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The test of traditions: an history of feuds in Himachal Pradesh

By Denis Vidal


International audienceAnthropologists usually assume that the traditions they study are linked to a particular period and to a specific background, which may be social, economic, cultural, or political.. But it is wrong to assume that when times change and the particular background associated with a tradition changes, this tradition also changes. There is of course change, but it does not come about automatically. Life would be too easy if that were so, for the anthropologist as well as for the people in question. In fact, human beings spend a lot of time and energy trying to bring an end to traditions they consider to be anachronistic or problematic. We might even define tradition-rather imprecisely – as a social process that is difficult to end, even when people wish to do so. There is no doubt, for example, that the tradition of feuds, of the sort that have been practiced in India – and more particularly, in the case I will describe, in Himachal Pradesh – belongs to such a category. When I was there, most people believed that feuds were something from the past, something intrinsically wrong and quite anachronistic; 1 and I am quite sure that 99% of the people were quite happy that feuds no longer occurred. But still, as one may imagine, things were not so simple. So what I propose to do here is analyze, on the basis of one example, the sort of concrete processes involved when people try to bring an end to a tradition. Before discussing the case study, I wish, however, to introduce a more general hypothesis about traditions that, I expect, will not be too controversial. My hypothesis is that most traditions have some sort of "experimental" status; and that, in various circumstances, people involved in one way or another with a tradition, feel the necessity of asserting or demonstrating its efficacy, its validity or even, sometimes, its legitimacy. So in many cases, it is as important for an anthropologist to understand what constitutes the 'experimental' dimension of a tradition as it is to study, for example, the ritual details that characterize it. Taking into account such a perspective, one understands better why people sometimes rather obsessively try to preserve all the details of a tradition, while in other cases they deliberately transform or suppress such details. It is therefore crucial to know how people regard the efficacy of a tradition or some particular aspect of it

Topics: ritual, ethnographic enquiry, fieldork, India, Nerva thesil, anthropology, Himachal Pradesh, cultural change, murder, rural society, life history, clanic society, CASTE, CLAN, TRADITION, [ SHS.ANTHRO-SE ] Humanities and Social Sciences/Social Anthropology and ethnology
Publisher: University of Cambridge ; Südasien-Institut (Heidelberg, Allemagne).
Year: 2006
OAI identifier: oai:HAL:hal-01297619v1
Provided by: Hal-Diderot

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