ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Transferences of the non-human: manifestations, mobilities and spatialities


de Maaker Erik - Leiden University, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden, Netherlands


16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


 In this paper I explore manifestations of the non-human, focussing on entities such as deities, spirits and animals. I will analyse these manifestations through an ethnographic lens, proceeding from their being acknowledged, encouraged or denied by residents of the Garo Hills of the Indian state of Meghalaya. Considering where and how such entities reveal themselves, and influence the lives of the people they encounter, I show that they frequently reach across ethnic as well as territorial boundaries. Non-human entities are typically highly mobile and adaptive, and in their transference able to challenge the kind of rigid and exclusivist models of ethnicity that more and more have come to dominate political debates in the region. At the same time, with the politisation of ethnicity, of which religion is an important component, the fluidity and openness that has earlier existed is increasingly coming under scrutiny of political actors, at times resulting in attempts to deny or even hinder the ontological fluidity that historically is likely to have been integral to the region. Moreover, a growing mobility of people moving into and across the hills, contributes to this latter form of religious territorialisation. The paper will focus on a variety of manifestations of the non-human, such as zoanthropic tigers, possessive spirits, as well the divine as included in religious practices of institutionalised religions such as Hinduism and Christianity.