Elwin’s rare photos of north-east tribes on display in city

Thursday, Mar 17, 2016,14:14 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | Rare images of the north-eastern tribes, part of over 10,000 black and white photographs taken between 1930s and 1960s by noted anthropologist Verrier Elwin during his study of tribals in central and north-eastern India, are on display here as part of an ongoing exhibition.

England-born Elwin, who gave up clergy to work with Mahatma Gandhi, is considered one of the best anthropologists of India and he researched the tribals until his death in 1964 in Delhi. Born in 1902, he went to on to become the first British person to gain Indian citizenship in 1954.

We have displayed a small section of the rare images of the tribes taken by Elwin during his career as an anthropologist and ethnologist in India. The body of work that he produced in terms of photographs was of course phenomenal, and of great anthropological value, Director, Intangible Cultural Heritage, INTACH, Nerupama Modwel said.

The exhibition which ends on March 20 has been organised by city-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage along with Adivasi Arts Trust and Ambedkar University Delhi and hosted at INTACH headquarters. We have displayed a small part from the archive of photographs taken by Elwin that document a critical period of transition and the objective is to draw attention to the urgent need to conserve and preserve his unique legacy for posterity, she said.

The set of monochrome images take viewers on a journey capturing the life, culture and folklore of some of the tribal cultures of Arunachal Pradesh, from the Monpas in the northwest to the Wancho of the east, the Naga tribes and the ethnic population of Manipur. Besides, his pioneering work in researching the tribes of India, his seminal contribution, also includes documenting their lives and he took over 10,000 black and white photographs of them from 1930s to 1960s in central and north-eastern parts of the country, she said.

His work was so influential that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru after Independence appointed him as Advisor on Tribal Affairs to the Governor of Assam, based in Shillong for the last ten years of his life, according to INTACH. For his lifelong work and contribution to the welfare of tribals, he was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1961. Best known for his early work with the Baigas and Gonds of central India, he also studied several tribes in North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Elwin documented a vast number of folk tales from across India and even married a tribal girl.

The celebrated anthropologist produced a number of books on tribals, some of them path-breaking. His autobiography ‘The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin’ posthumously won him the 1965 Sahitya Akademi Award in English language.