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Mainstreaming Forest Dwellers


Edited by B.B. Chaudhuri and Arun Bandopadhyay
Manohar Publication & Indian History Congress, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 225, Rs. 450.00


Modern mainstream history as it has been constituted in the writings of several historians is, amongst other things, the story of man conquering nature. One part of this history associated with forests is an unfolding of the Epic of Gilgamesh.   The chapter ‘The Forest Journey’ in The Epic of Gilgamesh says, Enlil of the mountain, the father of the gods, had decreed the destiny of Gilgamesh. So Gilgamesh dreamed and Enkidu said, ‘The meaning of this dream is this. The father of the gods has given you kingship, such is your destiny, everlasting life is not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed. He has given you power to bind and to loosen, to be darkness and light of mankind… …He said to his servant Enkidu, ‘I have not established my name stamped on bricks as my destiny decreed; therefore I will go to the country where the cedar is felled. I will set up name in the place where the names of famous men are written, and where no man’s name is written yet I will raise a monument to the gods. Because of the evil that is in the land, we will go to the forest and destroy the evil; for in the forest lives Humbaba whose name is ‘Hugeness’, a ferocious giant.’ But Enkidu sighed bitterly and said, ‘When I went with the wild beasts ranging through the wilderness I discovered the forest; its length is ten thousand leagues in every direction. Enlil has appointed Humbaba to guard it and armed him in sevenfold terrors, terrible to all flesh is Humbaba….   In the way Gilgamesh entered the forest to kill Humbaba (perhaps a forest dweller of those times), in history different agencies have conquered the forest and undermined the ground of existence of those who live in it. The destiny of modern man follows the footsteps of the destiny of Gilgamesh—to have the power to bind and loosen, to be darkness and light of mankind—deprived of nature’s gift of everlasting life. The suggestion is that there is another side to man’s relation to the forest determined by the notion of ‘everlasting life’ which refers to nature’s capacity for self-regeneration.   Gilgameshian historiography rules out the possibility of understanding social formations that emerged from the life of forest dwellers. The selections in the ...

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