Family is a social institution specific to our species. Since Morgan and then Engels, varieties of economic explanations have been presented in order to explain the circumstances under which this species-specific group originated. This article examines the biological cause as the prime mover, which subsequently combines with population management as well as subsistence economy to establish family as the cornerstone of human society.
Family occupies a central position in the understanding of human society. It has been studied now for more than hundred years, and yet, our understanding of various imperatives within which it developed is not totally understood. Engels published The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, in 1884; this probably represents one of the most enduring views on the origin of family.
Meillassoux sharpened this economic view further by a detailed analysis of the West African case. The question of the origin of family is seldom addressed today without bringing in the economic argument. Kathleen Gough probably is one of the new social anthropologists who marginally uses some biological imperatives arising during the course of human evolution and combines them with economic factors to explain the origin of family.
Apparently the lack of sustained enquiry into the origin of any institution lies in the fact that such enquiries essentially remain speculative and are basically not demonstrable empirically. Researches in bio-cultural evolution have not impressed the experts of social formation and were relegated as nothing more than socio-biology. I propose to resurrect the bio-cultural imperatives to understand the birth of family and the rise of cognate social institutions like kinship and marriage.
The evidences we have today are not any more demonstrative than before, yet we have some circumstantial evidences from fresh archaeological discoveries which have certain compelling possibilities not considered earlier. These finds along with the studies of Irvin De Vore and Richard Lee on the hunter-gatherers of South-West Africa help us to understand the factors which might have given rise to institutions such as family, marriage and kinship.
The “nut cracker” model proposes that during hominid evolution sometime from Miocene to Pliocene, terrestrial adaptation was forced on an otherwise brachiating group of primates.
Among other things, this caused a reduction of the canine and the masticatory apparatus. It is argued that the nuts, edible roots and tubers available in the ground had hard shells. These required a grinding function of the jaws which was possible only when the jaw, teeth and masticatory muscles were re-adapted to sideways movement.
The projecting canines were obstructing this changed working and had to be reduced to the level of other teeth in the dental row. A gap in this row is to accommodate the earlier projecting canines. This gap, usually referred to as diastema in evolutionary biology, was no longer needed and hence was closed up.
The heavy jaw was slowly reduced and the muscles attached with it and the temporal region of the skull started pulling the jaw as also the skull on the lateral directions. The jaw became parabolic in shape from the previous angular V-form. The muscular attachment of the neck muscles had also to re-orient with this fresh adaptation.
This combined effect of the reduction of the jaw on the one hand and emphasis of lateral motion of the jaw, on the other, created a pull of the parietal and the occipital bones. No wonder the fossil evidences clearly show that while the maximum breadth of the skull in the lower primates is at the level of the ears, the same in the early hominids shifts to almost one to two inches above the ears.
This shift is seen only on such hominid fossils which already show the reduction of the canines and also the diastema. Since these are all attested evidences and cannot be discarded as mere speculation, one can see how the brain box gains more accommodative power in the process of hominisation.
The ratio of the mass of the cranial box to the facial skeleton also acts as another dimension of evidences towards the above logic. The ratio of the brain-box to facial bones is almost 1:4 in a gorilla while in a modern man the brain box is four times the size of the face, that is, the ratio was just reversed to 4:1.
Consequently we can form an eight point graduation scale for duration of almost 10-15 million years. These architectural changes were not in isolation and are matched by an equal degree or perhaps more revolutionary changes in the entire skeleton. Of these, the changes in the hands, feet, pelvic bone and the spinal cord or the back bone are the most significant.
The hard evidences of evolution provide numerous and repeated examples of these changes. Fleshing these skeletons might sound slightly reductionist and mono- causal but surely not entirely speculative. Terrestrial adaptation, as such, has to be taken as the prime mover.
The constant increase of the brain box, using the same logic, would appear to have a high level of selective advantage. Otherwise a brain capacity of 600cc. would not have changed to 1200 to 1400cc. within a span of only 4 million years (i.e. from about the time of earliest Australopithecines).
The same logic will apply to the change of locomotion. We know that the lower primates – especially the chimpanzee and gorilla – do take to part-time bipedalism, but changing to full-time bipedal gait must have been very awkward because it left the fore-limbs free and dangling.
Further, this gait rendered man as the most unstable of all animals living on the ground. Actually the centre of gravity of man lies within a small space of one square foot of ground. No wonder, even a small hit anywhere on his vertical body makes him fall flat on the ground.
Yet, despite these apparent disadvantages, evolutionary forces brought about hundreds of minor and major architectural changes only to make man “stand on his own legs.” Quite simply, we can see that having the hands freed for offence and defence in the absence of those forbidding canines had an equally selective advantage.
Consequently, we will proceed with the assumption that bipedal walking and having a huge brain-box were both under selective advantage. The release of the hands and its progressive specialisation for multiple functions combined with an enormous change in the capacity of the brain. This resulted in revolutionary changes in human ability.
The changes in the various centres of the brain have been studied reasonably well from endocranial casts of fossils. The over-simplistic reptilian form of neural arrangements seems to have developed into the extremely complex neo-cortical areas in our fossil ancestors. These have demonstrated how the areas of association and recording of experiences steadily develops into a stage where the knowledge of the actual can lead to the thought of the possible.
Probably this quality and performance potentiality of the brain had played a cardinal role in giving birth to culture which is unique to our species. It should, however, imply that developing power to observe all natural happenings and record them as a repository of knowledge is a prerequisite to one’s ability to harness it for survival.
That is, if one knows from his observation that a sharp stone cuts the skin and he has the ability to store this experience, the hands which have also been freed, can take up the role of handling similar stones to cut flesh and skin of the animal he desires to kill. It has been argued that unlike all other animals, man alone has developed the ability to survive with the help of a medium which is not within his biological endowment.
Since this ability is a learned behavior and also since it need not be only a simple fact of using a stone instead of teeth or shall we say, using a stone as also teeth, such abilities cannot be packed into genetic material. Naturally all these behaviours have to be taught to a human child by the parental group. Language (or an array of symbolic sound systems) had to be developed by man for this.
Thus, while a bull does not have to be taught how to use its horn and a cat does not have to be taught how to mew, man had to be taught how to use verbal communication and also through this ability a wide range of survival strategies. The early hominid brain was probably all ready to help and the Broca’s center was formed to facilitate this.
We need not overemphasise, therefore, that the changes in the skeletal architecture was a demonstrable fact that preceded the birth of culture. Even the requisite manner of changes in the skeleton would not probably have occurred if our early ancestors had not had to adapt to terrestrial living. Once we accept this sequence for explaining the birth of culture, numerous other specific features of man become easy to explain. But we shall come to that later. Let us complete the argument of the skeletal architecture first.
With the full-time adaptation, erect posture and also bipedal gait, the hip bone had to undergo a complete reorientation. As a consequence the birth canal below the symphiseal region became much narrower than before. This contradicted the heavy selective advantage of a larger brain.
The choice was not either-or, because both bipedalism and larger head were important for survival. Naturally a human child had to be delivered before even 20 percent of its brain developed. Naturally a human baby, for all practical purposes, had to remain totally helpless and dependent for a much longer period.
This extended duration of mother-child dependency allows more time for learning basic emotions and their symbolic vocalisation. Many experts believe that delayed maturation was one of nature’s methods to allow adequate time for learning because much of human survival had to depend on learned behaviour.
Probably at this stage the velocity of maturation had to be established also in the genetic base. The extreme importance of this mother-child association for the survival of the species can also be demonstrated by the fact that bio-chemically it is also controlled that the mother does not ovulate and hence another child is not born until the first is reasonably grown up.
Contemporary hunter-gatherers have long been studied by anthropologists to understand how spacing is achieved. Earlier it was thought that infanticide, abortion or culturally imposed abstention were the usual methods for maintaining a desired population density. Williams studied the Ikung Bushman of Kalahari Desert and observed that apparently there is no regular inducement to eliminate conception in this population.
Infanticide is recorded only in case of abnormal births. Yet the lkung women complain that God is stingy with children, as far as they are concerned, and they will like to have more children (on an average only five births per woman have been recorded). Prolonged breast-feeding can, at the most, prevent ovulation for a year and a half.
This is much less than the spacing observed for the lkung children. Independent physiological studies had earlier demonstrated that ovulation in woman depends on acquiring a specific fat level. It is argued that foraging, carrying the child, breast-feeding and probably also scarcity of adequate nutrients does not allow these women to reach the critical fat level in the blood flow for as much as three to four years after a child birth.
It is only when the body is on its own and requires no specific looking after of a baby that the women begin to get adequate fat level, and ovulation is released once again. This provides a classic example of physiological adaptation to cultural demands. It naturally lengthens the duration of mother- child association and directly provides a longer period of learning all the tricks of survival.
The progressive specialisation of the brain must have at some stage in the path of hominisation brought about another significant change. Man was released from the bondage of rut and emerged as a year round fertile animal. No matter how simple it sounds the neurological changes were by no means simple.
This is more so because it was replaced by a very complex series of psycho-somatic factors. A female could not enter into the act of intercourse until these nerve centers are stimulated. Mating with different males in a clinical fashion, as a consequence of this, was not easy.
When a female knows a specific male she is more predisposed towards him and a male-female bond is likely to be formed. Pfeiffer calls this “Prehistory of love”. It would not be difficult, as such, to visualise a new male bond with an already formed mother-child unit. This also helps in procuring resources for the mother-child group during the post-natal period of nurturing.
Probably sexuality, love and attachment as also the act of intercourse is freely used (now that the female does not have to wait for getting into rut for this) by the female to keep the male bond tied down. Both loyalty and altruism further cement such bonding, but these might have arisen at a later point of time. We have traversed through a closely controlled chain of biological logic in a sequential manner.
Yet when we observe the end product we find a family-like group with strong economic imperative. Most of the biological changes discussed above can be demonstrated while there are some changes for which we lack evidences. I want to emphasise that the non-demonstrable changes argued here are also not imaginary and are extrapolated from the ethnographic data on contemporary hunter-gatherers.
The birth of family-like economic group which also takes up the role of socialisation of the in-group members can now be attributed to man from as early as lower Palaeolithic stage if we go by the foregoing evidences. Yet the maturing of this into a proper family is hard to demonstrate. It is more so because of the lack of a universal family type in contemporary human society.
Such a bonding can be multiple or transient or the different source providing the mating partners are some of the factors which can result into a multiple variety of family types. In other words, how the issue of a mating partner as well as food is procured becomes cardinal to deciding the typology of family. It may not be entirely out of context here to quote the view of Linton regarding the variegated form of family.
“Simple family organization of this sort could serve as a starting point for the development of all later familial forms, but it seems highly improbable that there was any regular order for the emergence of these forms. In other words, there has been not a single universal evolution of the family but a series of local evolutions moving by different paths to different ends.”
The economic imperatives are rather simplistic and appear as mono-causal arguments in Engels’ analysis of Morgan. Recent researches, specially directed towards enquiries regarding subsistence among the hunter-gatherers, have amply demonstrated this relationship.
Firstly, the resource extractive capacity of a population is directly related to the population size, ecological potential and technology known and used by this community. Naturally a population seeking adaptation in tundra region may not show the same or similar social mores as the one adapted to rain forest or tropical region.
Division of labour, language and the manner of maintaining fire are believed to be three important characteristics of early man which brought about a series of important changes in human behaviour. The new archaeologists argue that the first change in early ancestral human group was to introduce what one would like to call home-based economy.
This involved covering circular area by a band and coming back every night to the home base. It is only when the entire area is exhausted that the home base is shifted to another suitable spot near some water source and foraging begins again in a circular manner.
The constraints of menstruating females, pregnant and young, weaning mothers and, to top it all, the need of keeping fire constantly fed and alive might have been compelling forces which must have called for this change. The choice of home- based economy was unique to man when compared with all other foraging animals.
Home-base foraging provides time for interaction and internal ordering. The ordering is not only to remove conflict but also helps to form a cooperative economic unit by laying down certain normative pattern of division of labour. Mating partners probably were not regulated except that group identity was avidly protected and mating restricted within the group.
This is probably comparable to what Linton meant by the term Conjugal Family. This is more so because such home-base can never maintain an inordinate number of members and have to be conceived of as a fragment of a band. The unit forms probably one of the earliest forms of the Domestic Mode of Production (DMP).
In Sahlins’ language, “a preliminary understanding is that the three elements of the DMP so far identified—small labour force differentiated essentially by sex, simple technology and finite production objectives are systematically interrelated.” Population increase can always cause a series of fissions and give rise to newer conjugal families in course of time. How such band fragments choose their members and how they relate themselves to other such fragments cannot be demonstrated on the basis of any empirical finds.
However, the discovery of Terra Amata at Nice on th French Riviera, in this regard is very significant (1966). Here a cluster of more than ten hut-remains of nearly 3,00,000 years age have been excavated. These measure 20 feet to 50 feet in length and 12 feet to 18 feet in breadth and is estimated to have accommodated about 20 persons. Each of these huts has fire hearths in the central region.
One can see that the construction of the huts is not transient because post-holes to erect posts are also found in each of these huts. Flat stones seem to have been specially transported to these huts and kept near the hearths. One cannot explain so much of activity for an early homo-erectus group unless one can imagine each hut representing a domestic group and hence comparable to a conjugal family.
The only weakness of this argument would appear to be that archaeologically we have no way to prove whether all these huts were simultaneously occupied or is it one single group which had visited the site repeatedly and built a new hut with so much labour input every time. Either way we cannot deny that a firmly defined group existed from the earliest period of human cultural history.
If fission is a demographic eventuality and if co-operative hunting has higher energy cost efficiency, it will not be entirely illogical to assume the Terra Amata evidence demonstrating a cluster of conjugal families.
Another exciting archaeological evidence known from Spain provides some important clues to the working of these domestic production units or conjugal units. This also is about 3,00,000 year old and is called Torralba- Ambrona. It is situated on the narrow gorges of the Sierra ranges in central Spain.
Here hundreds of elephants have been butchered, apparently by chasing them off the cliffs during their seasonal migrations. No single group can consume such an enormous amount of flesh. Within hours of their being killed predators, scavenging birds, quadrupeds and insects close on the kill. Naturally these tons of flesh must have been taken away really fast.
The only logical explanation for this can be that a larger group or more precisely a number of conjugal families must have on suitable situation undertaken cooperative hunting. This enabled reciprocity and gift exchange to be established as the working formula for inter- group relationship.
In order to understand how these groups could establish relationship within as also between groups, we might for a while try to understand the working of such groups. It has been argued that these earliest forms of families very soon formed another form where mating relations were restricted within every generation and this has been called consanguineous family. We shall argue that such a stage would seem very unlikely on closer examination.
Let us examine the anxieties that a conjugal family is likely to experience:
a. To maintain enough able bodied males in a group to keep the economy viable.
b. Keeping sexual jealousy within the group under control.
c. Finding mates for these males who can otherwise be lured into another group with the power of their females. This can cause enormous depletion of economic power of the group.
Biologically females become sexually matured at 13 years while a male is not strong enough to hunt until about another five years. Thus, in order to prevent a male below 18 years entering into any reproductive role, a strict series of initiation rites are introduced by the community.
Average longevity of man estimated for this period being only 27 years one has to outright discard the possibility of father- daughter or mother-son mating. Mating between sibs can also be discounted on the ground that sexually matured females in a group cannot wait for their male sibs to go through initiation when initiated males are available in the adjoining conjugal families.
Gathering of fruits and berries takes up a very important role among our early ancestors primarily because it provides a more secured supply than hunting can. Females with their feminine imperatives could easily fit into the role of an organised food gatherer and soon take up a role which etched out the sexual division of labour. Exchanging of females, therefore, had also an economic dimension.
Gough summarises the situation to show how the institution of marriage could have originated. “This is understandable, for neither men nor women can survive long without the work nor produce of the other sex and marriage is the way to obtain them. That is why so often young men must show proof of hunting prowess and girls of cooking, before they are allowed to marry.”
For Palaeolithic women cooking may not have played that important a role as the ability to identify edible nuts, roots and berries, knowledge of the areas where these are available and also the ability to gather them regularly. Marriage as an established institution may be difficult to prove for this period but one can surely entertain the possibility of enduring mating bonds from as early as Upper Palaeolithic culture (40,000 B.C.). Depending on the local imperatives these may take variegated forms like one male attached to more than one female or even the reverse.
Here it may be of interest to ask whether agriculture was adopted by those communities only which showed possibilities of forming these social institutions. After all, hours of work put in by hunting community per person does not vary substantially from the same in a cultivating community.
Yet this economy calls for a much more rigorous organisation and management of labour. The conjugal family cannot organise this kind of multiple work activity which includes such diverse works as forest clearance, sowing, harvesting, thrashing, storing and finally processing the seeds for consumption.
These can, in addition, also include making pottery and firing them for storage of cereals. In other words, agriculture is a labour- intensive economy and the success of this economy lies entirely on how labour can be borrowed with an undisputable promise of return of a share of the harvest.
It would appear logical that such a management must have been initially done by harnessing kinship ties. It is difficult to conceive of established kinship relationship unless we entertain a much more socially established and durable mating bond. Thus, marriage as an institution crystallises out and replaces mating.
It is so important to create these obligatory social ordering that no exception or relaxation may be permitted. This is mainly because so much of basic survival is at stake on the success of this economy. Therefore, control and internal order for the first time becomes more important than the basic technology or knowledge of seed reproduction.
Although a permanency of coupling may have arisen out of the imperatives of settled and productive economy no one could vouch for its continuance until some value loading on this permanency could be constructed. Chastity, virginity or the premium on virgin marriage, virgin rituals or cults including the ultimate in chastity of Sati system in India can be all viewed as the super structure to lend a strong value loading to coupling or marriage.
We have very little data on early peasants on this aspect but it will not be difficult to assume that pagan Europe and also early agricultural sites of middle east must have developed similar’ institutions subsequent to the adoption of full blooded settled economy.
Allowing conjugation within an ideological frame rendered family the status of an established cultural institution. Obviously casual sex and the consequences of such mating remained entirely outside this ideology. Some societies accepted this while others did not but this went to further strengthen the institution. Early slave cultures of Bronze Age Sumeria even incorporated these human failures within temple ideology in the same way as the Devadasi cult could develop in parts of Ancient India.
At this stage, therefore, we have to concede that biological imperatives may have set up the ground but it is the economy chosen during the Neolithic period that becomes the catalyst in the final establishment of family, marriage and kinship. Thus family emerged more as an institution which legitimises the entry of new members within a community, rather than to merely regularising mating behaviour.
Anthropology and Museum
The word museum evokes a picture which is not uniform everywhere. In the western world it might evoke the picture of a large space where exotic and peculiar objects from other parts of the world like a mummy from Egypt or a temple from Sumeria is displayed. To some it may act as the medium through which you learn about other cultures, as if with an ultimate aim to create cross-ethnic understanding.
In an indirect way it was also aimed to appreciate one’s own culture. To many other it may be just another impersonal space to meet each other and spend time. During the colonial period this museum culture travelled to India from the west and was first ushered in by the princely states. Subsequently the Government started elaborately developing the museum culture in larger capital cities.
Interestingly these museums would never display the French gillotin used during French revolution or the Irish or Scottish armery. Instead Cultural objects collected from Gumpas in the Himalayas or Mink pottery from China along with objects from other exotic regions of the east or south of the globe always were elaborately displayed in these museums.
Since most of these museums housed exotic objects they started being referred to as Jadu Ghar (House of Magic) or Ajaib Ghar (House of peculiarities) in this apart of the world. This would amply demonstrate that to a vast majority of Indians the concept of a museum remained outside the periphery of their cultural cognition.
If one allows himself to think beyond the perceptible reality one soon realizes that there is not much difference between museums and attempts of such writer as James G. Frazer in a wider plain and Flora Anae Steal along with numerous others like Richard Collier, Eduard Thomson and Lt. Col. Money.
Actually each of these scholars is the pioneer of recording oral traditions and folk-beliefs of the non-white world. In both these attempts, that is, attempts in museum building as well as folk belief chronicling one can easily see the Euro centric perspective chosen. As if this would enable the Occident to impress upon its people a re-affirmation of their civilization superiority.
After India achieved independence we were frantic about changing the perspective chosen in every colonial delineation. One of the classic examples of this is seen in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru deputing eminent historian Prof. Surendra Nath Sen to examine all the facts of the abortive attempts of Indian soldiers to throw out the British in 1857. The museum movement shifted its emphasis to classifying our ancient heritage as evidenced through early and medieval historical sculptures and icons.
It is around this time that some eminent anthropologists of our country conceived the idea of a “living museum” with total emphasis on our rich and variegated cultural traditions. The museum thus conceived was initially named Museum of Man (a term borrowed from the famous French museum named Muse’ del’ Home in Paris). The then Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi felt that the term ‘man’ was gender specific and hence to remedy this the museum was renamed as Manav Sangharalaya (exactly translated this term means museum of mankind).
It is very important to emphasize that this museum is vastly different in its underlying guiding principles from all other kinds of museums all over the world. Further, this is one museum, which requires active participation of anthropologists. It is not a repisotry of fossilized history but a window to the life ways of Indian communities and their specific cultural facets, which act as, the primary drive to the life ways one follows.
The exposition of the prehistoric cultures within this kind of a stance becomes a trifle problematic. This is mainly because you have no ways to deal with Stone Age and later archaeological periods in the manner of living traditions. I personally feel a museum should avoid displaying the various Stone Age antiquities in the manner of a vertically progressing stream.
Millions of museums, text books and school charts all over the world show how man from Lower Paleolithic period with Choppers, handaxe and cleavers evolved into Middle Palaeolithic with points and scrapers and then to Upper Palaeolithic with bone harpoons and eyed needles. This kind of a linear approach as suggested by Lubbock assumed that culture has to evolve in a prescribed manner all over the world in an identical pattern.
Post-colonial world has witnessed that this assumption is not correct because stone tools are found to be used in many parts of the world when other parts have not only graduated into metal age but also entered into the modern era of technology. The western Australian tribes, Tasmanians, Andamanese and even Chenchus are known to have been using stone implements till as late as thirties of the last century.
The Lubbockian approach will at once sweep such evidences under the carpet as exception to the rule. Euro-centric perspective will try to represent these stone using communities as prehistoric cultures surviving as vestiges of the past “Savage Cultures.” This kind of a mind-set is similar to what a group of trader and explorer from Britain did in the middle of Nineteenth century.
A Hottentot woman was captured by them, tied with ropes and displayed naked in various cities of England for tickets of few pence’s. The lady could not withstand the English weather to which she was being constantly exposed without clothes. She died within a year. But even in death she was not spared.
Her body was dissected and the skeleton retrieved. This skeleton even today hangs in one of the show cases in Muse del’home in Paris. … as if silently shouting to the world the approach of the western world to the communities who were not similar to them.
Museums today need to desist from this linear approach in their archaeological display. Instead we should try and reconstruct the adaptational imperatives within a given ecosystem, which result into the peculiarities of culture of the region. It is also important to demolish the view that every culture is destined to changes in a pre-determined speed and direction.
Infact the emphasis in the display should be that change in any culture operates only under stress. That is, if some community is practicing a ‘stone age’ culture when others have changed to metal age it is not because the former is “savage” but because there has been no stress impinging on its subsistence.
It is also important to dwell on the varieties of sectors, which can cause stress in one way or the other, on any given society. Singling out technology as the prime mover in this process may be over simplistic. Every community can have more than one choice in seeking adaptation and hence can create different imperatives in order to operationalize and institutionalize interpersonal behaviour to suit the chosen strategy.
Ecology, demography, social complexity and resource retrieval potentialities need to be played up at length to understand why certain communities took to agriculture in certain ecologies and why agriculture arrived late in other communities.
Even here the adoption of different form of agriculture and its effect on social structure is equally important to emphasize. For instance, in pastoral communities the subsistence base is elastic and self-multiplying and hence the inheritance laws are also entirely simplistic.
The organization of such a society also takes a different shape like devising what is known as segmentary lineage system. As against this in full-blown agriculture the resource base, viz. land cannot be divided add-infinitum as the generation’s progress. Hence in such societies a very rigorous inheritance law has to be constructed as the superstructure.
If archaeological display can put emphasis on these socioeconomic factors in becomes easy to appreciate why Harappa like urban civilization does not grow in an area where either Pastoralism was the main thrust like in South India or where slash- and -burn form of agriculture was adopted like in Chotanagpur or further east across Brahmaputra.
If our display of prehistoric culture is done in this manner one would be able to appreciate that our tribal culture is in better equilibrium and not one which could not keep up with the race of change and hence deserving the epithet of being “primitive”.
Prehistoric Archaeology in India has made tremendous success in terms of discovering a large number of very important sites. The excavations of these sites and the analysis of antiquities retrieved are also meticulously executed. Yet we have still not been able to identify the exact cultural status of any given region at any given time.
A macro level scheme like Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic are being constantly sought by us in micro level descriptions as well. This is grossly inadequate in trying to understand a country like India with such huge environmental diversity. India maintains almost as many as seven or eight distinct eco-zones and yet we attempt to understand our pre and proto history with broad macro level categories.
It is the responsibility of museums today to bring about a display of prehistory in a manner so as to emphasize the inner variabilities of various zones, which may have given rise to regional cultures of today. At this juncture I wish to further emphasize that it is only Institutions like modern Museums that can undertake the task to document, the folk traditions from all the cultural zones of India. These folk traditions are the only windows to the micro cultural zones and their characteristics.
God head, folk medicine, folk beliefs, folk practices of identifying under-ground water and even the mosaic of folk belief structures including practices of indigenous predictive system and many other fantastic wealth of Indian regional culture are crying out for proper documentation. This is a heritage we have badly neglected all these 60 years after our independence. I take this opportunity to appeal to all the eminent anthropologists of this country to initiate this mammoth work to record this richness of our national heritage.
That our intangible cultural heritage is fast disappearing is a common knowledge. Adopting western packet of education in the beginning and then taking to western technology to generate infrastructure in order to operationalize development programmes all through the ten Five Year Plans has progressively pushed indigenous knowledge to the periphery — often with an epithet of being unproductive and irrelevant.
To top it all forces of globalisation has engulfed all the segments of our life in such a way that it requires real effort to bring them up and document them before it is too late. The recent trend in the western world intensifying pharmacological investigation of Indian roots and tubes will certainly indicate the value of such an exercise.
I am certain this kind of change in display will bring an altogether new meaning to our understanding of cultural history. Ours would, perhaps, be the only kind of museums in the world, which will emphasize the growth and progression of social institution under different systems of chosen subsistence.
That is, such a momentous change in human culture as Neolithic revolution will no longer have to be reduced to few black and smooth stones kept for display in the showcase. It is a system, which is entirely labour intensive and hence more than just enabling reproduction of a chosen cereal. Its biggest achievement lies in labour management which is the first evidence of social investment.
That is, if management of labour basically hangs on redistribution of produce, one would naturally like to understand the way this must have been operationalized for the first time in Neolithic culture stage. It is important, therefore, to indicate that possibly one of the earliest methods of organizing labour was achieved by skillfully manipulating the social system.
May be it is around this time that casual mating of band societies had to be converted into the Institution of marriage in order to construct certain permanent loyalties. Marriage not only reduced competition for mates but could also create social bonds loaded with obligatory kinship relations, which could be harnessed for labour.
Thus, emergence of Neolithic needs to be emphasized as the first social re-ordering achieved by man. The two cardinal institutions that govern every human community viz. Family and Marriage appears with sharp imperatives for the first time around this period.
I am certain this kind of a change in display will bring a new meaning to our museum concepts and will certainly be more meaningful for a Nation with such enormous cultural diversity and richness.