Fragmented Memories

Struggling to be Tai-Ahom in India

Fragmented Memories

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 1 b&w photo, 3 maps Published: November 2004

Author: Yasmin Saikia

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, History > Asian History

Fragmented Memories is a beautifully rendered exploration of how, during the 1990s, socially and economically marginalized people in the northeastern Indian state of Assam sought to produce a past on which to base a distinctive contemporary identity recognized within late-twentieth-century India. Yasmin Saikia describes how groups of Assamese identified themselves as Tai-Ahom—a people with a glorious past stretching back to the invasion of what is now Assam by Ahom warriors in the thirteenth century. In her account of the 1990s Tai-Ahom identity movement, Saikia considers the problem of competing identities in India, the significance of place and culture, and the outcome of the memory-building project of the Tai-Ahom.

Assamese herself, Saikia lived in several different Tai-Ahom villages between 1994 and 1996. She spoke with political activists, intellectuals, militant leaders, shamans, and students and observed and participated in Tai-Ahom religious, social, and political events. She read Tai-Ahom sacred texts and did archival research—looking at colonial documents and government reports—in Calcutta, New Delhi, and London. In Fragmented Memories, Saikia reveals the different narratives relating to the Tai-Ahom as told by the postcolonial Indian government, British colonists, and various texts reaching back to the thirteenth century. She shows how Tai-Ahom identity is practiced in Assam and also in Thailand. Revealing how the “dead” history of Tai-Ahom has been transformed into living memory to demand rights of citizenship, Fragmented Memories is a landmark history told from the periphery of the Indian nation.


Fragmented Memories is valuable reading, not only for South Asianists or postcolonial historians but also for anthropologists working on ethnicity, politics, and history.” — Ravina Aggarwal , American Anthropologist

“Her impressive array of methodologies and diversity of sources in several languages makes Saikia’s Fragmented Memories an absorbing evocation and analysis of the Tai-Ahom movement.” — Michael H. Fisher , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"[I]mportant reading for those interested in the processes of creating both national and more local identities. Recommended." — D.L. White , Choice

"I find [Saikia's] argument fascinating, bold, timely, and on the whole, quite persuasive. The book is a refreshing departure from the conventional division of labor between historians and political scientists that study South Asia." — Sanjib Baruah , American Historical Review

“Yasmin Saikia opens a new door to margins of national power, memory, and history, where most people live today. Her fresh voice and engaging prose weave together high theory, political engagement, textual expertise, ethnographic detail, personal experience, and a sweeping command of history in South Asia from medieval times to the present, with critical wisdom and graceful poignancy. Her history is more than history. It is an erudite evocation of the multiple pasts of Tai-Ahom people struggling to invent themselves in contemporary Assam, modern India, and a world of national minorities.” — David Ludden, author of The New Cambridge History of India: An Agrarian History of South Asia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yasmin Saikia is Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of In the Meadows of Gold: Telling Tales of the Swargadeos at the Crossroads of Assam.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction Locating Tai-Ahom in Assam: The Place and People 1

Part One

Historical and Comparative Perspectives on Identity: Indian, Assamese and Tai-Ahom

1. Identification in India 37

2. Colonial Origins of Ahom 77

3. The Memory of the Local: The Stories the Buranjis Tell 113

Part Two

Tai-Ahom: A Language and Culture of Emotion

4. Rationalizing a History 147

5. Performance and Politics of Tai-Ahom 177

6. There Was No Plot in the People’s Struggle 225

Conclusion The Past and Present: Connecting Memory, History and Identity 251

Epilogue 267

Notes 269

References 301

Index 319
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Winner, Srikant Dutt Memorial Award, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3373-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3425-5
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