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Village in Asifabad to remember Austrian anthropologist couple

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Kumram Bheem Asifabad: Adivasis in Marlawai village of Jainoor mandal, Kumram Bheem district, are gearing up for the 31st death anniversary of popular anthropologist Professor Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf and his wife Elizabeth, fondly called Betty, on Friday.

Haimondorf and Elizabeth were unforgettable guests of the Raj Gonds, Kolams and Pardhans residing in the village. Every year, tribes from neighbouring hamlets gather at Marlawai to pay rich tributes to the Austrian anthropologist, who uplifted of their communities. They ceremonially recount the Haimendorfs every January 11 by performing rituals.

By staying in interior Marlawai, Haimendorf studied and documented the lifestyle, culture and traditions of Raj Gonds with a matchless precision in 1940s. He was later entrusted with the responsibility of administering the Social Welfare Department of the then Nizam rulers. The government also asked him to prepare a development plan to improve the lives of Gonds.

“Thanks to the extraordinary anthropological work of Haimendorf and his wife Elizabeth, among Indian tribes, the Raj Gonds have one of best documentation — visual and textual – available. Their work details the tribe’s distinct culture, way of life and recent history. No other community, tribal or non-tribal, in AP and Telangana can boast of such extensive and beautiful documentation,” S Sumanaspati Reddy, Assistant Station Director of All India Radio, Adilabad, said.

“Prof Christopher von-Furer Haimendorf and Betty occupy a special place in the hearts of the Raj Gonds and Kolams of Adilabad. He became a tribal by mingling with them. He adopted our lifestyle and named his children after the elders of our community,” Kanaka Ambaji Rao, district president of Haimendorf Youth Association, said.

The researcher couple meticulously followed the lifestyle and customs of Gonds. He named his son after Lachchu Patel, the Adivasi elder of Marlawai. His wife expired on June 11, 1987, while Haimondorf passed away on June 6, 1995. He wanted to be cremated in Marlawai itself.

The then Nizam government appointed Haimendorf to study the factors causing the tribal unrest in erstwhile Adilabad district, following the martyrdom of legend Kumram Bheem in 1940s. He and Elizabeth settled in Marlavai for several years, and carried out researched upon the customs, cultures, and traditions of the Raj Gonds.

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