Photo, Sunil Janah

The author in 1953

The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin




© Oxford University Press 1964


To Eldyth 6 Basil my oldest friends


Tuts is the story of one who for many years has lived between the two worlds of Britain and India and who has in his own experience, if it is not too pompous to say so, found that ‘East and West are but alternate beats of the same heart’. My journey from a deeply religious evangelical home to modernist and catholic Oxford and then through Gandhi's settlement at Sabarmati to the tribal hills of India involved many changes in my outlook and way of life. I was ordained an Anglican priest at Oxford and had almost settled down to the life of a don there, when India caught my imagination and transported me to another hemisphere. After some years of struggle I left the Church, though I have never turned from the life of scholarship. My contact with Gandhi wedded me to India and I am today an Indian citizen. Although I loved, and still love, great and ancient cities, I have lived, by choice, in remote and primitive villages. I have married into tribal society and found felicity there. In India I have found sorrow and joy, disappointment and fulfilment but above all reality, an answer to the prayer: ‘From the unreal, lead me to the real.’

In spite of these changes I find a consistent thread running through my life, a perennial philosophy which has survived the loss of a conventional faith. My childhood had impressed on me that here we have no abiding city and that there is an elusive treasure far above the prizes of the world. At school I learnt to love Wordsworth with his stress on the essential quality to be found in the countryside and among poor people. At Oxford I developed the habit of thinking in neo-Platonic terms by which one can build up a store of inner strength that will be independent of external circumstances. Without this I do not think I could have endured the isolation and the tragedies of village life. My early years in India, and specially those in

Vill Preface

Gandhi’s settlements, were a training for an experience that was hard and difficult, though very well worth while. Even now, when my home is no longer in a village, I spend much of my time and most of my thought among the tribal people.

I am enormously proud of India, and that I have become an Indian, but I am also proud of Britain in whose culture I have my roots and origins. ‘The transfer of power in India,’ Dr Radhakrishnan has said, ‘was one of the greatest acts of reconciliation in human history.’ And nothing could be happier than the way the old quarrels, some of which are reflected in the early chapters of this book, have been resolved. In mentioning these I had no desire to revive unhappy memories, but the incidents of the British period are important for the story of my life and I had to include some of them. But I agree with Arthur Koestler when he says of the British Empire: ‘The fall of each of the great Empires of the past was an ugly and catastrophic event. For the first time in history we see an Empire gradually dissolving with dignity and grace. The rise of this Empire was not an edifying story ; its decline is.’

Europe is deep in my bones, but India has gone even more deeply now, as I came to realize when I set out to write this book, for much of it is written from the Indian point of view and most of its characters are Indians. It could hardly be otherwise with an Indian wife and home, Indian interests, a majority of Indian friends, and above all my absorbed and concerned attachment to India’s tribes.

In this book I have tried to tell both Western and Oriental readers a little of how I, having had a certain kind of experi- ence and having become what I am, look on things and react to them.

I have tried to show my life as a whole and to describe those things in it that have been important to me. I have not put in everything. In a recent discussion in the Times Literary Supple- ment, it is suggested that while, inevitably, every autobiography is an essay in omission, readers in the modern world are no longer content with a self-idealized persona, something not too wide of the mark—but, please Heaven, not too close either’: they want the full man. The realistic Confession, the un- expurgated Diary is what appeals today and ‘the blacker the

Preface ix

picture of a lifetime the louder the applause with which it is likely to be acclaimed ’. The difficulty is that the writer and his readers may have very different ideas about what is impor- tant, even about what is black.

My path has sometimes been shadowed by clouds and I have hinted at them in the following pages, but I have not enlarged on them, for I don’t think they are very interesting. Other matters, which some readers may envy or even admire, and others will condemn, are my own business and, whatever the modern trend may be, I do not think that in an autobiography a man is required to lower the barriers of the discreet reti- cence which would govern his everyday conversation. On the whole, though I would not call my life successful (for I have not thought in terms of success), it has been very rewarding, and a portrait of inner happiness is not a mere persona but, realistically, the whole man.

Admittedly then, I have not put in everything. Nor have I put in everybody. I am, I think, a friendly and affectionate person and I have made a great many friends. But an autobio- graphy is not a catalogue and I have not been able to mention many people who have meant much to me at different times. I hope they will forgive me and not assume that this is because I have forgotten them, but will realize that it is simply because an author, if he wants his book to be read, must not make it too fat.

V. E. Shillong, July 1963


I am indebted to Shamrao Hivale for a number of passages reproduced from his book Scholar Gypsy ; and to All India Radio for quotations from my Patel Memorial Lectures. There are some paragraphs from various journals and newspapers—the Geographical Magazine, the Statesman and the Illustrated Weekly of India —as well as from some of my earlier books.

I am specially grateful to a number of friends who read this book in manuscript and criticized it—N. K. Rustomji, B. Das Shastri, P. H. Trivedi, Margot Gilkey, Juliana Kadlec- sovics and my sister Eldyth—and above all to my friends in the Oxford University Press. The title of the book was suggested by the Wasant of chapter 11.


et ny ©


Angel Infancy

Youth of Delight

Saints and Satyagrahis

Bishops and Bayonets

Dear as the Moon Philanthropology

The Earth is Round ...

Passage to NEFA : Travels in the NEFA Highlands Growth of a Philosophy Ultimate Ambition ..

The Elusive Treasure




86 100 140 199 225 225 287 304 323 351

By Verrier Elwin


+The Baiga (Murray, 1939) +The Agaria (OUP, 1942)

Maria Murder and Suicide (OUP, 1943, second edition, 1950) +Folk-Tales of Mahakoshal (OUP, 1944) tFolk-Songs of Chhattisgarh (OUP, 1946)

+Myths of Middle India (OUP, 1949) +The Muria and their Ghotul (OUP, 1947) Maisons des Jeunes chez les Muria (Gallimard, 1959) I costumi sessuali dei Muria (Lerici, 1963) Bondo Highlander (OUP, 1950)

The Tribal Art of Middle India (OUP, 1951) Tribal Myths of Orissa (OUP, 1954) +The Religion of an Indian Tribe (OUP, 1955) Myths of the North-East Frontier of India (NEFA Administration, 1958) +The Art of the North-East Frontier of India (NEFA Administration, 1959) Nagaland (Adviser’s Secretariat, Shillong, 1961)


Leaves from the Jungle (Murray, 1936, second edition, OUP, 1958) +The Aboriginals (OUP, 1943, second edition, 1944) Motley (Orient Longmans, 1954) +A Philosophy for NEFA (NEFA Administration, 1957, third edition, 1961) When the World was Young (National Book Trust, 1961) India’s North-East Frontier in the Nineteenth Century (OUP, 1959, reprinted 1962) A Philosophy of Love (Publications Division, 1962)


+Phulmat of the Hills (Murray, 1937) tA Cloud that’s Dragonish (Murray, 1938)

With Shamrao Hivale

tSongs of the Forest (Allen & Unwin, 1935) tFolk-Songs of the Maikal Hills (OUP, 1944)

+ Out of print


The author in 1953 (Photo : Sunil Janah)

The author (a) as a baby ; (5) with his sister Eldyth and brother Basil ; (c) at the age of 2 with his parents sis ca

The author as student (a) at a school prize-giving in 1919 ; (b) as a young don at Oxford in 1927 ; (c) in his library at Shillong in 1961

The author (a) on a walk with Gandhi; and (5) talking to Mirabehn in the Sabarmati ashram in 1931! a

The author (a) talking to Gandhi in 1931 ; ane (5) on a visit to Dhulia jail, talking with Jamna- lal Bajaj and Gandhi’s secretary, Pyarelal (1932)

The author in 1942 eens a sketch by Maeve Wood)

The author with Gond ana Pardhan children, 1944

The author with Veddas in Ceylon, 1950 me R. L. Spittel) :

In the Bondo hills. (a) Shana aiid Rosie Hivale (1946) (b) Victor Sassoon (1947)

An Agaria bringing ore from a pit (Photo : author)

Muria cheliks of Bastar (Photo : author)

Bison-horn Maria girl in Bastar (Photo : author)

Saora youths (Photo : D. V. Sassoon) ... iG

Bondo girl picking castor seeds (Photo : author)

Hill Maria boys in dancing dress (Photo : author)

On tour in NEFA (a) The author and Lila enter- tained on the way to Tawang in May 1956 (Photo : R. S. Nag). (b) Lila with Mishmi girls

high in the Khamlang valley in November 1957 (photo : author) eed


. Facing p.


. Facing p. 50

128 129


145 160 161

177 192 193

Tribal people of north-eastern India (Photos : author) (a) A Tagin from northern Subansiri (b) Son of a Konyak chief (c) Digaru Mishmi girl (d) Tapang Taki, a Minyong Abor

Lila in 1963 (Photo : Sunil Janah)

Kumar on the Tibetan frontier in 1958 (Photo: author). Ashok and Rani in 1961 (Photo : P. Pal)

Nakul, Ashok and Wasant, at a party in es (Photo : P. Pal)

The Siang river (Photo: wiiehon

259 304



The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

eAngel Infancy

I was born at Dover in Kent, England, in 1902, on the early morning of 29th August, a day which is traditionally associated by the Church with the beheading of John the Baptist. This was, of course, on the birthday of King Herod, which was celebrated by a performance of what would probably today be called tribal dances. It is perhaps significant that I should have arrived in the world on an anniversary marked by dramatic action against a well-known Puritan reformer.

I was the eldest of three children, my sister Eldyth being two years, and my brother Basil some five years, younger.

I was baptised with the names Harry Verrier Holman Elwin by no fewer than three Bishops ; long afterwards one of them told me, ‘Three of us tried to cast the devil out of you, with remarkably little success.’

My father, Edmund Henry Elwin, was himself an Anglican bishop holding the see of Sierra Leone, but he had been appointed Bishop of Bristol when he suddenly died of yellow fever at the age of 38, when I was seven, only a few weeks before returning to England to take up his new assignment. He had been at Merton, which was to be my own college later on, and after serving as a curate in Oxford he went to West Africa as a missionary. He was at first principal of Fourah Bay College but soon became the youngest bishop in the Church of England.

West Africa, at the beginning of the century, must have been of unusual interest to anthropologists and our house was full of what the family called curios—my mother had the amiable habit of going into heathen temples and removing the idols which she ultimately brought home. I wish I had some of them now. West Africa was an exciting place at that time and the

2 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

family tradition was that my mother, having wandered by accident into a cannibal village, was on the point of being eaten when my father arrived with a rescue party and delivered her from the cooking-pot.

I hardly ever saw my father, for he was constantly on tour in Africa, and my own memories hardly go beyond two occasions when he gave me a beating for being naughty. One of these, which I still remember vividly, was for running off at the age of six to the railway station, against his orders, to say good-bye to my mother who was going away somewhere.

My mother was a beautiful, intelligent and imaginative woman. Witty and well-read, she liked all the right things, poetry, music and art, but unfortunately her fundamental interest was in a form of religion that was the negation of all of them. Had my father lived and we had gone to Bristol to the beautiful Cathedral Close to live in dignity and with finan- cial security, her life would have been very different. As it was, my father’s death left a gap which could only be filled by a passionate devotion to her children and an equally passionate devotion to religion. There was hardly any money. All her life my mother was afraid of boredom. Apart from us children there was nothing for her to do. She could not settle down and so we lived in ‘rooms ‘furnished apartments, generally one bedroom and one sitting- -room with a bathroom which we shared with the other lodgers. My mother was continually moving from one place to another, for she could not get on with landladies and we grew up in an atmosphere of catastrophic rows with these formidable women. This meant that as children we had few friends, there was never a garden to play in, very little privacy, and we were generally on ‘tour’ or transfer ’.

Always religious by temperament, mother turned to Jesus to fill the emptiness of her heart and give an interest to life. Evangelical Anglicanism, or ‘low Church’, which was that aspect of religion which claimed my father’s allegiance, is one of the dullest types of religion in the world and it certainly did not satisfy my mother. While remaining loyal to her Church, therefore, she sought consolation in the revivalism which characterizes some of the evangelical groups. This was much more exciting: one might fall into trance, speak with


young don at Oxford, 1927

As a



S Ss oo S a a wm ~ 3 > q w Pe O = —_ aa} S


At a school prize-g

Angel Infancy 3

tongues, dance in ecstasy before the Holy Table. Dear mother tried very hard, but she never succeeded in reaching these heights. Nor did I, little boy with wondering, expectant eyes, hoping for the best.

But there were three big things. There was an unswerving belief in the Bible as the literally inspired word of God, almost a book of magic ; we sometimes opened it at random to get a ‘message’. Then there was a conviction that at any moment Jesus would come again in clouds of glory, that those who believed in Him would be caught up to meet Him in the air, that He would destroy the bad old world and create a better one.

Thirdly, there was a strong faith in the possibility of imme- diate communion with God and possession by the Holy Ghost.

These beliefs had very practical results. We could never go to a theatre, cinema, circus or other place of entertainment, for it would have been rather embarrassing if Jesus had arrived in the middle of the programme. I remember, in a house where my bedroom was above my mother’s, creeping downstairs almost every night to listen outside her door for her breathing in case she had been caught up into the air after going to bed. I never could really believe that I was sufficiently good to earn this distinction and the possible sudden disappearance of my mother was a constant cloud on my happiness.

This was the atmosphere in which I grew up. It was well calculated to impress on a child the importance of the treasures of the spirit, for here there were certainly no treasures of the flesh ; it was easy to believe that here we had no abiding city, for we were always moving on.

All this meant that as a small boy I had to entertain myself in all sorts of ingenious ways. When I was going through a purgatory with the dentist, I spent a lot of time stopping holes in the garden wall, devising horrid probing instruments and drills. I invented a universal language, the first—and funda- mental—sentence of which was ‘Oo lovessisia etya’, ‘I love you ’. I used to paint my own stamps on large sheets of paper and later made what today would probably be a fairly valuable collection, for I found many of the rarest Indian issues in packets of old letters stored away in dilapidated boxes: like a

4 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

fool I sold it for £5 to the Army and Navy Stores (our ticket number was 37176) when I went to India.

One great deprivation of those years was lack of reading matter. We could not afford to buy books (this was before the days of cheap paperbacks): we did not discover lending libraries till much later. But I did buy, out of my little pocket money, the Boy’s Own Paper every week. How excitedly I looked forward to it, but when it came I had to ration it, one story a day, to make it last as long as possible.

How mother did it I have no idea, but every year she took us for a holiday. It must have meant her doing without new dresses, new hats, going by bus instead of taxi, cutting out the cakes when she had tea at Lyons—all the things that children do not realize at the time. So one year we went to Cromer, another to Corfe Castle and later to Eastbourne, Swanage and North Wales. These were the bright moments of our young days.

At this time our Relations were very important to us. There were a great many of them and I will describe first my mother’s family, for we saw more of them and liked them better. Mother’s maiden name was Holman, and the Holmans as a clan were generous and lovable. Their ancestry, however, is not very well documented. My great-great-grandmother was Augusta Anderson who was born in Queenstown: her mother was in turn a Melville who had married a Dr Anderson of Dublin. In April 1826 at the age of seventeen, Augusta married a soldier called James Campbell (whose people were connected with a Paisley-shawl factory) and he went with the Army to India where the couple had three sons and three daughters, one of them being Flora Campbell, our immediate grandmother.

One of her sisters was Great-aunt Jane who married a man called Slane, who seems to have been an engineer, at the age of eighteen. She died a year later and her husband was thrown down the well at Cawnpore during the Mutiny.

William Laban Holman, our grandfather, ran away from home and joined the East India Company. He helped to build the road to Murree in unpartitioned India: he was one of the founders of this attractive hill station, and my mother was born there.

Angel Infancy 5

There is no doubt that there was a lot of Scottish blood in my mother’s family and, since there was also some link with Ireland, I hope that there was some injection of Irish blood as well.

The Scottish and, desirably, Irish element in their ancestry gave the Holmans, and my mother herself, their human, witty and enthusiastic attitude to life. Some of them were not very interested in religion and Grannie Holman, for example, object- ed vociferously to her daughter Minnie’s marriage to a mere clergyman, though she thawed a little when he became a bishop. She never went to church, did not read her Bible, but from us children’s point of view the most exciting thing about her was a guilty secret. She drank. I don’t suppose the poor old thing ever got very much, but there was usually a bottle of brandy tucked away behind voluminous black dresses in the wardrobe, and Granny seems to have taken little nips of this when she felt so disposed.

One of the absorbing topics of conversation between Eldyth, Basil and myself was: Will Granny go to hell?’ Technically, we admitted, this was inevitable, for Granny was not saved. But how could this happen to one who was such a dear, so liberal —out of her small income we received a steady flow of half- crowns, and sometimes even a golden sovereign or half-sovereign —such a character and still so good-looking (long ago, in India, she had been known as the Beauty of the Punjab and people used to come out of their houses as she rode by just to have a glimpse of her)? We shuddered at the thought of those eager flames devouring her kindly face for ever and ever, and mother too hedged a bit when we asked her the dreadful question, even hinting that some special arrangement might be made for the old lady after she passed over.

This applied also to the two worldly uncles, my mother’s brothers, to whom we were all devoted. One was Uncle Fred, a physician, who had some sort of job as house-doctor to a titled family living in a castle in Scotland. This was one of the few things that brought colour into our lives. Uncle Fred was a very generous person and baskets of pheasant, grouse, salmon, tutti- frutti and other delicacies used to arrive once or twice a year at our lodgings and mother, who was an excellent cook, would prepare them with all the trimmings.

6 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

Uncle Fred was a sportsman, fishing, shooting, yachting, and he always seemed to be in funds. He would bring us boxes of lead soldiers and little cannon and we had wonderful games.

Uncle Herbert, a soldier, was even more exciting. He had an adventurous life, for he qualified as a first-class interpreter in Russian, French and German and this led to his being sent about the world on special missions. At the end of the last century he went with the Chinese Expeditionary Force to assist in the suppression of the Boxers. Some years later, he went to Manchuria where he saw something of the Russo-Japanese War, being attached to the Russian Forces. After distinguished service in the First World War, he was selected in 1919 as Chief of the British Mission to South Russia, where the Bolsheviks declared that, if they caught him, they would crucify him upside down.

In the year that I went up to Oxford he returned to India, where many years before he had been posted to the 16th Bengal Lancers, and held commands, first in Sindh-Rajputana and then in Mhow. He had a hatred of red tape and was known as Burn- the-Files Holman’ after making a bonfire of documents (includ- ing, unfortunately, some irreplaceable land records) in Simla. He finally attained the rank of Lieutenant-General and retired from the Army in 1928 with a row of letters after his name—K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. For over twenty years he was Colonel of the 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers (Watson’s Horse). In his company we felt that we were in touch with Distinction, part of a wider world.

Among the aunts our favourite was Aunt Polly. She was one of those unfortunate women who have to sacrifice everything to possessive mothers. She never married, she wasn’t allowed to, for she had to look after Grannie Holman. She was very good to us, and perhaps mother’s greatest friend, a cathartic, sensible, delightful person. She was her father’s favourite and he left her a little money which she invested in a small house in Worthing. Since she lived alone, we often went to stay with her and as a boy I used to see Lord Alfred Douglas about the town, though I was never invited to one of his famous small-boy tea- parties. Perhaps it was just as well. Aunt Polly was more indianized than the others; we were always hearing about

Angel Infancy 7

‘dak’, the ‘dhobi’ and there was an occasional bad word— ‘Suar ka batcha’ (son of a pig) I can still remember. She made a delicious curry (so did mother) and was an expert at jelabies.

Then there was Aunt Loo, a stout homely person, married to a desiccated architect, with a lot of sons, our cousins ; one was commander of a submarine and went down in it in the First World War ; another died in Japanese hands after the loss of Singapore in the Second.

Finally there were the relations we hushed up. One of these was poor Cousin Louie, who had committed the desperate crime of joining the Church of Rome. I have vague recollec- tions of a kindly gentle faded little lady wearing a crucifix, but we were naturally not allowed to have much to do with her.

Then there was Cousin Hugh, who was at once an embarrass- ment and a source of deep satisfaction to the whole family. He was embarrassing because we managed to get him into the Army in the early days of World War I, when the recruiting officers were not very particular, and within a few months of his taking the oath, he went off his head. As he was a full- fledged soldier, Government had to look after him for the rest of his life, thus saving everyone a great deal of money. Cousin Hugh was really, I think, just ‘simple’. He was allowed out from time to time and we enjoyed his visits. He used to sing to us, pathetic little ballads like ‘Wrap me up in a tarpaulin blanket’; he was convinced that my mother was the Virgin Mary and revered her accordingly, though I did not get the position that this flattering belief should have awarded me.

In contrast, my father’s family, the Elwins, were a little dull.

The Elwins are an Anglo-Saxon, not a Welsh, family—Elwin is a Christian name in Wales, a surname in Kent—and Burke’s Landed Gentry (oddly enough my name occurs in this snob volume, though the only land I am ever likely to possess is a six-foot grave) traces their pedigree to 1531. None of these ancestors were very notable ; in 1600 Henry Elwyn, as the name was then spelt, was ‘one of the ancients or senior barristers of New Inn’ ; two hundred years later we find a Michael Elwin as one of the officials of the Naval Victualling Department at Dover ; for the most part the Elwins were solicitors, officials and, in recent years, clergymen. Two of my uncles were in the Ics,

8 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

which they left at the time of the Morley-Minto Reforms, and the two sons of the younger of them, D. H. Elwin in the Madras and R. B. Elwin in the Punjab cadres, were also in the Ics from which they very properly resigned at Independence. I think that, with the exception of Margaret Elwin, not listed in Burke, who was burnt as a witch in 1615 for plotting to burn a town in Norfolk and raise a wind to fan the flames, I was the first of the Elwins to depart from the strict and narrow path of orthodoxy in religion and politics since the family began four hundred years ago.

The Elwins, so far as I know, were strictly religious in a con- ventional way, very definitely Low Church.

Much later my ex-1c s Uncle Edgar Elwin forbade the female members of the family to read any of my books.

Not exactly a relation, but my god-father, Bishop Taylor- Smith, was Chaplain-General to the Armed Forces in the First World War and became notorious for his refusal to allow Anglican chaplains to use crucifixes. His other special aversion was masturbation. He was always talking to me about it, how semen was forty times as valuable as blood, how if one lost it one got dark rings under the eyes and deteriorated mentally, how it stunted one’s growth even more than smoking.

I remember later, at a ‘squash’ at Oxford, how he stood up and, beating his Tarzan-like chest, declared: ‘I’ve never touched a woman and look at me.’

As most of his audience were passing through a (doubtless temporary) homosexual phase, this went down very well. Another friend of my father’s, a type called Tyndale-Biscoe, was always telling me to be a MAN, and to this day I can’t hear the expression without feeling a little queer.

We grew up. Eldyth became an exquisitely pretty little girl, I a chunky small boy with a prognathous jaw (it had to be pulled back by a dreadful machine attached to it every evening), and Basil was the pet of the house. Eldyth and I naturally joined together to intrigue against him. When I was six, there was a governess who made me learn the first chapter of St John’s Gospel by heart. Despite this elevating experience, a year or two later I had a spell of naughtiness and was sent, in the hope of it doing me good, as a boarder to a small private

Angel Infancy 9

school in London. My classmates were all girls and they gave me hell. They used to tie me up, put me under a table and prick my bottom with pins. I also didn’t like the food, and after half a term mother came up to London (we were then living in a small town called Wallington) and took me home. We then moved to Reigate, where we hired a whole house, which was fun. There was a garden, and mother did most of the cooking, lovely food. We employed a servant, but after a few weeks she ran away in one of mother’s dresses with a hundred pounds worth of silver cutlery. This was my first experience of the police and a flattering one. I found one of the defaulter’s shoes with finger-prints on it, and I still remember the best notice I’ve ever had, my mother’s Verrier, you’re a brick.’ Fortunately the stuff was insured and the money came in very useful, and the incident probably gave me my lifelong attachment to crime fiction.

I went to school in Reigate, a good sound evangelical school, and remember nothing except that I once got six of the best on the old spot for organizing the boys into a sort of union, which demanded shorter hours and better food for lunch. Mother summoned the headmaster to the house and of the two of us I think he suffered the most.

I then went on to another Prep. school at Eastbourne. The headmaster was an enormous red-faced man called Mr P., who taught me one lesson of lifelong value.

One of the assistant masters used to enjoy hanging round the bathrooms and making improper proposals to the little boys as they came out. This dubious pleasure was, in due course, brought to the attention of Mr P., and he held an inquiry, to which I was summoned as a witness. This was my very first introduction to the harsh realities of sex, if that is the right name for it, and I was embarrassed and confused.

As a result I blushed and stammered through my interroga- tion and Mr P., towering above me like Jehovah, boomed, Call a spade a spade, boy, call a spade a spade.’ Ever since, and specially in my book The Baiga, I have tried to do this.

When I was thirteen there was the problem of a Public School. In choosing this the family and their advisers were dominated by the desire to keep me untainted by the Church of Rome and

10 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

the infidelity which they believed to come from the application of modern scholarship to the Bible.

My father had hoped that I would go to Westminster, but to the family’s sheltering eyes there was some danger of Popery there. They tried Rugby, but on cross-examination Dr David, the headmaster, admitted that he accepted the first chapters of the book of Genesis as true only in a symbolic sense, so that was no good.

Finally, on the advice of a missionary friend, I was sent to a west-country school, Dean Close, Cheltenham, which had been founded to uphold the basic principles of evangelical religion, and where certainly there was never any nonsense about apply- ing the ordinary standards of intelligence to the Word of God.

Religion, which played such a strong part in my childhood, therefore, continued to be important at school. There were not only the regular prayers and chapel services but there were such institutions as the Sunday prayer-meeting, where a few of the more pious boys (I among them) met in a dreary classroom and gave little sermons in turn. At the end of the talk we were each expected to offer up an extempore prayer, which personally I found a considerable ordeal. Then there was what was called the Crusaders, which was rather similar but not considered quite so spiritual—even though it was held in the early morning before breakfast. Finally there was the Scripture Union, whose members had to promise to read a scheduled passage of the Bible every day of their lives. As this involved reading through the entire Bible every few years, the passages were often highly unsuitable for young people. But since we had no other form of sex-instruction it probably served a useful purpose.

The headmaster of Dean Close school was Dr W. H. Flecker, the father of James Elroy Flecker, whom I still consider a good poet. When I was at school he was at the height of his fame for, with Rupert Brooke, he was the most popular of the earlier poets of the First World War. We used to sing some of his poems, set to music, in the chapel; one of them was the beautiful Masque of the Magi which we performed every December in anticipation of Christmas.

We had a rather heavy dose of the Fleckers. There was a younger son who for some time taught us classics ; there was a

Angel Infancy 11

daughter Joyce who taught science ; and old Mrs Flecker once tried to teach me Hebrew. She, however, impinged on our lives more obviously by a nightly inquisition. She would stand at the end of the dining-room and all of us below a certain age used to file past saying, Yes (or ‘no’), Mrs Flecker ; four (or whatever it might be) for tea.’ The ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was a report on the movement of one’s bowels and the four for tea’ referred to the number of slices of dry and tasteless bread that one had managed to consume during the high tea which was the main meal of the day.

Dr Flecker himself was, I have little doubt, something of a great man. He built up the school almost from scratch and gave it some sort of position, at least in the west country. He was a brilliant preacher, to whose sermons we actually used to look forward, and he had a sensitive understanding of literature. I remember him once giving an exceptionally fine lecture on Milton. He had a certain amount of German blood, and in the bitter days of the War this went against him. On one or two occasions the good people of Cheltenham walked out of local churches when he was invited to preach.

Dean Close was perhaps not a very good school but there was always something going on. I describe later the thrilling inci- dents of the Green Bicycle Murder. Another day, equally exciting, Dr Flecker stood up in Hall and declared that he had been arrested in the Army and Navy Stores for stealing a Bible, a tin of sardines and a packet of toilet paper. This was obviously due to either a minor breakdown or a sheer fit of absent-minded- ness, but anti-German feeling at that time was so strong that the police actually pressed the case to the courts, though it was naturally at once dismissed.

At this time I was a shy, not very attractive little boy, terribly priggish, filled by my uncles with conventional Imperialist ideas and by my mother with the belief that there was nothing, nothing in the world, to compare with the joy of leading souls to Jesus.

On one occasion, I made a list of the boys in my class with columns in which I gave each so many marks for morals, intelligence, religion and attractiveness and a note on whether they were saved or not. The instincts of the anthropologist, in

12 The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin

however bizarre a form, were already at work. Unfortunately I left the incriminating document one day in the school lavatory and later had the mortification of seeing parts of it copied out on a blackboard, with dire consequences to myself from the boys whom I had marked low for ‘attractiveness ’.

From the age of about seven and continuing until my third year at Oxford, a very important part of our life was concerned with the Children’s Special Service Mission (cs sm). This was an enterprising organization which arranged missions at seaside resorts throughout the country during the pleasant holiday month of August. A team of workers would descend on some place like Eastbourne or Llanfairfechan and embark on an ambitious programme of meetings, sports and entertainments.

These missions were generally very well done. A sand pulpit was built on the beach and decorated with shells and seaweed. There was a red banner and a lot of jolly singing. There were competitions, all sorts of games, and such things as processions. with Chinese lanterns. One of the hymns we sang was ‘I am H.A.P.P.Y.’. Another was ‘Joy, joy, joy—with joy my heart is ringing and this accurately expressed my feelings at the time.

But there were two things which were not so good. The first was that the cssm created a forced and unnatural religious precosity. I remember sitting on the beach at the age of seven and, under the inspiration of a hearty evangelical clergyman, declaring that I had given my heart to Jesus two years before. I added with a touch of condescension that I had never regretted it. Later this led to a clash with Eldyth, for she too claimed that she had given her heart to Jesus and I was furious at this invasion of my monopoly.

‘I am the only member of the family,’ I declared, ‘who has done it,’ and I knocked her on the head with a celluloid doll.

Her physical injury was not serious but the blow to her feelings was severe and I was punished by being locked up in a bedroom all day and having the school crest removed from my blazer. It is curious to reflect that today Eldyth is the only member of our family likely to get to heaven; it will be a thoroughly well-deserved award.

The cssm, like the Buchmanism of a later period, fostered an upper-class religion. Its meetings and entertainments were

Angel Infancy 13

confined to visitors’, and town-people were not admitted. Visi- tors, that is to say the children of parents who could afford to pay for a holiday at a seaside resort, were considered to be of higher caste than the children of residents, who had to be content for their spiritual pabulum with the local Sunday Schools. The result was that, while the cssm enabled us to make attractive, well-dressed friends of the right class, it intro- duced a caste barrier based on economic standards which was obviously shocking, and looking back I am astonished that it never occurred to any of us all through those years that there was anything wrong about it. Since then the social revolution in Britain may have changed the css™, if it still exists. I hope so, for this was one of the things that I am really ashamed of in my youth. Yet at this time it brought thrills and variety into what was otherwise a rather unexciting life.

Just after I went to Dean Close school the First World War broke out. We were far away in the west country and at first it had little effect on us. I was only twelve years old. But gradually, as some of the best masters were called up, the names of old boys began to appear in the casualty lists and the food steadily got worse, some idea of the realities of war began to come home to us. As the days went by we finally found ourselves eating horseflesh and jealously watching our rations of sugar, butter and bread. We used to swop pats of butter for white mice and postage stamps, and food became a sort of currency.

Later the great influenza epidemic struck the school with great force. It seemed to break out simultaneously in every dormitory and, even more disastrously, in the servants’ quarters so that for the first two days there was no one to look after us and no proper food. I remember crawling on hands and knees from my dormitory down to the kitchen in the hope of getting some milk to drink. One of my most admired friends, a really lovely little boy, died. Finally, army nurses came in and took charge.

The war naturally gave a great stimulus to the Officers’ Training Corps. I was never very keen on games and used the OTC as an outlet for my surplus energies. Ultimately I rose to be Sergeant-Major and I greatly enjoyed swaggering about in my Sam Brown.