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An Ethnographic Work


T.B. Subba

THE AGHRIA: A PEASANT CASTE ON A TRIBAL FRONTIER
By Uwe Skoda
Manohar Books,New Delhi, 2005, pp. 607, Rs. 1195.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 1-2 January-February 2006

This book is based on a PhD thesis recently awarded by the University of Berlin. The author lived in an Oriya village called Mundaloi for 18 months during 2000-02 to collect data for his thesis. Until I read this book I had a kind of belief that PhD theses do not make good books even if they are substantially revised. The smell of a thesis is not the best thing one expects in a book one pays for oneself unlike a thesis to read which one is paid for. This book has forced me to rethink, for it has an uncanny way of holding you on and forcing you to look for details, which is the most important strength of this book. The language is simple and clear, although the issues the author tries to raise are often very complex. Considering that the author is not a native Oriya or an Aghria, the depth of his understanding of the Aghria caste system, dialect, mythology, kinship, life cycle, etc., is rather impressive.   There are eight chapters in this book and more than 100 pages of appendices, which contain extremely rich data on the Aghrias. The first chapter deals with the background, concepts and context of the book; the second is on Aghria mythology; the third on inter-group relations; the fourth on village kings; the fifth on kinship; the sixth on life cycle; the seventh on blending of cycles; and the eighth is conclusion. Let me discuss each chapter in a little more detail.   I think the first chapter of the book is also the weakest, as it reveals rather too much about the author’s methodology. It shows that the author focussed on the convergence of tribal and caste societies, and not their divergence, tension and conflict. His study is on a socially and economically dominant caste owning about 50 percent of the better quality village land, but having only 11 households in a village of 139 households. Numerically the various Scheduled Tribes are dominant but socially and economically in a position subordinate to the Aghrias. He claims to have followed Malinowski’s “participant observation” but stayed in one of the most prominent landlord’s family. And he is happy to note that he had, due to this reason, “easy access to the village”. He is of course aware of “not being told anything critical” (p. 48) but is almost proud to declare that he stayed in “...


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