TURA, Jan 7: One of the world’s greatest anthropologists and a linguist, who spent a great deal of his life carrying out research on the Northeastern and Bangladeshi tribes and was closely associated with the Garo tribe having authored two books about them, has passed away.
Professor Robbins Burling, Professor Emeritus from the University of Michigan, passed away on Thursday in his home country, the United States, at the age of 94. His demise was announced by his friends and scholars from the Tibeto-Burman Linguistics Association of North East India- TiBLANEI on social media. An online condolence gathering is being organised by the group on Friday.
Professor Burling spent a major part of his life working on the Tibeto-Burman languages of Northeastern India, particularly on the Garo language.
He authored the book Rengsanggri, which dwells on family and kinship in the Garo village of Rengsanggri in West Garo Hills, a place he frequented many a time as way back as the year 1963.
In 1997, he published a book The Strong Women of Modhupur in which he wrote of the Garos living in the neighbouring Bangladesh after spending considerable time with the community in that country. He visited Modhupur on several occasions, beginning 1984.
The book provides insight about the history of the Garo people of both India and Bangladesh since the first time they were encountered by the British, over two hundred years ago. It describes the older Garo culture that is now remembered as being “traditional” and tells of the events that have affected the Garos of Bangladesh since the end of colonial rule.
The book pays particular attention to what Professor Burling describes as the unusual matrilineal kinship organisation of the Garos and to the special role that women play in this society. (Outside influences that have brought Christianity better education, new technology and new kinds of jobs to the Garos, are also mentioned in the book which concludes with a chapter that evaluates policies that might affect the Garos in Bangladesh in the future.