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The conference will host over 40 scholars of various disciplines from North America, Europe, South Asia, and Australasia:


Artist: Vasuki
Artist: Kiko
Artist: Vasan

Abraham, S.
Ambalavanar, D.
Arasu, V.
Champakalakshmi, R.
Cheran, R.
Fukao, J.
George, G.
George, U.
Ghose, R.
Guruge, S.
Jegathesan, M.
Kanaganayakam, C.
Kanthasamy, P.
Karunakaran, K.
Karunanithi, G.
Kingsolver, A.
Mason, R.
Maunaguru, S.
Maunaguru, Sitralega
McNaughton, S.
More, J.B.P.
Orr, L.
Pai, G.
Palaniappan, S.
Pandian, M.S.S.
Rajesh, V.
Renganathan, V.
Sangarasivam, Y.
Seylon, R.
Shanmugam, K.
Sivalingam, H.
Sriramachandran, R.
Sundar, A.
Tambiah, S.J.
Tyyskä, V.
Vaitheespara, R.
Vivekananthan, P.
Whitaker, M.
Xavier, S.
Young, K.
Younger, P.

Ann Kingsolver

Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of South Carolina at Columbia

Walking with Amman:
Young Malaiyaha Tamils' Views of their Identity in Practice
(Co-authored with B. Sasikumar)
Saturday, June 2nd | 9:30 - 11:30 AM

This co-authored paper describes three moments in 2004 in which young people talked about their Malaiyaha (Sri Lankan Up-country) Tamil identities in practice. The first was in a participatory workshop held at, but not sponsored by, the NGO Satyodaya in Kandy, in which 31 young people from several tea estates came together to discuss their views of the future. The uncertain role of young people as a future labor force is often discussed by officials in the tea sector, but young people on the estates are rarely consulted directly about the future of their communities. The second moment was a follow-up workshop in which young people discussed what they would like to document in oral history projects of their own design; most groups decided that they wanted to record and analyze the unique aspects of Malaiyaha identity, particularly as manifested in Hindu practices on the estates that emphasize the goddess Amman. The third moment discussed in this paper, was a conversation on a division of the Manicwatte Estate during the Amman Festival (Mariyamman Thiruvila), for which many young people had returned to the estate to accompany the Goddess Amman on her procession between Kovils. As they came back for this festival, often from difficult working conditions in urban contexts where they were doubly discriminated against as Up-country Tamils, young people not only reconfirmed social networks but also their specific assertion and practice of Malaiyaha identity. The young people’s own analyses of Malaiyaha identity, at each of these three moments, will be presented.

In relation to the conference theme, the young people discuss the imagining of Indian culture in relation to Malaiyaha identity; many are called Indian Tamils by others, but they have no direct experience of India. In subsequent, more extensive research, B. Sasikumar has found that in the current national context, young Tamils in estate communities are identifying more with a newly invented Malaiyaha identity than the migration-related Indian Tamil identity. They are navigating, then, between the sort of diasporic imagination of Indian identity described by Appadurai and claims of distinction in contrast with assertions of the Andersonian sort of a Sri Lankan Tamil national identity.

For over twenty years, Dr. Kingsolver has been interviewing people about their views of globalization – first in her rural Kentucky hometown in the U.S.A., then in a comparative project in the U.S. and Mexico, and most recently during a Fulbright-supported research project on the tea sector in Sri Lanka. She taught a course called Globalization and Cultural Questions at the University of Peradeniya in 2004. She published NAFTA Stories: Fears and Hopes in Mexico and the U.S (2001), and is the General Editor for the Anthropology of Work Review.

B. Sasikumar is a Lecturer in the Sociology Faculty of the University of Peradeniya. He received his B.A. degree in Sociology from the University of Peradeniya; his undergraduate dissertation was titled “Malaiyaha People’: Changing Ethnic Identity of the Plantation Tamils in Sri Lanka”. He has done extensive research on views of ethnic identity in his own and other Malaiyaha Tamil communities in Sri Lanka. Sasikumar who is the co-author of the paper presented by Ann Kingsolver is unable to be at the conference.