Monday, January 23, 2012

Contribution of British Colonial Officers to Indian Anthropology

The study of anthropology as a separate science came to the forefront after the arrival of British in India.In 1807 the directors of British East India Company believed that the knowledge on the inhabitants of the country will be useful in administrating the territory.The Governor-General of India appointed Francis Buchanan to study the condition of the inhabitants of Bengal and their religion.Over the period of time more and more officers were interested who had some interest in carrying out anthropological studies.In addition to the administrative work the responsibility of preparing material on different tribes and caste fell on these officers. The officers included Dalton (1872),Risley(1891) ,Grigson(1938),Gordon( 1914) and others.The ethnographic data collected by the officers  were of use in colonial administration. In the early of studies ,the anthropology was equated with the study of Indian tribes .


Tribal studies  in the country were done in three stages .In the formative stage (1774-1919) compilation of glossaries tribes and castes were made.In the second phase(1920-1949) ethnographs and descriptive accounts  on tribals were prepared. In the third phase  from 1950 onwards  studies were done in more detailed and systematic manner. In 1774 the setting up of Asiatic Society of Bengal gave scope for the publication of articles on ethnographic studies. The Anthropological Survey of India  have reprinted several of these ethnographic studies.

Herbert Rishley belonged to Indian Civil Services and was deeply interested in anthropological studies.He recognized the principle racial  groups in Indian  and on the basis of anthropometric studies divided the three racial groups  into Turko-Iranians,Indo Aryans,Scytho-Dravidian,Aryo-Dravidian,Mongol-Dravidian,Mongoloid and Dravidian groups. Rishley considered the transformation of tribes into casts was affected through four processes including affluent members of tribes managed to enroll themselves as members of distinguished castes.Tribes embraced the tenets of Hinduism under a new caste and some of them gradually adopted the rituals of Hinduism but didn't abandon their tribal identity.Sir William Crooke also pursued anthropological studies and modified Rishley's views.He wrote about Nagas and Dasyus of Bengal.

In 1863 Robert Bruce Foote unearthed paleolithic tools from a place near Pallavaram a Part of Chennai.Later he brought out 459 prehistoric sites in Peninsular India. In 1864 V.Ball found number of paleolithic tools in Bengal and Bihar.

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