Writing a history of the region of Northeast India is fraught with difficulties – difficulties presented not only by a lack of sources, but also differences of scale – of time, of geography, and culture within the region. The abrupt ruptures caused by political boundaries does not help either. Considering the region as an ecological zone having its own distinctive habitat may, I suggest, facilitate as well as provide pointers for the writing of the history of the region. The ecological zone of which the region is a part gives the region its coherence and unity, and studying the entanglements between humans and non-humans that are specific to the region are an interesting way to show how these interactions have formed the people of the region. Close, long-lasting relationships with animals characterise most groups in the region not only in practical, instrumental terms but also in symbolic and emotional terms. The paper will explore the ways in which the lifeworlds of the people of the region are bound together by these relations. Secondly, an understanding of human-more than human interactions enable us to see the spatial dimensions or the creation of specific cultural geographies. Going beyond the binaries of forest people v/s settled agriculturists, slash and burn v/s settled agriculture, primitive v/s civilized the paper will explore how the interplay of micro-organisms, animals and plants created spatial patterns that changed over time with human and nonhuman mobilities.
Joy LK Pachuau is Professor of History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. More recently she has been working on the history of Northeast India with a focus in the history of identity formations. She is also interested in the visual history of the region. Dr. Pachuau’s publications include Being Mizo: Identity and Belonging in Northeast India, (OUP, 2014), The Camera as Witness: A Social History of Mizoram, Northeast India (with Willem van Schendel, CUP, 2015), Christianity in Indian History: Issues of Culture, Power and Knowledge (eds with P. Malekandathil and Tanika Sarkar, Primus 2016) and Landscape, Culture and Belonging: Writing the History of Northeast India, New Delhi (edited with Neeladri Bhattacharya: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Her most recent book, Entangled Lives: Human-Animal-Plant Histories of the Eastern Himalayan Triangle, co-written with Willem van Schendel, was published in 2022 from Cambridge University Press.