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Book Reviews

Vol. 3 No. 1 (2023)

Review of Reworking Culture: Relatedness, Rites, and Resources in Garo Hills, North-East India by Erik de Maaker

  • Anna Notsu

    Leiden University
May 30, 2023


The book under review, Reworking Culture, is based on the author's ethnographic yet personal engagement with people in and around the village of Sadolpara in the West Garo Hills in highland Northeast India (HNEI), where he conducted more than 20 years of fieldwork. It cunningly deals with the broader anthropological question of what ties people to the place they live in, in an attempt to critically explore the concept of ‘cultural identity’ from emic perspectives. To de Maaker, the idea of community, much like ‘culture’, becomes manifest in the sustained enactment of mutual relations that people continuously create, maintain and transform through everyday interactions and in response to material conditions and political and economic opportunities.

Centred around the concept of niam, an orally-passed-down set of social principles that uphold ways of behaving towards others, including plants, animals, spirits and deities, the book explores how Garos define themselves and how they find meaning in the established relationships. In so doing the author foregrounds emergent issues and concerns nonetheless shared across HENI vis-à-vis accelerating nature commodification and its ‘remote’ identity. The book brings to the fore pliable processes of community-making within an ‘indigenous’ village context in HNEI whilst highlighting much larger historical contingencies and future implications, relevant to those interested in the intersection of religion and livelihood across and beyond HNEI.