Paper long abstract:
During the early months of 1894, a strange phenomenon was observed throughout the district of Bihar in northern India: hundreds of mango trees were found to be marked with a smear of mud in which a few hairs had been planted; no-one knew what it meant. While locals suggested that the marks had been left by supernatural beings, the so-called 'mud-daubing' affair sent tremors through the colonial state and caused a panic amongst the British, who feared that it signalled an impending nationalist uprising. This paper presents a detailed examination of this little-known instance of 'information panic' in colonial India, when the application of colonial knowledge resulted in cultural misreading and what may be described as a paranoid style in colonial politics. Of particular concern are the proto-ethnographic concepts of 'knowing the country' and understanding the 'native mind', as well as the use of local informants.
Colonial crisis and cross-cultural encounters: Reconfigurations of the social in historical perspective