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Vol. 3 No. 1 (2023)

The Anecdote of Hutton’s Dream: Responses of a Sumi Naga Family to J. H. Hutton’s Cylinder Recordings

  • Christian Poske

    The Highland Institute
June 28, 2023


In this article, I examine the meaning of the oral accounts of a Sumi Naga family whose narrations I heard in the village Surumi in Nagaland, where I conducted fieldwork with the wax cylinder recordings of the British administrator-anthropologist John Henry Hutton (1885-1968) in February 2022. In response to a song recording featuring the voice of his Sumi Naga interpreter Vikhepu Ayemi (d. 1919), two of Vikhepu’s indirect descendants shared with me anecdotes on Hutton and their ancestor, including a dream they said that Hutton once had. Aligning Hutton’s notes and other British colonial sources providing information on Naga interpreters with these oral accounts, I discuss how British colonial conceptions and Sumi traditional notions of social and cultural hierarchy influenced the interactions of the two men and examine what significance their connection has for Vikhepu’s descendants today. I argue that Hutton’s representation of Vikhepu serves as a means for the family to underline their longstanding involvement in governmental matters and thereby reaffirm their high social status and leadership role in the village of Surumi. Furthermore, the oral accounts seem to act as a mechanism for them to recollect differently and redraw the power relations that existed between Hutton and Vikhepu, as they reverse the notion of Vikhepu’s subordinateness and, more generally, Naga subservience that emerges from Hutton’s publications and other colonial sources. In a wider sense, my article thus throws light on the way how members of a Naga community process legacies of colonial domination and racial discrimination through the proposition of alternative oral histories that inform their collective remembering of past events.