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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Dr Andrew J. Russell

Russell, A.J. (2004). Traditions in transition: Sanskritization and Yakkhafication in East Nepal. History and Anthropology 15(3): 251-261.

Author(s) from Durham


Based on fieldwork conducted amongst the Yakkha of East Nepal from 1989-90, this article looks at the similarities and differences in how "tradition" is approached by anthropologists and historians. It focuses on reflexivity, performance and process as key intellectual traditions within both anthropology and history, but takes issue with Hobsbawm's suggestion that "tradition" is the stuff of "modern" societies while "custom" is a feature of "traditional" ones. It also argues for the "construction" rather than "invention" of traditions, by anthropologists as well as by people they study. In the case of the Yakkha, this construction can be seen in the changes in agricultural techniques over the past 150 years, the use of pellet bows by Yakkha men, and the celebrations of the ostensibly Hindu festival of Dasain. Only with hindsight can the 'invented' nature of the Dasain tradition be appreciated; even so, during the research period covered by this article, the rituals that epitomized 'Sanskritization' were simultaneously the subject of 'Yakkhafication', a process reflecting the negotiation, manipulation and subversion of Yakkha identity.