Review published on June 20, 2017.
When people visit India, a country with over 1 billion people, their senses are assaulted by the mass of humanity, smells, colours and sights in a country that is full of life. The religions and spiritually of the country adds to the cacophony of noise as they go about celebrating the living and the dead. People from the Adivasi tribes that made up seven percent of the population of India. These peoples and the places they lived were in constant danger of being swamped by the remainder of India. This is Lewis’ account of his visit in the 1990s to find these people and record the things that made them different and distinct.
Lewis’ journey to see these tribes takes him away from the regular tourist haunts. Heading far from the beaten track to Orissa and Bihar in the north-western part of India, he reaches there at a time of heightened tensions and violence from a caste war. Seeking a local guide Lewis starts to venture into the jungles in search of the tribes that he wants to discover before the modern world subsumes them. He meets the Muria people, who survive by eating crocodiles, monkeys and insects, a tribe who marry their teenage boys off to older women. There are the Mundas, who still hunt with bow and arrow, and who find laughter offensive, and a tribe that may be related to Australian Aborigines, and the Bonda who, wear jewellery passed down from relatives and precious little else.
His evocative writing style brings alive the assault on the senses that India is; you feel that you are there standing amongst the grime and swirl of people. The writing is detailed without being cumbersome and his ability to draw out the stories from the people of the tribes that he meets lifts this book from good to great. This is the first Norman Lewis book that I have read and it will not be the last.
Paul Cheney 4/3
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Eland Publishing Ltd 9781780601083 pbk Apr 2017
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