Publication details [#63912]

Bhaumik, Rahul. 2018. The production of ophiological knowledge in early British India. Venomous snakes, various practices and different responses. Archiv Orientální 86 (1) : 73–104.
Publication type
Article in journal
Publication language
Place, Publisher
John Benjamins


The study of colonial knowledge making in British India, a well-developed issue, mainly fosters two distinct historiographical approaches to the exchange of knowledge between the colonisers and the colonised. By gathering primary materials on British medical-zoological engagement with Indian snakes and extensive experimentation with their venoms during the early colonial period, the present paper moves through and beyond these existing historical approaches and offers a different understanding of the process of colonial knowledge formation. It argues that although there is specific evidence of negotiation and collaboration between European knowers and their indigenous partners in the production of ophiological knowledge, the “native” contribution was never allowed the space to be either innovative or commanding. Even well-informed “native” assistants sometimes remained indifferent to the typical Western creation of colonial knowledge regarding Indian snakes and their venoms. Taking note of this “native” reluctance to accommodate the on-going systematisation and codification of Western ophiological knowledge, this paper does not conform to recent historiography, which believes in a smooth and peaceful transition through cooperation between the West and the rest. In addition, this paper also emphasises the need to think beyond historical scholarship which suggests that the colonisers exclusively introduced “new” knowledge and altogether marginalised the indigenous society.