ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On the Nilgiris

Bibliographie des Nilgiri/Bibliography for the Nilgiri 1603-1996 by Paul Hockings; Dymset, Universite Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux; 1996; (Espaces Tropicaux, pp xxv + 326,

As a new resident of the Nilgiris I have been struck by the vast difference between the ‘public’ face of the Nilgiris (as found in the overdeveloped tourist town of Ooty) and the ‘private’ face of the Nilgiris, as seen in clumps of small houses huddled together on the hill slopes surrounded by tea gardens and in the very distinctive lifestyle of the badagas who constitute the main non-tribal local people in the district. The badagas are migrants from the Kannada-speaking areas of the north who settled in the region more than 400 years ago. They are a very upwardly mobile community and are a dominant part of the economic and social landscape of the Nilgiris. The main tribes found in the Nilgiris are the todas, kurumbas, irulas and kotas.

Even as I was wondering why so little is known to the outside world about this aspect of the Nilgiris district, I came across the Bibliography for the Nilgiri by the well known anthropologist Paul Hockings. It came as a great surprise to learn that in fact this is the most intensively studied part of rural Asia, and Hockings supports this claim with a list of close to 7,000 books and articles. The earliest account of the area can be found in Father Giacomo Fenicio’s report of 1603 which described essentially the same kind of settlements of economic interdependence between the todas and badagas which was described in 1906 by Rivers. Hockings points out that “it is fortunate for bibliographical purposes that geography and history have combined with ethnology and linguistics to make the Nilgiris district such a clearly delimited area”. These distinctive characteristics, which also extend to the local flora and other aspects, have made his job as a bibliographer relatively easy, says Hockings.

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