5. Being There: Anglo-Indian Roots Tourism Experiences

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Robyn Andrews [+-]
Massey University
Robyn Andrews is a Social Anthropologist at Massey University, New Zealand. She completed her PhD in 2005 based on ethnographic research with Kolkata’s Anglo-Indian community. She continues her research involvement with Anglo-Indians in India and the diaspora employing mainly ethnographic, narrative, and life story research methods. Her research focus has been on migration and diaspora (particularly in New Zealand), and their practice of Christianity, and of pilgrimage. In addition to her book, Christmas in Calcutta: Anglo-Indian Stories and Essays (Sage 2014) she has published academic articles and book chapters, as well as articles in community publications. She is the co-editor of International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies and regularly co-organises Anglo-Indian Studies workshops for scholars working in the area.


This chapter examines an aspect of the growing phenomenon, typically termed ‘Roots Tourism’, focussing on Anglo-Indians returning to India to explore their family roots. This type of ‘tourism’ involves selecting destinations to which one has ancestral links and pursuing information about them in that place. It is becoming increasingly popular as family history information is more accessible than ever, due to the availability of genealogical tracing through DNA analysis and technology-enhanced searches of recently digitized archives. TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? reach vast audiences and possibly add to the popularity of this type of tourism. In 2018 I commenced an ethnographic study exploring Anglo-Indian expectations, experiences, and reflections of roots tourism ventures. In addition to participant-observation in India, I interviewed others before and after their travels. Here I discuss some key findings drawn from the interviews, observations, photographs and FaceBook posts. A significant theme identified was the intense emotional reactions of those involved, when encountering and in touching significant objects and places linked to their ancestors. What began from necessity with technologically mediated virtual searches from afar, culminated with encounters with the material reality of their ancestors: a highlight for many. Many aspects of their experiences resembled pilgrimage journeys – there were visits to churches (as sites of significant moments, and keepers of heritage objects) and the descriptions of journeys included ideas about its ‘sacredness’. My research builds upon both Paul Basu’s (2001, 2004b, 2004a, 2005, 2017) work in the area of roots tourism, and Walter Benjamin’s (1968) on objects and their aura, thus contributing to a growing body of work in the area of ‘touch’, ‘things’, spaces and places, from an anthropological and South Asian perspective.

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Andrews, Robyn. 5. Being There: Anglo-Indian Roots Tourism Experiences. Religion and Touch. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Sep 2021. ISBN 9781800500334. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=42173. Date accessed: 16 Apr 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42173. Sep 2021

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