Thursday, 8 July 2010
A dialog on rice in Indian cultural history
I received the following queries about rice, posted on the Indo-Eurasian discussion list. Which I will endeavour to answer here. This queries arise from a colleague having read my recent “consilience” review article on rice.
- Does this new evidence (of proto-Indica and japonica entering fromChina via a precursor of the silk road) conclusively rule out the association of rice cultivation with a hypothetical 'Austric' package(I mean, dispersal of Munda-speakers INTO India)?
No. These processes are not mutually exclusively. The genetics of rice is complex and implies many episodes of hybridization between indica and japonica lineages, and with the aus and tropical japonica groups which are now increasingly seen of distinct subgroups of indica and japonica, respectively. Just have a look at the genomic data published by McNallay et al last year, and you will see how recurrent and extensive hybridization has been. A single entry of japonica into South Asia is inandequate, and we tried to reflect this in our ‘Thrust 10’, but there is also presumably some mixing between thrusts 6 and 8 in the Assam region. Indeed it is the aus-rices of Assam and Bangladesh that shows that highest levels of hybirdization in McNally’s study.
- Does this lend credence to the theories of South Asian homeland forAustroasiatic languages (including perhaps pre-proto-Munda and ancestral language of Mon-Khmer languages)?
No. The current archaeobotanical evidence can fit with Austroasiatic origins either to the East to the West. In my own writings I have gone back and forth from supporting the immigration ofMunda (my 2003 paper on Dravidian [pdf]) or emigration from pre-Proto-Munda (my 2007 paper in the Petraglia/Allchin volume). I have actually shifted back more towards seeing the Munda coming into India from the Northeast. In either case Proto-Munda agriculture was not particularly rice focused, indeed reconstructible rice vocabulary is meagre, but focused on tubers (including taro), millets (and it is unlcear if these are the Chinese or Indian millets originially), and pulses, water buffalo and maybe pig. It seems clear that Proto-Munda is heavily influenced by Dravidian and pre-existing Indian agriculture through the adoptions of sheep/goat, zebu, and Indian pulses. The archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence, however, is strongly against an “Austric” hypothesis (sensu Blust) that see one origin of rice driving all the major language expansions of SE Asia.
- With this new evidence, could we say anything about the familial affiliations of Language X and Harappan languages (Kubha-vipas and Melluha -- let's call them Language Y and Language Z; I personally don't like the terms like Para-Dravidian, Para-Munda, Para-IA etc.)?
No. I increasingly think that Para-Munda is highly misleading. Kubha-vipas seems to have as uch in common (in not more) with Mon-Khmer and even Austronesian as it does with Munda (this is clear from vocabulary comparisons used by Kuiper, which as Osada has pointed out often include Austronesian words; and from the “rising” versus “falling” order of the language (sensu Donegan and Stampe 2004). These might all be labelled as broadly “Austricoid” but I can not see how these can be connected with agriculture and presume that shared ancestry must be much older than that…. But this is probably a discussion for another time….
has a different history than that of rice, and agriculture predates the introduction of rice in all regions of civilization viz., Indus Valley, Gangetic plains, eastern India and Neolithic southern region of Andhra-Karnataka- Is it correct to assume that the dispersal of agriculture in India
The patterns are different in different regions: there is neither one story of agriculture in India (e.g. my Journal of World Prehistory paper of 2006 [pdf]), nor one story of rice in India. Agriculture clearly precedes rice in the northwest (the Indus), in the west (Gujarat and Rajasthan), in the northern and southern Deccan. Through most of the Indian savannahs (Gujarat through the South Deccan) early farming was based on indigenous millets and pulses, rice came late (mainly after 500 BC) and even in historic times rice was a relatively minor component of overall agriculture: I take this for example from my recent research on the archaeobotany at Paithan in Maharashtra—in the early Early Historic and Early Medieval period rice is presence but millets are dominant, and wheat and barley are also more frequent than rice. Of interest is that kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) is hand down the most dominant crop on the site, with the African millets including sorghum, which are so prominent today, making only a minor show. Agriculture and diet has been dynamic, and we do a dis-service to that variety by obsessing about rice. As explored in an interesting paper by Monica Smith (The Archaeology of Food Preference), rice does appear to have been a preferred crop of higher status and for culinary reasons, and probably also by states as it is highly productive and is therefore a favoured by state taxation. A similar point has been made compellingly in a recent history of political ecology and shifting cultivation in southeast Asia, James Scott’s book The Art of Not Being Governed—in which he explores how the lowland states of mainland Southeast Asia have always been built on fairly intensive, and easily taxable rice agriculture, while the unruly and difficult to govern peripheries have been the realm of shifting cultivators and those fleeing oppressive states.
ariki, arici (tamil), brinj (persian) etc. [as discussed in Witzel 2006. South Asian agricultural terms in Indo-Aryan, and Southworth 2005]?- What about the rice related terms like vrihi (vedic), vari (telugu),
Many of these terms probably are related, although I am less then convinced that all of them are. Some of the Dravidian terms look like they may be semantic shift from words that originally names of millet. But whatever the case the spread of rise and its rise in importance in economic and prestige terms means that names of rice would have been widely borrowed. Clearly the spread of rice into the Persian world came from India (although the preferred fragrant rice varieties of Persian had their ultimate genetic origins in Southeast Asia—as did most fragrant rices, as indicated by genetics of the most-common BADH2 mutation-- but must have moved via cultivation India). This could have been as much a process of elite dominance, in regions like much of South India where rice was initially a fairly minor crop, and have little to do with population movements as such. I would look to parallels in things like the spread, borrowing and diversification of terms of pepper in European and Western Indian Ocean languages—which testified to the long importance of this plant product in trade—it appears broadly related from Thai Phrikthiy, Swahili Pilipili (hence Brazilian periperi), Portuguese pimento, Turkish biber, Greek piperi, all ultimately from Sanskrit. Oddly from Sanskrit and not Tamil as black pepper is clearly indigenous to Southwest India. A similar pattern holds for names of coconut, far more prominent as a crop in Southern India than in the Sanskrit north. But these patterns must have some reflection of trade routes and social valuation. On the other hand most of the world has taken its names for Mango from Dravidian, yet the mango is not originally native there, but most cultivated mangos have their origins in Assam or thereabouts, but I know of no linguistic trail. Instead it was Tamil and/or Malay sailors who had borrowed from Tamil who did the most to spread knowledge of this fruit around the Indian Ocean. …I would note that putting together histories such as these and anchoring them in archaeobotanical evidence and genetics is a major focus of the Oxford based SEALINKS project, in which we have started new archaeobotanica sampling in Kerala, Sri Lanka, and coastal Kenya and Tanzania…
- Is it still correct to assume that the South Dravidian form 'arici' has been transmitted westwards, probably by maritime trade to result in Greek oryza, oryzon and Arab. ruz, English rice? You see, 'arici' is one of those words that compels people like Karunanidhi, the current CM of Tamil Nadu, to bombastically claim that "Tamil is the mother of all languages in the world!" (tamizh ulaga mozhigaá¸·ukkellaam taay mozhi ennum perumai peRukiRatu)!
Certainly the term for rice has been translated Westward from Tamil, but as the examples of pepper and mango indicate this has much to do with patterns of early historic trade, and which middlemen give commodities their name, than anything else, and perhaps little to do with ultimate ‘origins’ or Linguistic superiority. South India played a major role in Indian ocean trade throughout the 1st Millennium AD and upto the European colonial era, and thus many Tamil names have become attached to things; so too Portuguese and Spanish played the major role in transmitting the names of New World crops throughout Eurasia.
(These queries come from Suresh Kolichala, who is researching ancient Indian recipes and cookbooks, which I very much look forward to learning more about!)
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