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The Neighborhood of GodsThe Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai$
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William Elison

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226494876

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226495064.001.0001

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Expanding Contract Tribal Space and Official Knowledge

Expanding Contract Tribal Space and Official Knowledge

(p.157) 5 Expanding Contract Tribal Space and Official Knowledge
The Neighborhood of Gods

William Elison

University of Chicago Press

This chapter takes up the history of the Warlis, a tribal (adivasi) community that stakes a claim of autochthony to parts of Maharashtra, including parts of the Mumbai (Suburban) District. Central to the exposition is a mythohistorical narrative, the “Oxhide Tale.” The tale explains the Warlis’ lot as "wild" people, jungle dwellers, as the result of a crooked legal contract that banished them, in historical times, beyond the realm of polity. The distinction between spaces of culture and of nature is a trope with a long history in India. Here, it is taken up as an organizing principle by which the state and affiliated elites have constructed tribals as people defined by a naturalized bond with the raw, kaccha space of the forest. A corollary is the visualization of this bond in terms of religious beliefs and practices that differ from those professed by caste Hindus. The chapter’s last section will take up the Maharashtra government’s reliance on state anthropology: specifically, the contribution of anthropologists to the state's generation of paperwork, and the generation by that paperwork of power effects over the tribal populations that anthropologists study.

Keywords:   Warli, adivasi, Oxhide Tale, Hinduism, paperwork, state anthropology, postcolonial

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