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An Overflowing Cauldron

Ujithra Ponniah

Edited by G.N. Devy , Geoffrey V. Davis and K.K. Chakravarty
Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 341, Rs. 645.00


This edited volume of essays is a critical enquiry into the polyphonic cultures and literatures of indigenous people across the world and is a companion volume to Indigeneity: Culture and Representation (2009). These two collections of select essays were compiled after the ‘Chotro’ conference that was organized in Delhi. ‘Chotro’ means a ‘place where villagers gather’ and a ‘place of announcing news’ and is an apt title for a conference that brings together such diverse disciplines, regions and participants. This volume brings numerous areas that have received scant scholarly attention under scrutiny like the study of mythologies and origin histories of indigenous people, their literary traditions, marginalized languages, modes of artistic expressions, art criticism and their political ideologies. It stretches the borders of ‘literature’ to include expressions in oral traditions.   The varied tales and modes of narration chart a space away from the clichéd binaries of celebration and mourning to focus on the resistance of indigenous peoples across the world. Stories of the colonial experience, deterioration of their language and culture and their struggle to find their voice within a larger national literature are rich in political and experiential details. The literature of the indigenous people instead of being resentful towards their oppressors is reflexive and builds on differences to bridge cleavages. It documents their ways of adapting, choosing and resisting to the existential trysts they find themselves in with the changing face of political economy in order to recollect and discern their own cultural and linguistic expressions. It is refreshing in the way the essays depart from the objectifying anthropological gaze of understanding the other in order to understand the self. The essays also move away from the human rights regime and find ways of resistance that do not reiterate the tired category of the ‘human’ while speaking about their marginalization. The indigenous people resort to folk tales, rituals and knowledge systems in order to find solutions to the balance between the environment and needs.   The volume presents a critique of post-colonial theory from an indigenous perspective. Writing in the context of North America, Bonita Lawerence and Enakshi Dua critique postcolonial theorists on the following counts: for ignoring state colonialism and hence offering a partial and distorted exploration of colonialism, racism and postcoloniality; by erasing indigeneity, theorists endorse the ongoing colonization of indigenous people; and because of exclusion, indigenous people cannot see themselves through the perspectives offered by post-colonial ...

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