Social Scientist. v 16, no. 179 (April 1988) p. 64.

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The Tribal Economy: Continuity or Change?

M.K. SUKUMARAN NAIR, Tribal Economy in Transition, Intcr-India Publications, New Delhi, 1987.

In analysing the dynamics of change in pre-capitalist 'tribal* societies, particular emphasis has been laid on the role of trade, penetration of markets and monetisation. These 'exogenous* factors of change which result from contact with other economies, are seen as important in breaking down the traditional mode of subsistence production and effecting a transition to a new mode often characterised by the development of commercial agriculture and a changing agrarian structure.

Sukumaran Nair's study of a Tribal Economy in Transition* assumes signi-ficance in understanding the nature of this transition. He focuses on the state of Meghalaya which, for historical reasons, has experienced relatively early commercialisation, market relations and some degree of monetisation. What is significant to him is the fact that despite these exogenous factors usually associated with changes in tribal societies (and he refers to a number of studies in this context), the mode of production continues to be 'tribal', i.e., prcdomi-nantly characterised by communal ownership of land and poorly developed productive forces, with little differentiation of the peasantry and kinship as dominant in economic and social relations. The book analyses this paradox, tracing in the process, the nature of the dynamic in the 'transitional* economy.

Nair's study, which forms part of his Ph.D thesis, js based on a survey of 60 tribal villages (487 households) in Meghalaya, covering the three major tribal groups, Garos, Khasis and Jaintias. It was part of a large ICSSR project with collection of data by trained investigators. Nair uses the data to show that despite the fact that a substantial portion of agricultural produce is sold in the market by all households, irrespective of the size of individual land holdings, there is no indication of a trend towards capital intensive farming. Surplus income is only marginally reinvested in agriculture (p. 112). While there has been a gradual shift from the traditional pattern of 'Jhum'

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