“The North East Indian region has never been an isolated backwater” – Food production and animal domestication since the Neolithic Revolution

North East India has never been an isolated backwater even during prehistoric times | Book review by Dhrijyoti Kalita on Scroll.in | Find a library copy via Worldcat.org >>

“Who lived here?”, “when did they live here?”, “what culture did they have?” and “how did their culture change?” are just some of the questions posed by Prehistory and Archaeology of Northeast India, a book that probes the origins of human settlement, culture and ecology in North East India. Written by archaeologist Manjil Hazarika, it is a work of exhaustive research – the result of several years of digging, documenting and amalgamating the prehistoric remnants of the region.

The origin of humans in this part of the world has nearly always been shrouded in mystery. North East India, owing to its myriad climate and landscape-related factors have also always posed problems for archaeological research. […]

The Neolithic is an important time frame for North East India given the many changes in culture that occurred during this transitional period. This shift from food procurement to food production was solely based on the local domestication of plants and animals, rather than knowledge imported from neighbouring regions. Hence, the popular term “Neolithic Revolution” aptly suits this stage. […]

In North East India, rice is not only the staple food – the extended influences of the crop can be found in local festivals, rituals, dance, songs and folklore. Preparation of rice beer as a common cultural practice is widely found among a large number of ethnic groups like the Dimasas, the Kacharis, the Ahoms, the Mishings, the Bodos, the Khasis and the Angamis. Most festivals and rituals in the North East have an agricultural basis akin to the cultivation of rice. For example, Bihu, the most important festival cycle of Assam has a three-tier celebration during a year, duly matched with the three stages of the agricultural cycle of the sali rice farming system.

In addition to rice, North East India is also home to the cultivated species of bananas known by their genus name, Musa. […]

North East India, above all, played a crucial role in the early domestication of several animal species. Some of these include cattle, yak, mithun, banteng and buffalo. The Indian bison, also known as gaur, is widely distributed in the Himalayan foothills, from the Narayani River through North Bengal to the Siang River in the Mishmi Hills, the hill tracts of Chittagong, Mizo Hills, Manipur and the Meghalaya plateau. […]

What is important, nonetheless, is the relation of this region with the idea of the state. From archaeological evidence, Hazarika concludes that the earliest state formation in the region was not necessarily, as often thought, due to the inflow of Indo-Europeans into Assam, but as a result of intermittent trade between India and today’s China. […]

By considering historical and archaeological sources, scholars have also emphasised the Assam-Burma pathway as facilitating movement in ancient times. […]

There is undoubtedly ample evidence to lay claim upon the fact that the North East Indian region has never been an isolated backwater even during prehistoric times. To perceive life, culture and politics of the region in terms of just Euro-centric dogmas would simply be facile. By opening the region to other histories and social trajectories, this book undeniably validates that North East India is a potent thread in interwoven histories. […]

Source: “This essential book on the prehistory of North East India helps reject facile generalisations”, Book review by Dhrijyoti Kalita
URL: https://scroll.in/article/915071/this-essential-book-on-the-prehistory-of-north-east-india-helps-reject-facile-generalisations
Date Visited: 28 November 2021

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