The Karen of Andaman Islands: Labor Migration, Indian Citizenship and Development of a Unique Cultural Identity

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Mittal, Tanvi

The Karen of the Andaman Islands present a unique story—a story of migration, transformation and endurance. This paper presents the findings of my ethnographic fieldwork of 2014 contextualized through extensive secondary research of Andaman and Karen history. Some data supported my initial expectation of rapid cultural transformation of the Karen due to their gradual increase in contact and interaction with other populations. On the other hand, data that exemplified cultural constancies of the Karen problematized my research. This cultural endurance drove my research into the study of identity and I shifted focus to understand how and why the Karen are changing their identity in such a selective manner. In order to understand their motivations, I contextualized the Karen life in the larger historical context of the Andaman Islands. Through this secondary research, I understood the Karen motivation and drive towards their subjective state of development. This research attempts to start an academic conversation regarding cultural studies of immigrant communities and the overall role and impact of anthropology on the world it embeds itself in. It traces the cultural transformation of the Karen from a lifestyle of isolation to interaction and demonstrates the need to understand the new environment of this immigrant community in order to gain a holistic perspective of their motivations and behaviors. Lastly, this case study reveals how anthropology, as literature, has affected the socio-cultural reality of the Karen environment while having the potential to convey the voices of the Karen.

Brian Spooner
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