannot deny the underlying factor of colonial gaze shrouding their perspective.

Famous Colonial Anthropologists who worked in North-East India:

i) Harry Verrier Holman Elwin (29 August 1902 – 22 February 1964)- ethnographic books and monographs 

ii) Ursula Graham Bower (15 May 1914 – 12 November 1988)- Travelogues, monographs, audio-visual documents like pictures and video documentaries

iii) John Henry Hutton (27 June 1885 – 23 May 1968) – books/ monographs

iv) James Philip Mills (1890 – 1960) – books/ monographs

v) C.A. Soppitt (?) - books/ monographs and grammar books

vi) Christoph Von Furer-Hamiendorf (22 June 1909 – 11 June 1995) – Monographs, audio-visual documents like pictures and video documentaries

vii) Major Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon (Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam) - The Khasis (1907), Some Assamese Proverbs (1896)

viii) George Abraham Grierson- Linguistic Survey of India (LSI) series (1894-1928)

ix) James Anderson Drummond - A Collection of Kachári Folk-Tales and Rhymes


x) Rev. Sidney Endle- The Kacharis (1910)

Contributed by:

Dr. Pompi Basumatary

Assistant Professor

Department of English and Cultural Studies 

Christ (Deemed to be University), Delhi NCR

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