Representation and Nuances: Interrogating Representation of the Tribal in Mamang Dai’s The Legends of Pensam and Gopinath Mohanty’s Paraja.




Lakshminath Rabha


Lakshminath Rabha is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, D.R. College, Golaghat, Assam . He is pursuing the Ph.D. programme from Department of English, Nagaland University, Nagaland.



In the recent times Representation is viewed as a nuanced expression owing to manifold possibilities of interpretations of the represented body under the postcolonial deliberation. The process of representation, when examined under postcolonial lens, is found entangled with the colonial design of self/other dichotomy for it leads to some fundamental theoretical questions of who is representing whom and what are the ulterior political motives involved. A dismal picture comes to the front when this unsettled theoretical perplexity is stretched further to the praxis of representation of the tribal in Indian context for it is seemingly through the use of false representation that the tribal has been reduced to marginality and subjected to perpetual exploitation. Representation of the Tribal since the colonial period in a caste ridden Indian society is found to be burdened with many apparent prejudices as the colonial anthropological texts do not qualify the present-day expectations of authentic representation resulting in certain levels of discontentment. It is however quite pertinent to observe the representation of the tribal in fictional narratives as it ostensibly adds a different dimension to the entire discourse of tribal representation for fiction does not necessarily require to hold on to certain limitations or boundaries when placed against the representations made by the Colonial Ethnography. Nevertheless it is to be noted that if the representation of the tribal in fiction is not carried out with considerable degree of care and sensibility, the authorial liberty and flexibility of fiction may culminate in having a boomerang effect. In the premise of the above proposition, an attempt is made in this paper to uncover the politics of representation relying on two select novels- The Legends of Pensam by Mamang Dai and Paraja by Gopinath Mohanty.


Keywords: Representation, Colonial Anthropology, Fictional Narrative.



This paper attempts to make an exploration of the nuances of representation of Indian tribal in fiction and elsewhere with the forethought that tribal representation is skewed with certain political undercurrent leading to the construction and continuation of many dehumanizing stereotypes on tribal identity. The term representation, though seemingly quite simplistic and unproblematic in nature, is essentially tinted with innumerable grey areas that call for further research into the represented body by way of critical assessment of the flipside of the process of representation for the representation may take place at different levels, situations and conditions. In a simpler term, representation may be understood as an act of describing or depicting something or to symbolize and stand for something as a substitute with a broader dimension of creating or assigning a meaningful existence to that represented ‘something’. It is, however, quite pertinent to uphold one very significant fact under consideration that the act of representation of ‘something’ or ‘someone’ is carried out by some agency which/who is not always an insider and very likely to be guided by its/his subjective prejudices resulting in a fallacious representation. Tribal in India and their representation since the colonial period may be seen as an area of potential discontentment and dispute owing to the misrepresentation of their life-world and cultural ethos as a result of acute ignorance and deliberate effort at continuation of certain stereotypes.

Anthropology as a branch of modern studies in the colonial condition may be seen as an instrument of the larger colonial interest to explore the colonized subject better with an intention of paving a smooth route of European enlightenment into the Conradian darkness of the ‘heathen’ native. Colonial anthropology unquestionably documented and recorded new findings based on studies undertaken in the colonies but it also appropriated the evil design associated with the apparent colonial exploits that contributed to the shaping of colonial economy to a large extent. The appropriation of colonial enterprise was carried out at the cost of the misrepresentation of the colonized that involved racial subordination and depiction as degenerate species that further appropriated the social, political and economic intervention required for a paradigmatic transformation of the colonized by way of erasure of their socio-cultural ethos. However, the mode of intervention, as mentioned earlier, did not have a definite set of norms hence varied in degree according to the circumstances. Anthropological survey on the regions dominated by tribal people of India, inter alia, was undertaken by the colonial administration to study the ‘noble savages’ with a sole perspective of carrying out their governance in a subtler manner. Needless to mention that the entire practice was not holistic in nature given the strict adherence to the ‘self/other’ dichotomy of European model designed to assist the colonial enterprise.  Establishment and perpetuation of colonial occupancy required a deeper penetration into the colonial body and therefore it was necessary for the colonizers to reinforce the difference between the colonial ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Anthropology, as a study of mankind in the general sense, was a conduit of appropriation of the colonial self, thereby allowing the legitimacy of situating the self in an authorial position of constructing the ‘other’ through a reductive representation. The natives became an object of colonial gaze, or precisely a case study in the anthropological terms, that followed a preconceived Eurocentric approach of racial superiority at the subconscious level. Poised and certified as a work of scientific observation, colonial narratives soon replaced the oral narrative of the native population, especially the tribal, and confirmed their authorial position with endorsement of written culture as the only means to justify truth. Colonial representation was thus guided by the racist subconscious that negated every positive attributes associated with the colonized reducing their life-world into ignominious obscurity.

Pramod K. Nayar in his work Colonial Voices: The Discourses of Empire (2012) states,“Colonial discourse masks the power relations between races, cultures and nations. It makes the relations seem natural, scientific and objective. Colonial discourse therefore produces stereotypes from within European prejudices, beliefs and myths”(3). Nayar’s argument points out the politics involved in the process of ‘othering’ of the non-west or in the construction of what Edward Said defined as the ‘orient’ in his book Orientalism (1995). Corresponding to the problematic area on which the process of colonial representation of the Orient is rested, Said argues, “the exteriority of the representation is always governed by some version of the truism that if the Orient could represent itself, it would; since it cannot, the representation does the job, for the West, and faute de mieux, for the poor Orient” (21).

Anthropological texts that may be seen as a major constituent area of the colonial discourse of representation of the native, as described by Nayar, conceal the conflict of power that comes into play in the exercise of colonial takeover of a certain geographical area. The conflict of power is permeated into every portion of both the colonizer and the colonized that reveals its effect in every dialogue these two sides tend to establish. The conflict of power gradually is corroborated into a relation of power as the colonized is systematically forced to accept both conscious and subconscious subordination. Relaying of the relation of power may be understood as an inevitable phenomenon given the racist nature of British colonialism in India. However, the colonial consciousness is aware of the fact that the consequences of slight disturbance in the power relation may be the displacement of the authorial position in the context of colonial condition for the relation rests on a rather fragile frame. Therefore, the colonial discourse is systematically fashioned to disseminate every colonial construct on the colonized as objective endeavor administered with scientific approach for ensuring the appropriation of colonial hierarchy in the power relation. The stereotypes constructed in the colonial discourse is fashioned as the grand narrative of understanding the colonial ‘other’ in the “Manichaean world” as described by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth (2001).

Colonial discourse was not always based on the coercive power of the colonial administration but emerged largely leaning on the civilizing mission of the colonial mind and submissive acceptance of the European supremacy by rejection of the ‘native self’ on the part of the colonized. Configuration and development of colonial discourse takes place much in the similar plane of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) as explained by Louis Althusser in his seminal essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1971). Althusser argues that state apparatuses are not always repressive in nature for to win the consent of a larger mass, coercion may not be the appropriate method. Therefore, the state permeates its power in a subtler manner on the ideological plane that works on the psychological level with a view of arresting and controlling the imagination of the mass and eventually acquires their consent (Althusser 149-150). However, in colonial conditions the consent of the natives does not hold importance for “the native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also negation of values…he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces” (Fanon 32). The construction of colonial discourse involves an organized approach of negation, reduction and finally complete erasure of socio-cultural ethos from the native consciousness. The blank space of the native consciousness is then filled in with the colonial pattern of civilization with a mission of refining the heathen culture of the natives for in Rudyard Kipling’s words it was the burden of the white man to put an end to the irrationality and inertia associated with the native culture of the erstwhile colonies.

 The Ethnographic texts and government records that came out of the anthropological surveys classified all the tribal population together on racial ground for the convenience of colonial administration without making any attempt at understanding certain cultural, social, linguistic and characteristic differences that existed within the singular classification ascribed to different tribes. G. N. Devy in his introduction to the book The Oxford India Elwin (2009) argues, “The term ‘tribal’ had been in use among European merchants and travelers in India from the seventeenth century, but it was used in a very generic sense” (xv). He further opines that the representation of the tribal as a set of people yet to have touched by the ideas of enlightenment and hence barbaric in nature in the European sense, further led to the formulation of legislation called the Criminal Act, 1871 in India (Devy xv). The formulation of the Criminal Act, 1871 not only characterized the tribal in India as primitive in nature but also devalued the entire civilization that may have existed before colonial takeover. In this context Homi K. Bhabha in  The Location of Culture (1994) maintains that the purpose of ethnographic texts was to “construe the colonized as a population of degenerate types on the basis of racial origin, in order to justify conquest and to establish systems of administration and instruction” (154). Bhabha in his argument indicates a well constructed roadmap employed by the colonial administration primarily for appropriating their authoritative position and political occupancy of a foreign land thitherto inhabited by certain indigenous population within the map of their colonial administration by way of systematic and regimented fabrication of the knowledge of the ‘other’. Ethnographic texts written by the colonial administrators and travelers including the Christian missionaries became the instrument of appropriation of colonial occupancy and territorial expansion for it is through these documents the ‘other’ of Europe was fashioned and ascribed an identity by way of contrasting and comparing how the ‘other’ is different from the European ‘self’. Fallacious representation of the tribal during colonial period was more a deliberate occurrence than a chance oversight for it was always nestled on the frame of racial prejudice on the part of the ethnographers. Given the fact that the colonial ethnographic texts were fraught in certain administrative control and racial intent as far as representation of the colonized was concerned, the rationale of authentic and objective representation was perceptibly unjustified.

This paper further undertakes to examine the representation of tribal in Indian fiction for it is a genre where the author enjoys certain amount of liberty in dealing with the truth that apparently provides more space and possibility to authentic representation.  Fiction is primarily a work of art which entails its authenticity of expression and treatment of the subject with adequate sensitivity and sensibility. It may therefore be assumed that fiction writing involves deeper understanding of the socio-cultural fabric of the tribal by exploration of the inner dynamics of their worldview with better clarity. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that even the fictions written by European writers during the colonial period were not free from racial prejudices and served as a supplement to the construction of tribal stereotypes by stripping them of their socio-cultural values. In this context Anand Mahanand in Representations of Tribal India in Fiction (2011) argues:

…the rise of anthropology and ethnography in the colonial era helped in establishing fieldwork as a methodology for imperial rule. In this context, it is interesting to see how tribal India was depicted in colonial fiction and ethnography. There have been several attempts to represent different tribes in ethnography and fiction by the Anglo-Indian writers during the colonial period. These writings on the tribals evoked different kinds of images and feed into the ethnographical and administrative inputs to colonial discourse. (48-49)

Mahanand’s argument clearly indicates the inherent political angle involved in the representation of tribal India in colonial discourse. Anthropology as an instrument of gathering knowledge about the tribal life-world was designed to serve the purpose of adding further inputs to the grand narrative of colonial discourse being guided by colonial interest. In the post-independence era India witnessed several authentic works of fiction as well as non-fiction by Indian writers that aimed at building the foundation of Indian literature. Nonetheless, representation of the tribal reality in fiction was very rare till recently before the arrival of writers like Mahashweta Devi, Gopinath Mohanty, Sitakanta Mahapatra, Pratibha Ray, Gayatri Spivak Chakravarty, Temsula Ao, Yeshe Dorje Thongshi, Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya and until recently Mamang Dai and Easterine Kire. Gopinath Mohany’s Paraja (2008) and Mamang Dai’s The Legends of Pensam (2006) are two prominent examples of such fictional narratives that narrate the reality of tribal people as racially, politically, socially and economically marginalized in their own land in the face of modernity. Mohanty’s Paraja is the representation of Paraja tribe of Koraput region of Orissa by an outsider; on the other hand, Dai’s Legends of Pensam is an attempt at representation of the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh by an insider. This paper makes a comparative study of the views of an outsider and an insider for the purpose of understanding the inner dynamics of representation of the tribal in Indian context.

            Stuart Hall in his essay “The Work of Representation” (1997) suggests three approaches to representation- reflective, intentional and constructionist. He also suggests in the same essay that representation essentially is dependent on language for it is language that works as the ‘media’ of representation. The precondition to a successful representation is the use of a common language so that the concept of the represented body is conveyed in a meaningful manner and the existence of the represented body receives recognition with the assigning of a meaning to it. Language thus holds importance in the process of representation and construction of meaning. Language, however, adds further problem to the discourse of representation for meaning or truth is slippery in nature pertaining to the arbitrariness of language and constant play of signifier and signified in the sign system. In his essay, Hall is rather sceptic about the reflective or mimetic and intentional approaches to representation. According to him it is the constructionist approach that is more relevant as far as the production of meaning is concerned. Through representation meaning is constructed in relation to the public and social language rather than exact imitation of the perceived or guiding something according to one’s intention. Imitation and intention may be totally private in nature and hence does not necessarily correspond to the shared reality of the public. A meaningful representation is possible only when carried out through a sign system that is common to all as Hall maintains, “…meaning depends, not on the material quality of the sign, but on its symbolic function. It is because a particular sound or word stands for, symbolizes or represents a concept that it can function, in language, as a sign and convey meaning…” (26).

Meaning of a text is never stable owing to the continuous play of signifier and signified in the process of signification and therefore ‘absolute truth’ is never fixed but perpetuates new meanings and new interpretations in every reading of the representation. The relation of representation to language and society further suggests its relation to the power structure that permeates throughout the society where the meaning or truth is constructed and given currency. Michel Foucault in his deliberation on “Truth and Power” in an interview published in the book Power/Knowledge (1980) argues:

Truth isn’t outside power. Truth is a thing of this world; it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth; that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true, the mechanisms and instances which enables one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned, the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true. (131)

Foucault’s comment on the production of truth or absolute meaning and its apparent relation to the power structure calls for diverse potential interpretation of the preconceived idea of the term tribal and its representation. The “regime of truth” of a particular society holds the totality of power in the society as well as the language and it can regulate the process of representation by virtue of its authority to sanction recognition to the represented body within its discourse. It is however pertinent to note that before getting a statutory recognition as par the dictate of the “regime of truth”, the process of representation is required to travel through a series of filtration, appropriation and even obliteration. Representation thus culminates in acting like a perforated sheet that demonstrates a distorted substitute of the real. The substitution of the real further causes damage to the entirety of the represented body for the substituted image seemingly misguides the perception of the audience. Furthermore, representation may also be seen as an instrument of shrouding certain facts that the “regime of truth” deems inappropriate and precarious to its interest and hence a false image of the real substance is presented for display.

Examination of representational politics concerning the tribal of India under the above discussed theoretical parameter further induces certain fundamental questions of who, why and how it is conducted for it is quite apparent that certain political agency comes into play in the entire process with its vested interest resting behind the unseen patches of the perforated sheet of representation.

            The story of Paraja is set on the life of the Paraja tribe of Koraput region of Orissa at the backdrop of advancing modernity into the serene and primordial life of the tribe surrounded by forest and mountains. Jnanpith awardee Oriya writer Gopinath Mohanty wrote the novel in 1945 (Translated into English and first published in 1987) in Oriya language in colonial India but his depiction of the tribal reality strongly commands relevance with its exploration of the darker areas that remain untouched in the romanticized depiction of tribal life in majority of the mainstream literature of his contemporary times. Unlike the colonial European writers, Mohanty offers an insight of the tribal reality in an authentic manner by focusing upon the predicament of his protagonists in the face of rapid modernization of the tribal lands. Modernity makes an inroad into the tribal reality in the form of Sahukar Mahajan (Moneylender) and a forest officer who introduce two completely new and alien elements – monetary economy and administrative control to the seemingly composed and content life of the Paraja without much anticipatory thought on how it would affect the tribal life. Introduction of modernity and the idea of modern civil society may be seen as analogous to the negation of tribal rights over their territory and destruction of tribal mode of socio-economic sustenance. It is pertinent to mention here that tribal economy was based on barter system before the introduction of monetary economy and their society ran on their own system of governance before the imposition of modern administration. Mohanty shows how the introduction of money and administrative constrains robbed every right of the tribal on their land and forest and left them with nothing but disbelief and discontentment in the modern concept of welfare society. The Sahukar woos the villagers with his money while the forest guard uses the law to enforce his power and thus manipulate and pollute the sanctity of the forest. Mohanty’s novel is a critique of the feasibility of modernization in tribal land without proper infrastructural transformation and education.  Mohanty’s ironical depiction of the tribal reality concentrates on the unreasonable manner of imposing restrictive forest laws on those who do not have the slightest inkling of the nature of restrictions that have been enforced upon them. The policy makers of the British government do not seem to realize that the precondition to enforcement of any law is proper awareness and empowerment of the mass. The novel, however, presents an opposite circumstance in which new restrictions were imposed on the tribal to curb their free access to forest resources without any measure to compensate the loss of freedom that they enjoyed for generations. He observes that introduction of modernity apparently caused complete destruction of tribal economy and disorientation of pre-existent social balance.

The novel provides a detailed probing into the social structure of the Paraja tribe which is based on indigenous political system of chiefdom. A Paraja man seeks the permission of the village headman and takes everything that he needs from the forest without having to bother about taxation. The forest provided all their needs and thus a symbiotic relation was forged between man and nature. The forest had never been viewed as a means of acquiring economic profit by the Paraja. However, with the enforcement of forest laws in India by the British government, restriction was enforced on free access to forest resources and the symbiotic relation was completely damaged. Enforcement of Forest Laws may also be understood as negation of the age old hierarchy of Paraja chiefdom. Violation of the Forest Laws meant indulgence in criminal offence that led to imprisonment or payment of a huge sum as fine that eventually contributed to the revenue collection of the state. Poverty creeps into the lives of the Paraja tribe with the collapse of their traditional mode of production and economic sustenance and it augments the germination of greed, treachery and disbelief in a social fabric based on community living and social cooperation. It, however, served the purpose of curving out an easy route to drain every resource from the tribal land to the mainstream society to benefit the outsiders and significantly the state for “every villager owning a pair of bullock had to pay a ‘plough tax’ for the privilege of grazing his cattle in the forest, and the Forest Guard collected the tax” (11).

The main protagonist Sukru Jani and his family suffer different levels of exploitation at the backdrop of such transformation of socio-economic condition and end up becoming ‘Gotis’ or bonded labourers of the Sahukar which symbolically represents the condition of the tribal and their predicament in Indian context. Like other Paraja man Sukru Jani makes his living by farming in a small clearing in the midst of the forest and occasional access to the readily available resources from the forest such as edible herbs and firewood. However, in an attempt to expand his farmland he starts felling few trees from the forest unaware of the consequences of violating the Forest Laws. Sukru Jani is sentenced as an offender of the laws and fined with an amount that he cannot pay without mortgaging his tiny piece of land. He somehow manages to save himself from being imprisoned by paying the fine but indirectly treads into the labyrinthine imprisonment of debts when he asks for loan from the Sahukar. Illiterate Sukru and his sons do not understand the calculations of loan interest and thus their service to the Sahukar as Gotis never end. They serve as ‘gotis’ at the farmlands owned by the Sahukar in the hope of repaying loan with physical labour as they have nothing left at their disposal for repayment but they further sink into the pits of debts. Sukru and his sons know that they have been subjected to exploitation but they have no possible route to escape the exploitation. The exploitation of the state runs in tandem with the physical and economic exploitation of the likes of Sukru Jani in a rather dehumanizing fashion.

Jili, the elder daughter of Sukru Jani, symbolically represents the symbiotic coexistence of pristine forest and innocence of the Paraja tribe that receives a major blow due to the onslaught of outsider’s aggression and greed. Jili becomes the object of outsider’s gaze due to her gender when the visiting Forest Guard tries to take her advantage for his apparent sexual gratification. When thwarted that attempt by Jili, the Forest Guard avenges the insult to his manhood by exercising his power on Sukru Jani and his family on a stage managed allegation of unlawfully felling the trees in the forest.

In the later part of the novel, Jili again becomes the object of the Sahukar’s sexual desire that causes her social exclusion from her own society. The Sahukar agrees to pay the bride price for Jili when confronted by the village council which also explains the Sahukar’s compliance to the customary rules of the Paraja at that particular moment. But at the end the Sahukar blurts out his evil design in a fit of anger when he says, “Yes Jili! And isn’t there another called Bili at home still? Bring her to me. I’ve taken the land; I’ve taken one sister; and I shall take the other too, I shall take your wives…I shall make you sweat out your lives as gotis” (372). The compliance of the Sahukar to the customs of the Paraja in front of the village council on the first occasion may therefore be understood as a trope for calming the angry mob of the villagers which was necessary for the complete execution of his plan of capturing the entire tribal land with his business of money-lending.

The novel also focuses on the construction of a road into the villages of the Paraja tribe as a means of communication with the external society. Construction of a road is without any doubt a development in positive direction for it promises better accessibility to the remote areas. However, in the novel Mohanty seems to be rather sceptic with such development for a road may also be seen as a means of extracting natural resources from the tribal areas. Furthermore, the road also brings more outsiders such as construction workers, road contractors and money regulated market indicating a bigger threat to the sustainability of the tribal society. For example, the road contractor uses his money to lure the girls from the village for his ulterior motive of sexually exploiting them. Both the daughters of Sukru Jani succumb to the allurement of the contractor and end up losing their dignity for money. It is pertinent to mention that in Paraja society young man and woman have the freedom of choosing their partners in the youth dormitory of the village. Mohanty observes:

In the centre of the village was a hut which served as a dormitory for all the unmarried girls in the village, while little way off was the men’s dormitory. It was an ancient Paraja custom for all unmarried boys and girls to sleep in their respective dormitories, rather than in their parents’ homes. (Mohanty 14-15)

It is in the dormitory where Jili meets her beloved Bagla before marriage without social restriction. But their meeting does not turn into physical intimacy and they maintain the sacredness of their love despite all the freedom of transgressing the social norms. While on the later occasion when Jili comes into contact with the contractor, she is overtaken by money induced greed. She submits herself to the contractor not out of love but for the money that would ensure availability of food at home during the absence of her father and brothers who are serving as Gotis at the Sahukar’s house.

Like other Paraja people, Sukru Jani and his family led a self-sufficient and content life with the sense of pride and honour identical to every tribal society by the side of the forest that yielded everything that they needed. However, their sense of pride and honour is completely trampled upon with the imposition of certain restrictions on the access of the forest and their independent movement that came at the pretext of modernity and social change. Monetary economy robbed everything from the Paraja tribe including their dignity rendering them with poverty and servitude.

            Padma Shri awardee writer, journalist and former civil servant Mamang Dai’s novel The Legends of Pensam, published in 2006, narrates the oral myths of Adi tribe juxtaposing against rapid modernization in Arunachal Pradesh. The novel interconnects three episodes of different stories with a loosely connected line of continuity and employs magic realism to convey the reality of the tribe. Her choice of magic realism in narrating the stories of her tribe is apparently deliberate for the reality of the tribe from the easternmost frontier of Indian nation state may not be considered analogous to the reality of mainland India and as such the techniques employed by the mainstream writers in the depiction of reality may not do justice to the reality of her community. Tribal gods and demigods are recurrently mentioned in the narrative and made a part of the tribal life-world by way of drawing a semblance of the two contradictory worlds of real and unreal. The intended purpose of the technique employed by the writer may be understood as a statement of disapproval of the homogenization of the tribal or the Northeast as a singular entity. The cultural loss and negotiation that occurred in the context of Northeastern tribal communities of India under the rubrics of colonial representation and encounter with the majoritarian cultures of the mainland India in the postcolonial condition calls for a new pattern of representation. Colonial representation based on empirical knowledge of the anthropological study seemingly finds itself at loss to comprehend the significance of certain socio-cultural habits of the tribal due to the approach espoused on the dichotomous relation of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. One cannot agree more that the colonial ‘self/other’ binary still holds relevance in the representations of the tribal in India given that the ethnic and linguistic minority seldom finds any room for proper representation in a majoritarian society.

Here, modernity is presented through the symbols of road as the machinery of institutionalization of the structure of power of the state in tribal areas. She offers a critique of rapid modernization making its inroad with the construction of a concrete road and the seemingly disastrous consequences it causes to the pristine natural environment and content life of the tribal. The road is not considered as a good omen as Larik, son of Togla gives vent to the frustration of the tribal as he puts it, “This one terrible road is all they have managed for us in fifty years! And what does it bring us? Outsiders. Thieves. Disease. Will this road bring us good health? A new school?” (156). The words of Larik reverberate in a cacophonic note in the narration of the serenity that pervades the hilly terrain but serves the purpose of breaking the slumber to face the reality in a clearer sight. The construction of road rightly represents the milestone of development and administrative presence of the state but it inversely may also be understood as the conveyance of external elements that swarm the tribal lands for potential exploits. A road opens new opportunities for trade and commerce but proportionate economic benefit of both the sides is seldom ensured. Political activism, public awareness, better health services and prospects of better education among the general public is hardly visible in spite of the easy access of the remote mountains of Arunachal Pradesh. The new generation of Arunachal Pradesh like Larik find themselves caught in delusion and uncertainty at the backdrop of disproportionate distribution in terms of basic amenities. The road that promises development fails to address the expectations of the indigenous population and instead turns out to be the channel of extraction. The road in her narration symbolizes the intrusion of external forces with gradual enforcement of power and economic takeover through the negotiation between tribal life-worlds and modern agencies. In this negotiation, tribal right to its land and forest is exposed to a greater risk for the idiom of modern administration and development is completely alien to the tribal. Dai tries to explore the condition of marginality and exploitation meted out to the tribal at the backdrop of massive corruption and propagandist developmental progress in tribal areas.

Mamang Dai delivers an eco-critical reading of tribal reality and digs further into the fundamental problem of structural failure of the design of introducing modernity to a society that is based on the bedrock of coexistence with nature. In a story narrated by the character named Hoxo, in the chapter titled “Small Histories Recalled in the Season of Rain”, he tells the oral narrative of the harmonious co-existence of man and spirits in “a green and virgin land under a gracious and just rule” (42). It was a society based on mutual understanding and respect of the symbiotic relation that humans established with nature and spirits. But humans started felling the trees out of greed causing damage to the balance of the two parallel worlds and the delicate thread of relation was broken resulting in a massive change in the old order of the society. Hoxo further laments that “the canopy of shelter and tradition had fallen” with the destruction of the forest (42). The story narrated by Hoxo insinuates that the knowledge of ecological balance was a part of the tribal tradition but this knowledge became irrelevant in the greed induced rat-race of growth and development of human civilization. Apart from telling the unpleasant truth of marginalization of the tribal, she also narrates the myths and cultural beliefs of the tribe by reinforcing the shared experiences of her people where the supernatural elements command certain importance and thereby become an integral part. For Mamang Dai the shamans, demigods and paranormal occurrences are not constructs of fictional romanticism or parts of the colonial occult but the very reality that the tribal inhabits and therefore cannot be left out of the representation.

            Authentic representation of the tribal in Indian writing is getting momentum of late as many writers within the tribal community have started voicing their lived experiences in fiction and other forms of representations. Representation unquestionably calls for further examination on merit for it is always vulnerable to different layers of prejudices pertaining to the temporality of fixity of meanings. Both Gopinath Mohanty and Mamang Dai engage in an objective depiction of the tribal reality by acute denial of colonial romantic rendering and bring forth certain issues hitherto unattended or deliberately ignored. Their projection of tribal reality is not based on the colonial gaze enmeshed with the self/other binary but a depiction of the shared reality gained from first hand experiences that further call for exploration and examination of the political agency involved in the process of representation.




Works Cited


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