ABSTRACT

Marshall Sahlins uses the term ‘mytho-praxis’ to describe the Maoris’ ability to select from a body of traditions the one most appropriate to defend a current interest. Although villages in West Bengal were not ‘traditional’ in the sense of being time-warped, the situation thirty to forty years ago was nonetheless experienced as one of bringing change to a society embraced ‘in the ways of old’. The relationship of village leaders to village lower castes is an element that comes across as important to the changes that were brought about. What is interesting is that for all their sensitivity and local political clout, the village leaders were not fully able to control the movement they themselves launched. In spite of the overarching theme of hierarchy, culture is best analyzed as a complex intertwined picture of nuances and open interpretations, varying in the degree to which people are aware of the norms that guide their behaviour.