Jungle Fever

A good thing that has happened with new institutions coming up outside the State and Central University system is that new spaces and opportunities can now be created for our diverse scholarship. However unusual - both the institution and the subject!- these might be...

The anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya works at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Infomation and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. For many years now he has been carrying out ethnographic research on the Andaman Islands and this involvement has resulted in two books. In the Forest: Visual and Material Worlds of Andamanese History (1858 - 2006) has just been published by University Press of America.

"There are always at least two histories of encounter or contact, as each party would tell the story differently, but where and when is it really the first contact and for whom? This book deploys an analytical framework developed from Semiotics to have both sides of the story address each other. It is ethnography of dialogue, emerging from textual representation by outsiders and its relationship to visual response and presentations by the Andaman Islanders that this book aims to present as the critical ethnography of history.

The section on Visuality looks at how the Other is incorporated into an organized knowledge-system including Ongee myths and songs about outsiders and the early photographs of tribal people by British settlers and ethnographers. The section on Materiality concerns the investment in things made, to influence natural processes or to distinguish the human body, and discusses how they are transacted between cultures that come into contact. The concluding section on history addresses encounters and developments in which the experiences of both tribal and settler are implicated more thoroughly than in the transaction of objects. Thus juxtaposing alternative perspectives on change indicates areas of experience unaccounted for in the dominant discourse and shows the provisionality of images."

Veena Das has much good to say about this book that "brings long years of ethnographic engagement with the Ongee and the Jarawa, otherwise known as the Andaman Islanders, to render an intimate history of their contact with traders, colonialists, global tourists and the developmental state. Vishvajit Pandya displays a superb command over theory, history and ethnography that makes this one of the most important books to engage with the question of how ideas of wildness and civilization have been shaped through sensory experiences of vision, touch, smell and sound. The history of intimacy is rendered with consummate skill, making this a book that will be treasured by specialist and nonspecialist alike."

In our Anthropology Section, Paperback, 540 pages. US$ 65. ISBN: 9780761841531.