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  • ZAK LEONARD (a1)


Seeking to challenge the totalizing theory of an ‘ethnographic state’, this article examines a mid-nineteenth-century paradigm shift that impacted the colonial study of borderland populations along India's North-West Frontier. While the establishment of metropolitan ethnographic societies in the 1870s facilitated the rise of socio-cultural evolutionism, colonial agents also utilized folklore and proverb studies to represent the borderland societies as dynamic cultural entities reactive to British encroachment. Four case-studies, moreover, demonstrate that a variety of motivations compelled colonial agents to produce ethnographic material. These factors included personal scholarly ambition, political activism, and a commitment to transregional ‘scientific’ data collection projects. This study complicates the relationship between knowledge production and state power by reasserting the significance of personality as an operative force in the formation of colonial discourse.


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Department of History, University of Chicago, 1126 E. 59th Street, Chicago IL 60637,


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I would like to thank Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Deborah Cohen, and the participants of the Newberry Seminar in British History for their constructive feedback. Additional thanks are due to Kyle Gardner and Gautham Reddy for their input on earlier drafts, as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.



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1 Thornton, Thomas H., ‘The vernacular literature and folklore of the Panjab’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 17 (July 1885), pp. 373414, at p. 374.

2 I will be using the descriptor ‘Pathan’ instead of ‘Pashtun’ or ‘Pakhtun’ due to the ubiquity of this term in the colonial literature.

3 Holdich, T. Hungerford, ‘The Arab tribes of our Indian frontier’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 29 (1899), pp. 1020, at p. 10.

4 Magnus Marsden and B. D. Hopkins, Fragments of the frontier (London, 2011), pp. 66–9.

5 By ‘frontier’, I am referring generally to the trans-Indus districts, although both Bellew and Thorburn were somewhat mobile in their professional capacities.

6 This approach is informed by Thomas Trautmann's study of the orientalist intellectual networks that contributed to the formulation of the Dravidian proof. See Trautmann, Languages and nations: the Dravidian proof in colonial Madras (Berkley, CA, 2006).

7 Nicholas B. Dirks, Castes of mind: colonialism and the making of modern India (Princeton, NJ, 2001), p. 196.

8 Risley, H. H., ‘The study of ethnology in India’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 20 (1891), pp. 235–63, at p. 253.

9 The Ethnological Survey of India, ed., Anthropometric data from Baluchistan (Calcutta, 1908).

10 Caton, Brian P., ‘Social categories and colonisation in Panjab, 1849–1920’, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 41 (2004), pp. 3350, at p. 34.

11 Denzil Ibbetson, Panjab castes: being a reprint of the chapter on ‘The races, castes and tribes of the people’ in the report on the census of the Punjab, published in 1883 (Lahore, 1916), p. 10.

12 Ibid., p. 33.

13 Gloria Goodwin Raheja, ‘The illusion of consent: language, caste, and colonial rule in India’, in Peter Pels and Oscar Salemink, eds., Colonial subjects: essays on the practical history of anthropology (Ann Arbor, MI, 1999), p. 132.

14 Tony Ballantyne, Orientalism and race: Aryanism in the British empire (New York, NY, 2002), p. 192.

15 Raheja, ‘The illusion of consent’, p. 119.

16 ‘Obituary notices: Major Henry George Raverty’, in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1907 (London, 1907), p. 253.

17 ‘Major H. G. Raverty’, Times of London, 26 Oct. 1906, p. 8.

18 Literary intelligence, correspondence, etc.’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 31 (1862), pp. 282–3, at p. 283.

19 H. G. Raverty, A grammar of the Pukhto, Pushto, or language of the Afghans (Calcutta, 1855), p. vii.

20 Ibid., p. 1.

21 H. G. Raverty, Selections from the poetry of the Afghans, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century (London, 1862), p. iv.

22 H. G. Raverty, The Gulshan-i-roh: being selections, prose and poetical, in the Pushto or Afghan language (London, 1860), p. v.

23 H. G. Raverty, The Gospel for the Afghans (London, 1864), p. 9.

24 ‘Important question of copyright’, Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet and General Advertiser, 22 May 1863. For further information on Raverty's commercial woes, see Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, ‘Henry George Raverty and the colonial marketing of Pashto’, in Cynthia Talbot, ed., Knowing India: colonial and modern constructions of the past (New Delhi, 2011), pp. 84–107.

25 The fables of Aesop al-Hakim, trans. H. G. Raverty (London, 1871), p. viii.

26 Smythe, Percy, Strangford, Viscount, ‘On the language of the Afghans, part 1’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 20 (1863), pp. 5266, at p. 55.

27 Ibid., p. 57.

28 Ibid., p. 58.

29 Raverty, H. G., ‘An account of Upper and Lower Swat, and the Kohistan, to the source of the Swat River’, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 31 (1862), pp. 227–81, at p. 278.

30 Raverty, H. G., ‘The independent Afghan or Pathan tribes’, Imperial and Asiatic Quarterly Review, 7 (Apr. 1894), pp. 321–6, at p. 325.

31 H. W. Bellew, M.D., C.S.I., surgeon – General Bengal Army’, British Medical Journal, 2 (13 Aug. 1892), p. 392.

32 H. W. Bellew, Afghanistan and the Afghans (London, 1879), p. 53.

33 Ibid., p. 98.

34 Rawlinson, Henry, ‘The Afghan crisis’, Nineteenth Century, 4 (1878), pp. 969–89, at p. 970.

35 H. W. Bellew, Races of Afghanistan (Calcutta, 1880), p. 46.

36 Alex Padamsee, Representations of Indian Muslims in British colonial discourse (New York, NY, 2005), p. 63.

37 Ranajit Guha, Elementary aspects of peasant insurgency in colonial India (Delhi, 1983), p. 107.

38 Mountstuart Elphinstone, An account of the kingdom of Caubul and its dependencies (London, 1815), p. 211.

39 B. D. Hopkins, The making of modern Afghanistan (New York, NY, 2008), p. 14.

40 H. W. Bellew, Journal of a political mission to Afghanistan in 1857 (London, 1862), p. 28.

41 Sarah F. D. Ansari, Sufi saints and state power: the pirs of Sind, 1843–1947 (Cambridge, 1992), passim.

42 H. W. Bellew, A general report on the Yusufzais (repr., Lahore, 1977), p. 101.

43 Ibid., p. 161.

44 Ibid., p. 187.

45 Ibid., p. 151.

46 Bellew, Races of Afghanistan, p. 82.

47 Afghanistan and the Afghans’, Calcutta Review, 68 (1879), pp. 167–91, at p. 167.

48 H. W. Bellew, A new Afghan question (i.e. are the Afghans Israelites?); being the text of two lectures delivered at the United Service Institution of India (Simla, 1881), p. 24.

49 Bellew, A general report on the Yusufzais, p. 205.

50 H. W. Bellew, From the Indus to the Tigris (repr., Karachi, 1977), p. 4.

51 General H. B. Lumsden, ‘Remarks on Sir H. Rawlinson's memorandum on Central Asia’, in Correspondence respecting the relations between the British government and that of Afghanistan since the accession of Shere Ali Khan (C 2190) (London, 1878), p. 47.

52 Afghanistan and the Afghans’, Calcutta Review, 68 (1879), p. 175.

53 From the Indus to the Tigris’, Athenaeum, 2145 (7 Feb. 1874), p. 186.

54 Bellew, From the Indus to the Tigris, p. 148.

55 H. W. Bellew, An inquiry into the ethnography of Afghanistan (repr., Karachi, 1977).

56 Stocking, George W. Jr, ‘What's in a name? The origins of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1837–1871)’, MAN, 6 (1971), pp. 369–90, at p. 386.

57 Theodore Koditschek, Liberalism, imperialism, and the historical imagination (Cambridge, 2010), p. 210.

58 Karuna Mantena, Alibis of empire: Henry Maine and the ends of liberal imperialism (Princeton, NJ, 2010), p. 160.

59 Dirks, Castes of mind, 194.

60 Richard C. Temple, ‘The administrative value of anthropology’, in Anthropology as a practical science (London, 1914), p. 18.

61 William Crooke, ‘Scientific ethnography in northern India’, in E. Delmar Morgan, ed., Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists (2 vols., London, 1893), ii, p. 882.

62 Thomas R. Trautmann, Aryans and British India (New Delhi, 2004), p. 18.

63 Ballantyne, Orientalism and race, p. 53.

64 Richard M. Dorson, The British folklorists: a history (London, 1968), p. 332.

65 E. B. Tylor, Primitive culture (2 vols., London, 1871), i, p. 64.

66 S. S. Thorburn, Bannu, or our Afghan frontier (London, 1876), p. 235.

67 George Laurence Gomme, ed., The handbook of folklore (London, 1890), p. 3.

68 Stuart-Glennie, J. S., ‘Folk-lore as the complement of culture-lore in the study of history’, Folk-Lore Journal, 4 (1886), pp. 213–21, at p. 216.

69 Gomme, G. Laurence, ‘The science of folk-lore’, Folk-Lore Journal, 3 (1885), pp. 116, at p. 16.

70 Long, J., ‘Oriental proverbs in their relation to folklore, history, sociology: with suggestions for their collection, interpretation, publication’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 7 (Apr. 1875), pp. 339–52, at p. 341.

71 Gomme, ed., The handbook of folklore, p. 12.

72 Naithani, Sadhana, ‘The colonizer-folklorist’, Journal of Folklore Research, 34 (1997), pp. 114, at p. 10.

73 Raheja, ‘The illusion of consent’, p. 120.

74 Mantena, Alibis of empire, p. 84.

75 Patrick Wolfe, Settler colonialism and the transformation of anthropology: the politics and poetics of an ethnographic event (London, 1999), p. 150.

76 The International Folk-Lore Congress, 1891’, Folklore, 2 (Sept. 1891), pp. 373–80, at p. 374.

77 Clive Dewey, ‘The influence of Sir Henry Maine on agrarian policy in India’, in Alan Diamond, ed., The Victorian achievement of Sir Henry Maine (Cambridge, 1991), p. 375.

78 ‘Septimus Smet Thorburn’, in C. Hayavadana Rao, ed., The Indian biographical dictionary (Madras, 1915), p. 435.

79 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 141.

80 Ibid., p. 164.

81 Ibid., p. 297.

82 Ibid., p. 323.

83 Ibid., p. 36.

84 Ibid., p. 279.

85 S. S. Thorburn, The Punjab in peace and war (Edinburgh and London, 1904), p. 339. Thorburn was compelled to issue an apology for this comment, as it was construed as an ‘attack on the government’.

86 S. S. Thorburn, Asiatic neighbours (Edinburgh and London, 1894), p. 170.

87 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 233.

88 Ibid., p. 234.

89 Afghan proverbs and Afghan riddles’, Leisure Hour, 1486 (19 June 1880), p. 399.

90 Long, ‘Oriental proverbs in their relation to folklore’, p. vi.

91 J. Long, Eastern proverbs and emblems (Edinburgh, 1881), p. 6.

92 Thorburn, The Punjab in peace and war, p. 166.

93 Ibid., p. 245.

94 Thorburn, Asiatic neighbours, p. 19.

95 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 50.

96 Malcolm Darling, The Punjab peasant in prosperity and debt (Oxford, 1928), p. 1.

97 Wheeler, Stephen, ‘Asiatic neighbours’, Academy, 46 (15 Dec. 1894), p. 506.

98 Dames served mostly in the trans-Indus Dera Ghazi Khan district of the Punjab.

99 Darmesteter, James, ‘Afghan life in Afghan songs’, in The Contemporary Review, 52 (London, 1887), p. 453.

100 Ibid., p. 454.

101 Ibid., p. 476.

102 Afghan life in Afghan songs’, Science, 10 (21 Oct. 1887), pp. 195–6, at p. 195.

103 M. Longworth Dames, Popular poetry of the Baloches (London, 1907), p. xxxix.

104 Ibid., p. xxix.

105 Thorburn, Bannu, p. 173.

106 Dames, Popular poetry, p. 54.

107 M. Longworth Dames, The Baloch race (London, 1904), p. 31.

108 Dames, Popular poetry, p. 100.

109 Ibid., p. 194.

110 Ibid., p. xxix.

111 Farina Mir, The social space of language (Berkeley, CA, 2010), p. 103.

112 Trautmann, Aryans and British India, p. 228.

113 Rama Mantena, The origins of modern historiography in India: antiquarianism and philology, 1780–1880 (New York, NY, 2012), p. 125.

114 Wolfe, Settler colonialism, p. 158.

* I would like to thank Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Deborah Cohen, and the participants of the Newberry Seminar in British History for their constructive feedback. Additional thanks are due to Kyle Gardner and Gautham Reddy for their input on earlier drafts, as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.


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