Accepted paper:

Colonial museum collections, heritage and representations of the self : A case study of Naga textiles in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford


Vibha Joshi (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on community engagement with the photographs of Naga objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum's PRM) colonial collections and the repercussions and reverberation of the effect of such information being brought back to the community.

Paper long abstract:

During the colonial period, between1921-1935, six detailed monographs were published on the Naga peoples of present North East India. by British officers cum amateur anthropologists using the guidelines in 'Notes and Queries' prepared by the RAI. In addition many artefacts were collected from different Naga communities for western ethnographic museums, especially in the UK and elsewhere in Europe at the turn of the 20th Century, just before much material cultural heritage was destroyed during religious revivals and the actions of British and Indian security forces, first to annex the region and later to suppress the nationalist movement. Over the past four generations, most Naga have converted to Christianity. Now, however, many cloths and accessories from the so called 'heathen past' and colonial period have become part of a treasured cultural history for the Naga. The paper provides an example from fieldwork of how a Naga community responded when shown research photographs of older textiles/cloth. The paper discusses the various nuances of such engagement with past heritage for the community (and for the anthropologists); methods of cultural control and cultural appropriation, and negotiations that invariably surface in the course of this recognition of pre-Christian heritage and the manner in which knowledge of lost heritage takes on a life of its own outside museum precincts . It examines the ways in which museum collections have come to be viewed in Nagaland. The ongoing collaboration has already resulted in two indigenous publications and a visit of members of the women's group to PRM.

panel P105
Museums and Anthropology: Colonial and post-colonial collections seen through museums, art and history