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The Strangled Traveler

Colonial Imaginings and the Thugs of India

British colonists in 1830s India lived in terror of the Thugs. Reputed to be brutal criminals, the Thugs supposedly strangled, beheaded, and robbed thousands of travelers in the goddess Kali’s name. The British responded with equally brutal repression of the Thugs and developed a compulsive fascination with tales of their monstrous deeds.

Did the Thugs really exist, or did the British invent them as an excuse to seize tighter control of India? Drawing on historical and anthropological accounts, Indian tales and sacred texts, and detailed analyses of the secret Thug language, Martine van Woerkens reveals for the first time the real story of the Thugs. Many different groups of Thugs actually did exist over the centuries, but the monsters the British made of them had much more to do with colonial imaginings of India than with the real Thugs. Tracing these imaginings down to the present, van Woerkens reveals the ongoing roles of the Thugs in fiction and film from Frankenstein to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

375 pages | 2 maps, 18 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2002

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: South Asia

History: Asian History, British and Irish History, General History

Religion: South and East Asian Religions

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Translator’s Acknowledgments
Note on Transcription
Part I. British India and Crime: The Thugs between Myth and Reality
1. Colonizers and Bandits
2. The Anti-Thug Campaign
3. Who Were the Thugs?
Part II. The Colonizers between Science and the Imaginary
4. William Sleeman and Meadows Taylor: Parallel Biographies
5. William Sleeman and Thug Science
6. Meadows Taylor’s Imaginary Discourse
7. Later Thug Adventures
Thug Lexicon or Ramasee

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