The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XlX, No. 4 (March 1959). A N T H...
The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XlX, No. 4 (March 1959).
A N T H R O P O L O G Y A N D T R A D I T I O N A L C U L T U R E S *
D R . U . R . E H R E N F E L S
Professor Ehrenfels, who is the Head of the Department of Anthropology in the University
of Madras, makes out a good case in this paper for preserving traditional cultures which are faced
with rapid disintegration.
anthropologists in particular is the allegation
that we are trying to prevent "progress" and
Social and Cultural Anthropology is the spread of "civilization", to "backward
primarily concerned with Traditional Cul-
peoples" in order to have "primitive civiliza-
by describing or analysing their tions" available for study like museum pieces
structures, functions, origins and the diffu-
or guinea pigs in a laboratory. Without
sion of their constituent elements in the past; wishing to discuss the intelligence of those
by investigating into their changes who formulate and propagate this persist-
in the present (acculturation, enculturation, ently repeated allegation, it is a fact that
deculturation-processes). Traditional cultures it is being held in and out of time against
are now in danger of rapid disintegration every kind, school and type of anthropolo-
though they are believed to contain values, gical endeavour, and no doubt our efforts will
worth preserving, inspite of adverse trends. make no exception in this respect.
Traditional cultures being the prime subject
of Social Anthropology, one should naturally
Which are our replies?
expect t h a t one particular branch of anthro-
pological endeavour should concern itself
(b) In our country,
more than in many
with the task of assisting traditional values others where anthropologists work, such as the
in their "struggle for survival. I mean by that
U.S.A., the U.S.S.R. and Australia, three
branch, Applied Anthropology.
major concepts merge into o n e : the Tradi-
tional Culture of India, Tribal Cultures in
T h e platform of this seminar offers the India and the pattern of a new Indian society
opportunity to discuss the guidance of all which is hoped to have a definitely Indian
these efforts which fall under the heading accent, and may form a new approach to the
Applied Anthropology in so far as these are problems of mechanization, overpopulation,
related to Traditional Cultures.
urbanization with which we are faced, m u c h
as the rest of this planet.
O n e or two general observations may in
this connection be pointed out as being of
Which are our possible contributions?
common concern to all anthropologists or
In part reply to the second ('b') of these
"borderline anthropologists from neighbour-
two questions, one aspect of research and of
ing disciplines" (Psychology, H u m a n Geogra-
action is here indicated for seminary discussion
phy, etc.) who feel interested in this task.
which appears peculiarly characteristic of
both: the background of Indian traditional
culture in contact with "primitive" civiliza-
(a) T h e commonest whip, used against tions, and
for the specifically anthropological
anthropologists in general and applied approach.
*This paper was read at the Seminary on February 17, 1959 organised for the U N E S C O Institute
of Traditional Cultures by its Directors, Professor K. A. Nilakanta Sastri and conducted by
Professor U. R. Ehrenfels as the leader.
3 2 4
D R . U . R . E H R E N F E L S
This is the role of diffusion through tribal cultures, t h a n of mediaeval and Euro-
example-setting. Indian culture generally and pean dominated-India;
the value systems of Indian religion, and
(c) Folk arts and their characteristic
religious systems in particular, have been styles (architecture, interior decoration,
diffused through the mechanism of example-
pottery, wall-painting, jewellery-designs,
setting, rather than by other means. Example-
dance, and m u s i c ) ; and
setting as a method is the strongest agency for
acculturation even now, as I have tried to
(d) Forms of dress, suitable to the Indian
tradition and climate.
Unless people and their leaders (charis-
Unless the foreign taboo
on at least partial
matic, political, economic or religious) nakedness of the body is removed from the
are prepared to practise and live
culture Indian scene, a balanced style of dress,
ideals and the aims of their theory—in the suitable alike for workers in open air and
way Gandhiji and recently also Vinoba Bhave closed rooms, can not be evolved. Without
do,—there is little hope of translating them this, the u n h a p p y dichotomy between official
into the daily routine of life; there is little European cold country forms of "dress and
hope for achieving practical results.
indigenous truly Indian (not Moghul,
Persian, Seythian or Chinese) styles of beha-
viour is bound to continue. This dichotomy
A few cardinal themes for discussion in this sets different, even incompatible standards for
respect are proposed under the following behaviour in urban, as contrasted to rural
areas, and in office or public road, as con-
(a) Family planning (a recognised feature trasted to the home. Such double standards of
in various traditional tribal civilizations);
behavioural patterns tend to create split
(b) Co-operation of both sexes in educa-
personalities a n d are not conducive to
tion, work, recreation and art, a more the development of genuine civilization, let
characteristic feature of ancient Indian, and alone the renaissance of Traditional Cultures.