Michael Weiss: I am a senior at Central Connecticut State University graduating May 2013 with a major in History and a minor in Public history. I am the only non-anthropologist undergrad on this trip. I am also the only Jewish student on this trip and this is a testament to the diversity of students this trip has attracted. I am on the Executive Board of Hillel the on campus Jewish Club as the treasurer. The Kerala region is interesting to me because of the historical context of how it has reached this point but also because it has done so without an Industrial revolution and thus exists as an anomaly to our known paradigm of how societies evolve through the Western ideals. This is fascinating to me and was one of the main reasons that interested me in going on this trip and I hope will motivate others to go.

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Today we split up into our groups and went off to various places around the city to better explore our topics in a real-life context. My group, which focused on labor, went to visit a neighborhood in the city in which hand-woven saris were made, especially those worn for weddings and engagements. We met the owner of the place where they made these and we also talked to the weavers. These people made a paltry 200 rupees per day. Once the current workers eventually died, the tradition would be gone. No one wants to do traditional jobs anymore because they don’t pay well and the job can be physically demanding. This could be seen as the place they worked was a shack where the workers stood in a hole and the loom was mere inches above the ground. The entire device was made of wood and rope so it was about as “traditional” as you can get. The wedding Saris cost a massive 18,000 rupees, so it’s no surprise they are likely made to order if not hard to sell at this massive price point. We went to other places in the same neighborhood where people made more affordable saris. We found that everyone used basically the same equipment and that everything was done in-house, whether it spooling thread or other important parts of the process. What is interesting is the women who worked there only made 150 rupees a day. So what was very clear is that by Western standards the work conditions were abysmal and dirty but it was sad because this may soon never be done by hand anymore because it is a dying art.

After this we returned to our Hotel and grabbed a quick bite to eat.  Then we headed back to the University of Kerala campus where the department of political science and other graduate departments are located. We went to the usual classroom for what was honestly one of the most interesting lectures of the trip so far. We had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Meena Pillai who spoke about the way in which women were treated and looked at in Kerala and India as a whole. It can be seen in the history of the region and the way in which women have been portrayed and how tradition is transmitted. Women have come a long way in Kerala society but still have so much farther to go because of the way in which they think of themselves because when one is raped they objectify themselves to try and rationalize why it occurred. What’s even odder is that there still exists segregation in an unofficial sense in public spaces. This can be seen on the bus, where you will never see a man and women sit together. Prof. Pillai said this all go backs to Colonialism like so many problems in countries around the world. This is where a shift from the previous matriarchal system that had been in place was switched over to a more western Patriarchal system and really did set women back to a point it sometimes feels like they are still trying to come back from.

Following this we had the opportunity to see something we may very well never see in our lives again. This was Northern Kerala ritual known as Theyyam, where a group of artists create all the costume pieces fresh that day. There are three drummers in the troupe and the main dancer, who over the course of the ritual, enters into a trance and transubstantiates into a god. The whole ceremony was full of energy and there was plenty of fire too. There is almost no way to truly put down in words what we witnessed because even now I am absolutely speechless about what I saw that night and even when reflecting I feel so lucky I got see it in person. After a bus ride back to Trivandrum we ended an absolutely amazing day that I will remember the rest of my life.

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