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

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Are We Engaged Truly?

Mapping the Heraka Identity

This response to "Cultural Positioning of Tribes in North-east India: Mapping the Evolving Heraka Identity" by Soihiamlung Dangmei (EPW, 5 January 2013) attempts to set the record straight on the Heraka reform movement, the religious practices and how it emerged from traditional Naga animism.

The commentary “Cultural Positioning of Tribes in North-east India: Mapping the Evolving Heraka Identity” by Soihiamlung Dangmei (EPW, 5 January 2013) contains a number of misleading interpretations and incorrect information. Dangmei has borrowed the idea from Arkotong Longkumer’s thesis titled “Where Do I Belong? Evolving Reform and Identity amongst the Zeme Heraka of North Cachar Hills, Assam, India”, University of Edingburgh (2008) (see http://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle /1842/2669) and relied heavily on Chapter 5 (pp 146-92) “Negotiating Boundaries”. The thesis has been published as a book Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging: The Heraka Movement in Northeast India by Bloomsbury. The various issues around the Heraka identity negotiating between the Naga nationalism and pan Hindu cultural nationalism remained the principal focus of Longkumer’s work. There may be certain truths in Dangmei’s arguments, but the material taken from incomplete historical records and shallow ethnography makes for unconvincing arguments which are contradictory to the facts. I intend to place the facts about Heraka and Heraka identity in the correct perspective while repairing some of the wrong mappings in the history of Indian ethnography.

What is the Heraka reform movement? What are the Heraka religious practices? How did the present-day Heraka religion and Heraka religious reform movement emerge from traditional Naga animism? These are a few fundamental questions that have not yet been properly answered but are increasingly being obscured by various misguided writings in recent times. To address the various issues raised in Dangmei’s commentary and in Longkumer’s book, let me first briefly talk about the Heraka and the Heraka religious reform movement from my own experiences resulting from intensive ethnographic encounters over nearly two decades (Roy 1995, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011a, 2011b).

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