'adolescence' in traditional India

JKirkpatrick jkirk at SPRO.NET
Sat Jul 9 20:12:08 UTC 2011

Dear List,

If I may: the famous anthropologist of the nineteen-forties up
until the eighties when he died-- Verrier Elwin--made a huge
point about the tribals that he studied, particularly the Muria:
that they observed a sort of cultural adolescence where the young
people lived in their own dormitories and experimented
with/learned about sexuality, as well as the other norms of their
culture. He also noticed tribal differences--the Muria tended to
be non-possessive and therefore shed and took up with sexual
partners freely, whereas one of the other tribes (the Saoras)
observed fidelity to the partner with whom they set up household
and had children. As I recall, the Gonds, with whom he lived off
and on for years, did not have youth dormitories but he reported
tham as being easy about sexual relations. The latter became a
serious problem for Elwin when his Gond wife, Kosi, had an affair
with someone during one of his many absences and got pregnant by
her lover. The saga ended with Elwin divorcing, for various
reasons I needn't relate here.  

Overall, Elwin made points in his many publications (both
professional and journalistic) about how the tribals were more
advanced than the civilised people of his time (Indian and
British) in that women were not downtrodden but free to
participate fully in tribal culture and to express their views.
This was one of his main points, reiterated over his entire
lifetime.  He viewed tribals as observing a period of life,
adolescence or youth culture, that was not otherwise typical of
India, where women were married off early and sent after puberty
to their inlaws.  

The best study of Elwin -- his problems with and support from
government, with other anthropologists and public opinion, and
his contributions to Indian ethnology -- is found in: 
Guha, Ramachandra. _Savaging the Civilized : Verrier Elwin, His
Tribals, and India_.
U Chicago P., 1999. Epilogue, Appendices, Acknowledgements,
Notes, Index. 398pp. Not a first-rate Index, but it includes a
list of Elwin's publications. The author did wide research into
various holdings in UK and in India of Elwin's private and
published writings, as well as interviews with people who had
known him. 

Best wishes,
Joanna Kirkpatrick

-----Original Message-----
From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk] On Behalf Of
mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU
Sent: Saturday, July 09, 2011 9:34 AM
To: INDOLOGY at liverpool.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] 'adolescence' in traditional India


Anything in Meyer's Sexual Life in Ancient India? I haven't
looked at it in years and don't recall if or how he deals with

There is, I believe, some anthropological literature on the very
category of "adolescence," which, as you suggest, seems a
construct due to delayed marriage in industrial and
post-industrial societies. I don't have any particular references
for you, but this may be a direction worth pursuing.


Matthew T. Kapstein
Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies The University of
Chicago Divinity School Directeur d'études Ecole Pratique des
Hautes Etudes, Paris

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