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Dimensions of a Society

T.B. Subba

By S.C. Dube with an introduction by Nandini Sundar
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2003, pp. 240, Rs. 545.00


Reviewing The Kamar by Professor S. C. Dube, first published by Universal Publishers in 1951, is not the same as reviewing a newly published book. One must constantly remind oneself that the present work is the product of the late 1940s. In the Preface to the new edition, Leela Dube writes that the book appears “much as it did fifty years ago”. Although she reassures that errors of spelling and grammar “have been put right” some errors of that kind have remained uncorrected in this edition as well. Yet, I share this feeling with Nandini Sundar, who introduces the present edition of the book, that this monograph is very relevant.   The Kamar is divided into eight chapters and is written in the typical style of colonial-time monograph, covering almost every dimension of the Kamar society. The introduction describes the “Kamar Country”, the literature on this tribe, physical appearance, dress and decoration, etc. The expression “The Kamar Country” is repeated all over the book and reminds one of monographs written by the British anthropologists and missionaries during the same period or earlier. Like them again, Dube does not use any qualifiers while describing the Kamars as “backward” and “primitive”. They are seen as a “degenerated” race living as “human drudges”. The frequent use of native words, even though a glossary is provided at the end, interferes with the otherwise smooth flow of reading which Professor Dube’s lucid language allows.   The second chapter is on their economic life, which he begins with a description of their settlement pattern, houses, household possessions, etc. before moving on to their sources of livelihood, which are agriculture, hunting, fishing, food-gathering, honey-taking, basket-making, domestication of animals, trade and barter, labour for wages, etc. In his description of these economic activities Dube brings out the “carefree”, “backward”, and “primitive” life of the Kamars, although he tries to counter the colonial thesis that tribes are a “lazy” people, who would not work beyond what they need for immediate purposes—a subject of much interest in some recent postcolonial literature.   Chapter 3 is on the Kamar social structure. Dube dwells here on internal organization of the tribe dealing with family, the local group, clan organization, the kinship system, and rank and authority. Throughout this chapter, he draws our attention to variations and deviations from the norms as much as to the norms and standards themselves. He has consciously avoided stereotyping the ...

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