Barbara Brower and Barbara Rose Johnston, Ed., (2007): Disappearing Peoples? Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Minorities in South and Central Asia

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Barbara Brower and Barbara Rose Johnston, ed., (2007) Disappearing Peoples? Indigenous Groups and Ethnic Minorities in South and Central Asia. California: Left Coast Press. 275 pp. 17.99 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-1-59874-121-6, paperback.

The challenges facing minority groups across the region known as south and central Asia provide the main topic of discussion throughout the articles collected in Disappearing Peoples? The book covers a region that stretches from India in the south and Kyrgyzstan to the north, with Azerbaijan representing the eastern edge of the study area and Tibet the western. In each chapter the authors have focused either on a culturally distinct set of people or a limited geographical area, and as each article concentrates on a new and unfamiliar region, the reader is first given basic background information. The ethnic groups discussed in Disappearing Peoples? all have small population sizes and are not collated based on a common means of subsistence. Accordingly, not all of the indigenous peoples mentioned in the book practise mobile pastoralism. Consequently, the review will focus on just six of the twelve articles published, as these works are of particular relevance in that they detail people who remain either nomadic, semi-nomadic or practise transhumant livestock herding.

As each chapter of the book is already a concise summary, a further synopsis of each author's work will not be given here. However, the chapters of relevance are as follows:

   The Raika of Rajasthan (Chapter 2)
      Paul Robbins
   Peripatetic Peoples and Lifestyles of South Asia (Chapter 3)
      Aparna Rao
   Peoples and Cultures of the Kashmir Himalayas (Chapter 7)
      Aparna Rao and Michael J. Casimir
   The Wakhi and Kirghiz of the Pamirian Knot (Chapter 9)
      Hermann Kreutzmann
   The Lezghi (Chapter 11)
      Julian Birch
   The People of Tibet (Chapter 12)
      P. Christiaan Klieger

The book begins with an overview written by coeditors Brower and Johnston, which aims at 'Setting the Stage: People, Environments, and History'. A comprehensive synopsis of the past sixty million years of history in south and central Asia is presented in fewer than four pages, with particular emphasis placed on the relative isolation of many peoples, leading to specific cultural adaptations into niche environments. For Brower and Johnston, new pressures of cultural change are progressively placed on these minority groups as, whilst people did adjust to 'new ideas, new technologies, and the varied crises presented by disease, drought, and famine' in the (unspecified) past, previously 'adaptation and change took place over many generations, allowing the old ways to coexist with or modulate new ways' (p. 11). However, 'today, no place is beneath the radar or beyond the reach of the sweeping force of globalization' (p. 9) and 'a different sort of imperialism operates today ... this is the economic and political influence exercised by global capital' (p. 13). This new driving force of change pays little heed to the once isolated populations living in inaccessible regions of south and central Asia and, as their next heading states, is leading to the 'Disappearance of Cultural Diversity'. …