“Lines that speak”: The Gaidinliu notebooks as Language, Prophecy and Textuality

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This paper navigates my experience of returning copies of the “Gaidinliu notebooks” from the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) to the Zeme Nagas of Assam, India. The notebooks were confiscated in 1932 by the British administrators and donated to the museum. They are from a religious movement, the Heraka, and their prophetess, Gaidinliu (1915-1993). Returning the notebooks highlighted a number of theoretical issues in approaching texts, particularly since these were written in a language that is “untranslatable”. I argue that their textuality requires one to examine the notebooks in relation to the millenarian unfolding of the kingdom (Zeme: heguangram), using the notion of textuality (Uzendoski 2012) grounded in dreams, prophecy, songs and visions. Secondly, to appreciate the value and purpose of the notebooks, one must pay attention to the sonority of sound that manifests the words of the notebooks in song. Finally, these issues point to significant ways in which we understand the relationships between history, language and experience.  
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-147
JournalHAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2016


  • Gaidinliu Notebooks
  • Heraka
  • textuality
  • prophecy
  • language
  • writing and orality
  • (un)translatability
  • India


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