‘A Pastor’s cloth’: constructing a story of Religious conversion among the Naga through objects and archives at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Dr. Vibha Joshi Parkin, MPI, Germany /Oxford University, UK

Out of nearly 7000 objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM), Oxford, Naga collection from the colonial period, most of which were collected by JH Hutton and JP Mills at the behest of Henry Balfour, there are catalogue entries for only two that refer directly to Christianity in Naga Hills. These are cloths which were collected in 1930s by JP Mills, political officer and ethnographer of the Naga of North-east India. The paper will discuss how object-labels at a given time simultaneously may reveal but also conceal information about social change occurring among a people, and how an object centred story of religious change may be constructed through archival, historical and ethnographic research. The catalogue entries for the cloths make reference to modern additions but fail to identify them as Christian motifs. As an anthropologist working on Naga material culture and religion and conversion to Christianity, I am able to put together the fragments of a wider story of conversion and conflict by relating the artifacts to the entries in tour diaries of political officers that are in the PRM archives and to my own field based research. The paper shows the importance of a particular kind of material evidence in recovering the history of a people.