This book partakes of the post-colonial reassessment of the nineteenth century, where agency is seen to lie, not just with the colonizing centre, but also with the colonized periphery. Here,
missionaries from a peripheral part of Europe—including a Norway striving to decolonize
itself—try to convert the Santals, an Indian tribe which had rebelled against the intruding colonial order. Provincializing the European origins of the missionaries, the authors try to explore the Santal response.
Missionary sources have been used to recast such encounters, but the response seldom has had a documented voice. The Santals, however, wrote thousands of pages as part of the missionary project to document their culture, showing their efforts to reconstruct and reappropriate their own culture. Subaltern voices emerge, as working-class missionaries and Santals meet, bypassing the centres of hegemony, and oppose the disenchantment of colonial experience
to the memory of a glorious past.
For some years, a space is created at the edge of empire, where the missionary adventurer, and Santals in search of a new identity, together build a new Christian community. The missionaries succeed only because of the Santal engagement—born, not just from their appropriation of missionary ideas, but also from their resistance to the Hindu majority and to internal colonialism. But soon colonial power relations erode missionary independence, as they come to depend on the churches of their homeland, while the Santals are absorbed into
the exploitative economics of colonialism. The space allowed by an ‘encounter of peripheries’ is closed.
Marine Carrin is Director of Research, CNRS at the LISST, Centre of Anthropology, Toulouse, France. She has worked for many years on the Santals and is currently working on the bhuta cults and other aspects of religion and society in South Canara, India.
Harald Tambs-Lyche is professor of social anthropology at the University of Picardie—Jules Verne, Amiens, France. He is currently working on a monograph on the Gauda Saraswat Brahmins of South Canara, India.
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