//Learning Little Traditions

Learning Little Traditions

This book is the outcome of the author’s strenuous research conducted on ethnophilosophy of Arunthathiyars. Ethnophilosophy consists of shared beliefs, values and traditional wisdom of an ethnic group.  Arunthathiyars also called Chakkiliyars are mostly scavengers and cobblers, the ‘dalits of the dalits’ in Tamil Nadu. Their counterparts in the other parts of India may be Madhigas, Mangs, Bhangis, Chamars, Mochis and others.

The first part of the book deals with the ethnographic data of Arunthathiyars.  The third and fourth chapters especially present the ethnography based on works already done by Indians and Foreigners (p.350) and on the author’s own field work in five districts of Tamil Nadu.  The second part deals with ethnophilosophy which is culled out from their mythical, religious, ritual, historical, professional and identity consciousness. This is the study of their ‘collective consciousness’.  Hence it is a research on “folk” philosophy, philosophy of ‘little tradition’ and philosophy of the ‘periphery’ or ‘margin’.

The author shows successfully that the cult and worships turn out to be the “weapons of the weak” (p.350).  It also talks of “boundary situation” and how boundaries are crossed (p.353).  In this book the false history of Arunthathiyars is deconstructed. The author proves conclusively that they fought against the colonial powers, a fact largely ignored by the historians of the freedom struggle (p.355). The author also argues that in the past, Arunthathiyars were leather artisans who enjoyed high social status (p.352).  They were the “subaltern scientists” since their technological knowledge and craftsmanship were “outstanding and excellent” (p.356). The book succeeds in a new kind of “identity construction” for the Arunthathiyars.

On the whole, we can say that this critical book is a significant step towards the study of subaltern philosophy. It is highly recommended for students and scholars of philosophy, theology, history, sociology, anthropology, ethnography and folklore. 

  • Kuruvilla Pandikattu, SJ

  • Title: Basil’s Ethnophilosophising in India: A Study on Arunthathiyars (Series I)
  • Author: Xavier, S. Basil
  • Publisher: Authors Press, New Delhi 
  • Pages: 376
  • Price: Rs 1400 | $ 70