An Approach to The Cultural Mapping of North-East India: In Respect of Tribal Tales

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Item Code: NAB824
Author: Pratibha Mandal
Publisher: The Asiatic Society
Language: English
Edition: 2009
Pages: 252 (Illustrated Full Map & 20 Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.7inch X 7.3 inch
Weight 820 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The present treatise is a continuation of cultural mapping of Indian in N.K. Bose’s line in the field of folktales for a limited area viz, Northeast India. The mapping has been done from three aspects complete tales motifs and non motif features. The study is a novel attempt in both the global and Indian contexts of anthropology and folklore folkloristic. Its novelty in anthropology, both in the global and Indian contexts lies in its using folktale motifs for cultural mapping. Its novelty in the global context of folkloristic involves several points first it is the first time attempt to prepare maps for a track fo land with respect to motifs second it is furnished with a table that enables the readers to have a glance of the motifs shared to have a glance of the motifs shared in common by the Northeast Indian tribes and the communities of the outer world third it introduces a number of new concepts and definitions and such others. In the specific context of Indian folkloristic the book is novel for its having used motifs as a tool instead of an aim of study a practice in vogue until now in India. The volume although a technical and scholastic enterprise follows a lucid style which the general readers also may be expected to appreciate.


About the Author

Born in the district of Howrah West Bengal Dr. Pratibha Mandal Started her life as a brilliant student by obtaining national Scholarships in S.F. (1968) under WBBSE and in P.U. (1970) and B.A. (Honors in anthropology ) (1980) from C.U. as well as ranking 10th and 1st in the latter two examinations respectively. She ahs done her M.A. (1982) and Ph.D. (2000) in anthropology also from the same university. She worked in the Asiatic Society (Kolkata) as a research fellow/Scholar in three projects.

Dr. Mandal is currently an independent researcher in anthropology and folklore as well as translator and an essayist. She has to her credit research articles published in reputed Indian journals and in a number of edited books.



The study of various tribes and folklore is an essential part of research done in the Asiatic society since its foundation in 1784 by Sir William Jones. This will be evident in the indices of the journal of the Asiatic Society. Dr. Pratibha Mandal’s work is to say the least a highly valuable contribution to research on both cultural mapping of North East India and tribal tales and myths. This work is a sort of folkloristic geography which bears the stamp of deep research and relentless labor. Thorough and in every aspect admirably methodical the work is characterized by originality that stems from a scientific approach to the problem. It is hoped that this valuable study would be appreciated by both scholars and general readers.



The present monograph is a part of the work done in the division of Folklore and Culture of The Asiatic Society, Kolkata as a Research Fellow for a period of 1993-98. The other part constituted my Ph. D. thesis titled "Nature of Sharing the Oral Narratives among the Tribal Peoples of North—East India"(yet unpublished). The folktales, including myths and legends, collected from field are more or less common to both the parts. The analyses are, however, totally different in the two cases. In fact, the work itself was a continuation of a project titled "Cultural Mapping of Folk Elements in North East India", initially planned and formally guided by Professor A. K. Danda and accomplished during a previous Fellowship in the same division of The Asiatic Society, the tenure of which was 1986-1990. At the beginning of that project, I was instructed (verbally, as is the usual practice between a Research Scholar and her/his guide) to collect myths from the states of northeast India and then study them by Levi-Strauss’s theory of structuralism. However, after conducting about a two-month intensive field survey for collecting myths from the Garos of Meghalaya in 1987, l had two realizations. Firstly, the collecting of myths alone at the exclusion of the other categories of tales would be a sheer waste of time. Secondly, a close-to-reality mapping of the northeast on the basis of only self-collection of myths was impossible for a single individual researcher without assistants in a four-year period. These led me on the one hand to collect everything that a teller told during the remaining one-month of my staying there among the Garos and on the other, to doubt in a rudimentary form if cultural mapping and structural analysis of the myths could be done in a mixed way, especially in that limited period and with the limited funds of the concerned Fellowship. On my return from the field, I put my realizations and decision of modification of the kinds of data to be collected from the field to Professor Danda, and he_ approved (again verbally, of course) them quickly. In my succeeding fieldtrips that were made to. Tripura, Assam and Sikkim during the remaining part of my tenure of that Fellowship, I, therefore, followed the modified plan of collection. A Final Report was prepared on the basis of those data in which the distribution of the tales and their features was shown, Structuralism remaining untouched.

Right at the beginning of my second Fellowship (1993-98), deciding to attempt at content analysis of the tales collected during the first Fellow ship, I secured the approval of the continuing supervisor Professor Danda for the same, and chose a more specific title, viz., "Cultural Mapping of North east India with respect to Tribal Folktales". After some time, while proceeding with this attempt (which, I found considerably later, to have a similarity with the Boas’s method in the Tshimshion Mythology published in 1916 as the thirty-first annual report for 1909•19l0 of The Bureau of American Ethnology), I suddenly stumbled on Thompson’s observation saying, "similarities (in the folk—literature of the world) consist not so often incomplete tales as in single motifs" (Thompson, S. 1955. Motif Index of Folk Literature, p.10). This led me to make attempts at content analysis of the tales in two different ways, one as resorted to for my Ph.D. thesis, and the other for the project transformed into the present treatise. The technique of content analysis in the present treatise primarily involves Thompsonian motifs(in this treatise I refer to them as ‘Thompson Motifs’) constituting the major base of the mapping attempted at in this volume.

The present volume, however, is only an approach to the mapping mentioned just above. I call this an approach, since the maps for only the division of ‘World-Origin Myths’ have been prepared on the basis of more or less exhaustive data available in print as well as those collected from field, and NOT for the other two divisions of the tales made in the present treatise. The number of tales dealt with in the other two divisions is meager compared to presumable amount of tales existing in the region (and even to that available in print). In other words, while maps for the myths on the origin of the world give a close—to-reality picture of the region, those for the other two divisions give only random glimpses of the same. Both the funds and the tenures of the fellowships were too limited for an exhaustive attempt in the style the present treatise has been produced. The present style, in its turn, has been derived from my Endeavour to produce my best from the said circumstances. I, therefore, take this opportunity to categorically point out that the volume constitutes only an introductory one to a rather ambitious series on the concerned field, as yet existing in the planning stage only.

The treatise may be expected to throw new light on Anthropology and Folklore in general, and on Indian Anthropology and Indian Folklore in particular, from several points of view. First, from the viewpoint of cultural mapping, no attempt possibly prior to this has been made to prepare any folktale and folktale motif map(s) either for the whole or for any part of India. Second, as far as my knowledge goes, the attempt at defining the concept of ‘Motif Index’ in the sense of ‘Motif Index Number’ in this treatise has been made for the first time in the history of folklore. Third, the present attempt uses the folktale motifs as a tool of study rather than the prevalent practice of making it a goal in itself — a tool that has helped here to trace the folktale features of northeast India. Fourth, the treatise is an attempt at introducing a number of new techniques of content analysis of folktales as follows: a) Technique of systematic dealing with non motif elements/features shared by different tribes; b) technique of dealing with the motifs close to the elements/features present in the tales; c) Technique of processing the motif data for preparing the systematic final tabular base for each individual map showing the common distribution of a group of individual motifs and so on. Fifth the treatise points out that there is a responsibility on the part of the researchers dealing with motifs to provide explanations for the identification of not so obviously present motifs because although such identification is an arbitrary task the arbitrariness cannot be unlimited. As a matter of fact in spite of my sincere and laborious efforts, I do not claim that I have been able to make the lists of motifs of individuals tales either exhaustive or perfect.



I have been familiar with Dr. Pratibha Mandal’s work for quite some time, in spite of the fact that my area of academic interest overlaps only fractionally with hers. She usually writes research articles on anthropological and folkloristic topics in English and Bangla, whose quantity is reasonably small, but quality, high. It is, therefore, a real pleasure for me to introduce this volume by her, An Approach to the Cultural Mapping 0f northeast India: in Respect of Tribal Tales (henceforward An Approach). Though the treatise is a technical one, especially for its ‘motif’ parts, and inter-disciplinary in character, involving primarily anthropology and folklore, the readers from other disciplines also are likely to enjoy the reading of the same and benefit from it. Dr. Mandal is adept in presenting even a technical subject in a clear and coherent manner that succeeds in attracting a wider readership. Whether(s) he has a prior notion about what ‘cultural mapping’ or motifs are, the reader, I am certain, will be able to follow the treatise on a systematic reading.

Briefly, the content in An Approach is, as I find, not confined to the boundaries suggested by its title, which merely indicates an attempt at tracing the distribution maps for tales (and tale• motifs) for northeast India. An Approach is, on the contrary, much more than that in a significant way. It has introduced new definitions (e.g., of ‘motif index’ in Chapter-I), new concepts (e.g., ‘inverse racism’ in Chapter-V) and new techniques of content analysis of the narratives (e.g., the process of identifying and labeling the ‘non-motif features’ in Chapter-V) with scientific precision. But before dealing with them, let me give an outline of the structure of the volume. There are six chapters of various sizes in the volume, including a prologue and an epilogue. The organization of the chapters is neat and strictly defined. I mention this categorically in view of the run of mill-publications in the field of folklore in India, where this is most often lacking. Apart from the regular chapters and sections, there is, in addition, an elaborate section on the tellers of the tales collected from the field. The innovativeness of the author is evident in the chapters of Prologue, Motifs, Mapping and Epilogue. The ‘Notes’ section provides information to all relevant queries that may arise in the chapters. The section on the tellers reveals the concern and deep sense of responsibility of the author about the authenticity of the tales collected from the field. My own question, of course, is why the treatise was not prepared and published much earlier by the author, as the tales from the field had been collected some eighteen years ago!

The sections made in the "Prologue" of the volume may broadly be divided into three categories: (a) Purpose and background of the study, (b) Definitions of concepts used in the study, and (c) Methods of study. In discussing the issues treated in these sections Dr. Mandal has been bold, clear and to the point. Dr. Mandal has, however; placed all necessary details of her analytical tools immediately before treating the topics and data in each chapter. I find it quite rational. But what impresses me most is the academically challenging position she takes in examining critically the views of the folklorists, rejecting quite a few of them when necessary. This is how science takes forward steps, demonstrating the ‘falsifiability’ of earlier conclusions. Even when a hypothesis is falsified or disproved, one has to acknowledge that it has contributed to the progress of science. Second, Dr. Mandal has also ventured to formulate definitions of concepts not attempted earlier, and to introduce fresh concepts. If one goes through these, one would be able to appreciate the underlying logic of them. Her attempt at defining the motif index in the sense of ‘motif index number’ that stands directly against the definition of motif by El-Shamy is notable. Besides, her clear statements on her methods of data collection and documentation as well as those of studying the data for the preparation of the maps, invite our keen attention. Here her training in anthropology has obviously stood her in good stead. Folklore is a social science that demands inter-disciplinary approach and tools to deal with its material, and the borrowing of relevant methods from Cultural Anthropology certainly lends folklorists a more powerful footing.

The motifs she has identified in section ‘b’ of the list of identified motifs for each tale is for everyone to judge. What I find appreciable is Dr. Mandal’s way of identifying them with meticulous care and caution. And then, he ruse of the identified motifs as a tool of study, in this case, for preparing maps of northeast India, seems to me a very fresh approach. Dr. Mandal has prepared as many as 47 maps for her three categories of tales, viz., ‘World-origin myths’, ‘Other-origin myths’ and simply ‘Other tales’. Due to their being based on more or less exhaustive data, the maps for the ‘World—origin myths’ seem to provide the reader with a close look at ideational areas in question.

Finally, I would like to add this cavit lector that I am not trying to validate all of Dr. Mandal’s definitions, or her new concepts and observations (being a linguist-cum-folklorist I am not qualified to do so). What I want to say instead is that despite the possibility that if some of them, as happens in all social sciences, be modified and even rejected in the future, her adventures in this research deserve unstinted appreciation.




  Introduction xi
  Preface xiii
Chapter I Prologue 1
Chapter II The Land and the People 17
Chapter III The Tales 65
Chapter IV Motifs Identified in the Tales 125
Chapter V Folktale Maps 167
Chapter VI Epilogue 273
  Notes 305
  Glossary of Non English terms 315
  References 321
  General Index 325
  List of Maps  
  Geo Political  
  1. Map II. 1 Northeastern region of India 19
  2. Map II. 2 Arunachla Pradesh 23
  Map II. 3 Assam 37
  Map II. 4 Manipur 50
  Map II. 5 Meghalaya 53
  Map II. 6 Mizoram 57
  Map II. 7 Nagaland 59
  Map II. 8 Tripura 62
  Cultural with respect of folktales  
1 Distribution of non motif features of the world origin myths in the Northeastern States (maps 1-5) 173
2 World origin myth Motifs (denoted by index number) common to four to six states combinations (Maps 6-10) 196
3 World origin myth Motifs (denoted by index number) common to three states (Maps 11-15) 203
4 World origin myth Motifs (denoted by index number) common to two states (Maps 16-24) 210
5 World origin myth Motifs (denoted by index number) common to states in Single (Maps 25-31) 223
6 Distribution of complete tales (Maps 30-40) 264
7 Distribution of motifs (denoted by index numbers) of other tales (Maps 41-47) 266
  List of Tables  
1 Table II.1. List of States and Tribes Under Study 20
2 Table III.1. The Tales Dealt with and the associated states and tribes at a glance 66
3 Table V.NMF 1. Distribution of non motif features of the world origin myths in the states of North East India 171
4 Table V.NMF 2 Maps generated by the state wise groups of non motif features of the world origin myths 172
5 Table V.WOM.1. List of tribes sharing individual motifs of the world origin myths 179
6 Table V.WOM 2. State wise distribution of motifs of the world origin myths 187
7 Table V.WOM 3. World origin motifs common to six state combinations 195
8 Table V.WOM 4. World origin motifs common to Five state combinations 195
9 Table V.WOM 5. World origin motifs common to four state combinations 201
10 Table V.WOM 6. State wise distribution of motifs common to three combinations 201
11 Table V.WOM 7. World origin motifs common to two states combinations 208
12 Table V.WOM 8. World origin motifs common to single state combinations 219
13 Table V.OOM 1. List of tribes sharing other origin myths motifs 230
14 Table V.OOM 2. Statewise distribution of motifs of other origin myths 234
15 Table V.OOM 3. Other Origin myth motifs common to three state combinations 237
16 Table V.OOM 4. Other Origin Myth Motifs common to two state combinations 237
17 Table V.OOM 5. Other Origin myth motifs common to single state combinations 238
18 Table V.OTM 1. List of tribes sharing other tales motifs 249
19 Table V.OTM 2. Statewise distribution of other tales motifs 254
20 Table V.OTM 3. Other Tales Motifs common to three state combinations 259
21 Table V.OTM 4. Other tales motifs common to two state combinations 259
22 Table V.OTM 5. Other Tales motifs common to single state combinations 260
23 Table VI.I List of motifs identified and their global distribution as recorded in Thompson 1955-58 278
  List of Photographs  
1 Part of the Haflong lake North Cachar Hills Assam 1989 41
2 Ms. Nabonita Langtthasa Mr. Bhakteswar Khersa & the author N.C. Hills Assam 1989 41
3 The Author with some Dimasa informants N.C. Hills Assam 1989 42
4 Part of the Dimasa Village Bara apu N.C. Hills Assam 1989 42
5 Mrs. Sukhidi Langtthasa, Bara apu N.C. Hills Assam 1989 43
6 A Dimasa woman peeling areca nut, N.C. Hills Assam 1989 43
7 A Jhum Field south garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 44
8 A Tree house south Garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 44
9 Author’s camp at Ruga Ading Rugapara south garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 44
10 Author’s Landlady at Ruga Ading South Garo Hills District Meghalaya 1987 45
11 Garo Women cooking rice in a Garo marriage feast South Garo Hills District Meghalaya 1987 45
12 Garo Men cooking pork in a garo marriage feast south garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 45
13 Garo women drying & winnowing paddy, Mebangpara south garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 46
14 Memorial statues in the front verandah of a garo cottage Mebangpara south garo hills district Meghalaya 1987 46
15 Mr. Khatindra Riang (a teller) Belonia, South Tripura District Tripura 1989 47
16 A Riang school teacher & her niece Belonia South Tripura District Tripura 1989 47
17 Mr. Birkumar Deb Burman (an interpreter) Herma, west Tripura District Tripura 1989 47
18 Wife of Mr. Birkumar Deb Burman in front of her kitchen Herma west Tripura District Tripura 1989 48
19 A Riang woman in weeding Belonia south tripura district tripura 1989 48
20 A Rural in Tripura Belonia, South Tripura District Tripura 1989 48


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