A GODDESS IN THE STONES: Travels in India by Norman Lewis


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An intriguing if cursory chronicle of a visit among the caste-flee tribes of central India--some of whom still hunt with bows and arrows and sacrifice animals to their earth goddess--by the well-traveled British author of numerous histories (The Missionaries, 1988, etc.) and novels (Within the Labyrinth, 1986, etc.). Lewis's fascination with primitive cultures threatened by ""progress"" began while he was reporting on native civilizations in Indochina and Burma. Here, his interest leads him to India's ancient tribal colonies, whose integrity has been preserved since before the Aryan invasion and whose population now equals seven percent of the nation's total. Returning to India with a certain wariness (his first visit, in 1950, left him with highly unpleasant memories), Lewis drifts through parts of the violence-torn country that few tourists ever see--from shabby Bihar in northwestern India, where recent caste wars have dominated the news, through poverty-ridden Calcutta, to the mountains of Orissa, home of the largest tribal population in the world. Led by a young, romantic Brahmin guide, Lewis infiltrates mountain communities whose ancestry may be traceable to the Aborigines of Australia or to prehistoric Asia. Dispensing candies to polite villagers, he contrasts the preening, selfassured behavior of the tribal females, who are sold to their husbands and are therefore a valuable family asset, to the general invisibility of modern India's downtrodden Hindi women, who continue to suffer as child brides, victims of dowry murders, and, in some areas, from ritual suicide. But Lewis's eye for captivating eccentricity--Koya men's preference for older, dominant wives; Bonda women's traditional nakedness, except for elaborate jewelry, and the men's casual willingness to murder whoever crosses them; and the Kondhs' belief in encouraging promiscuity among their adolescents--makes the brevity of his observations all the more frustrating. An absorbing introduction. One wishes for more.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1992
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Henry Holt