Andaman Loves: Marriage Practices, Secularism, and Alternative Modernities in the Age of Globalization

Zehmisch, Philipp

In: Zehmisch, Philipp ; Münster, Ursula ; Zickgraf, Jens ; Lang, Claudia (Hrsgg.): Soziale Ästhetik, Atmosphäre, Medialität: Beiträge aus der Ethnologie.. Berlin, Lit Verlag 2017, pp. 175-185 . ISBN 978-3-643-13911-5

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Love has the potential to transform. Not only individuals, but whole societies. How is that possible? This article discusses the transformative agency of love as a means of solemnizing marriages – as opposed to the concept of an ‘arranged marriage’ – at the hands of an ethnographic example: the contemporary society of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, which may be described as an amalgamation of descendants of colonial convicts and laborers, postcolonial refugees and internal migrants from the Indian subcontinent. In popular discourse, these 500.000 people are represented as a ‘Mini-India’, a nomenclature for the pluralist local society that supposedly replicates the ‘unity in diversity’ of India in ‘miniature form’; since 1858, this diasporic assemblage encompasses various religions and sects, linguistic and ethnic groups, castes and classes of South and Southeast Asia. It is an ‘India beyond India’, where empirically observable values of everyday solidarity, collaboration, conviviality, and friendship lead to cultural creolization, inter-religious and inter-caste marriages, among others between Hindus and Muslims. Indian officials and academics continue to describe these secular dispositions and cosmopolitan practices as evidences of a ‘model society’, which has the potential to transcend and dissolve rigid boundaries of caste, sect or religion, especially through the prominent practice of ‘love marriages’.

This broad social change may be traced back by investigating the ways in which the British colonizers produced families in the Andaman penal colony by solemnizing convict unions. However, apart from a historical genealogy, there is also a ‘modernist twist’ to this narrative: Until a decade ago, the islands were relatively cut off from Indian mainstream culture due to the distance of more than one thousand kilometers by sea from the Indian mainland and the absence of proper mass communication. The introduction of mass media has increased the presence of communicative capitalist ideas and values, a transculturation in which both elements from the Indian subcontinent and the transnational global sphere are appropriated. Moreover, the introduction of several low-cost airlines since the devastating Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004 has speeded up the development of domestic as well as international tourism and extended the islanders’ mobility. These processes have transformed local perceptions from inhabiting a rather remote space to a place within the globalized world. As a result, one can observe societal change rapidly unfolding: transnational ideas of consumption, fashion, and liberalism are appropriated. In this process, many islanders tend to align their local customs and traditions with that of the Indian metro cities, which they view in opposition to ‘backward’ rural areas elsewhere on the subcontinent. Inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, which have been practiced by settlers since several generations, have now become a symbol of an alternative ‘island modernity’.

Translation of abstract (German)

Dieser Artikel erörtert die transformative Kraft der Liebe als Mittel zur Eheschließung - im Gegensatz zum Konzept der "arrangierten Ehe" - anhand eines ethnographischen Beispiels: der zeitgenössischen Gesellschaft der Andamanen-Inseln.

Document type: Book Section
Version: Secondary publication
Date Deposited: 22 May 2023 14:02
ISBN: 978-3-643-13911-5
Faculties / Institutes: Miscellaneous > Individual person
DDC-classification: Customs, etiquette, folklore
Controlled Keywords: Andamanen, Eheschließung, Globalisierung
Uncontrolled Keywords: Andaman Islands; Marriage; Secularism; Modernities; Globalization; Andamanen, Eheschließung, Säkularisierung, Globalisierung
Subject (classification): Anthropology
Countries/Regions: India