This presentation will address the importance of looking at photographs as a source in studying Mizo history. By doing so, I will investigate the larger question of photographs as a historical source.
It was in 2012 that I, along with Prof. Willem Van Schendel began a project of collecting photographs/digitizing images of the Mizos. A time period of roughly a hundred years was taken into consideration for the collection, beginning from the late 19th century (1870s), the arrival of colonialism, to the late 1980’s (the end of the insurgency in Mizoram). There were many reasons for undertaking the project. Firstly, in comparison to many ethnic groups in the Northeast, the Mizos did not become an anthropological interest in colonial times and therefore lacked a proper documentation of their visual history. The second reason was the ‘insurgency’ against the Indian state and subsequent counter-insurgency measures beginning in 1966, which wreaked havoc not only in the lives but also the material culture of the people.
One of the most important consequences of the project was the gathering of photographs from personal collections/family albums, thereby creating a vast resource of ‘local representations’, rather than a mere colonial repertoire of photographs, which is a common enough scenario in the Northeast.
Joy K.L. Pachuau is Professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Her publications include The Camera as Witness: A Social History of Mizoram, Northeast India (Cambridge UP, 2015) and Being Mizo: Identity and Belonging in Northeast India (Oxford UP, 2014).