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Ramamurthy, Stephanie (1994) Remembering Burma : Tamil migrants and memories. MPhil thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the meanings of memory for a group of interrelated Indian Tamil families, who belong to a Western-educated middle class, or "salariat" (Alavi 1987). Encouraged by the colonial authorities, these families migrated to Burma between 1890 and 1922, but were forced to return to India when the Japanese invaded in 1942. Despite their distinctive position - separated socially from their colonial masters, the Burmese people and from the mass of labouring Indians - these families belong to a group which, except for Chakravarti's (1971) political and economic study, has been ignored. Nowadays anthropology and history are recognised as supporting one another, yet memory, which is recognised as an important component of history, has largely been disregarded in anthropology. Following an introductory first chapter. Chapter 2 falls into two parts, which provide a necessary background to the whole work. Part 1 describes the three families with whom the thesis is chiefly concerned. These families have been migrants for generations, so Part 2 is on anthropology and migration. In Chapter 3 I define and discuss various ways of recalling the past. In addition to history, these include oral traditions, individual memory and social memory. I show how different kinds of memory are important in allowing people to put forward their own interpretation of the past. Taken together they allow for a "thicker" description than would be possible using only historical sources. Moreover, memory is selective; what is recalled gives meaning to the present and guidance for the future. In Chapters 4, 5 and 6 (Aspects of life in Burma, Relations between Burmese, Indians and British and The evacuation from Burma), I examine differences between written texts and memories of life in Burma. Thus, I offer an account of the social organisation and values of these families during their Burma years, contrasting their recollections with historical accounts written by British, Burmese and Indian writers. In Chapter 7, The return to India and after, I show how different kinds of memory continue to influence these families. Personal memories teach a pattern of individual behaviour which the families believe should be copied. I argue that social memory, by which information about appropriate behaviour for family members is transmitted, has been turned into cultural capital, through which the past is recreated and reinterpreted to transmit a paradigm for present behaviour which has enabled them to recover from the losses incurred in fleeing from Burma and also taught them how to cope to their own satisfaction with the contemporary experience of diaspora.

Item Type: Theses (MPhil)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:01

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