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Classifying the Natives in Early Modern Ethnographies

Henry Lord's A Display of Two Foreign Sects in the East Indies (1630)

Amrita Sen and Jyotsna G. Singh

Keywords: BANIAN; BRAHMIN; CASTE SYSTEM; EAST INDIA COMPANY; ETHNOGRAPHY; HENRY LORD; SEVENTEENTH CENTURY; SHASTER

This article examines the politics and rhetorics of early modern ethnography via Henry Lord's famous treatise A Display of Two Foreign Sects in the East Indies (1630). Lord, a chaplain with the East India Company, attempted to classify Indian religious and caste identities—particularly those of the Banians—at a time when England's trading fortunes in India were still tenuous, though promising. Turning to the Shaster which he understands as the Banian Bible, Lord offers his readers a glimpse into Hindu mythologies—stories of genesis and the flood—which result in the creation of the four Indian castes. Understood in terms of humoral, psychological, and moral taxonomies these castes fall within emergent proto-racial hierarchies. Simultaneously, the journeys of the four brothers—Brammon, Cuttery, Shuddery, and Wyse—progenitors of their respective castes reenact familiar tropes of European travel writing combining the logic of profit with the “discovery” of hitherto unclaimed lands and erotic bodies.

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