Hunza 2

Topics: Hunza Valley, Gilgit, Old age Pages: 12 (4301 words) Published: April 28, 2015
. Hunza in Transition: Now and Then... and Then Again

mile Durkheim, a significant social theorist of the last century, observed that in the process of a society informing itself of its environment, it produces environment as an image of itself.1 That is all well and good, but what happens when a society’s image of the environment shifts so much that the earlier and later versions are irreconcilable? Such was the case I faced in Central Hunza during my dissertation research (-). The objective of this anthropological investigation was to explore the relationship between changing landscape and shifting knowledge.


For this purpose, I used photographs of landscape and cultural activities from the s to visually interpret cultural changes which occurred in the following sixty years, up to the s. The late Colonel David Lorimer, a former British colonial political agent, took plenty of photographs during his linguistic re-

Fig. . Baltit fort and fields (D. Lorimer, -).

Fig. . Baltit fort and bazaar (J. Flowerday, ).


Fig. . Baltit fort and village (D. Lorimer, -).

Fig. . Baltit fort and Karimabad village (J. Flowerday, ).

search in the area in the mid s. Based on his work, I later produced an exhibition called Hunza in Treble Vision: s and s (-). Old photographs taken by Lorimer were displayed alongside new photographs I took at the same sites in the s. A set of two contrasting photographs – presented as single and double vision, respectively, highlighted the diminished importance of early sites. I affixed a third photograph to each pair, to document changes in culture, and arranged these sets, which I called ‘treble vision’, thematically, to draw attention to shifts in socio-political power, economy, environment and the rise of the nation-state.

In the discussion below, which builds upon this earlier work, I will focus in greater detail on residents’ understanding of the earlier and later times. There were marked disparities between people, most especially by age. My investigation of the relationship between changing landscape and shifting knowledge throws light on a process of cultural change internalised in reconstructing the ‘self ’. The notion of ‘self ’ was not an arbitrary creation, but dependent on changing conditions of which it was a part. Consider the two visions as two periods. Lorimer’s photographs of landscape and cultural activities from the s stand in stark contrast to corresponding images from the twenty-first century. Lorimer’s s photographs captured a perspective of Hunza from the colonial period (-) at a time when local hereditary rule and its subsistence economy still bore semblance to life before the arrival of British rule – minus, of course, organised activities of defence and offence. He made  glass lantern-slides and a cata-


logue from photographs he took during fifteen month’s residence in Central Hunza (-) as a civilian scholar. The slides and catalogue read like an intelligence report – accounting for landscape, local rule, architecture, economy, crafts, daily activities and festival celebrations.

This extraordinary resource resulted from equally unusual
circumstances. In the s Lorimer was among a privileged few non-local persons with access to Hunza. As a former political agent of the British Indian Army stationed at the Gilgit agency (-) which oversaw Hunza, he had clearance from British officials to reside in Hunza as a civilian for the purpose of research. Based on his first-hand knowledge of the local community from political agent annual visits, he also

had approval from the ruler to reside there. Indeed, his return to Hunza was not surprising. As a political agent, he used
much of his free time, hobby-fashion, documenting Burushaski, an unwritten language used by Gilgit Scouts (militiamen) from Hunza, which, to the puzzle...
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