In 1952, a joint Indo-Australian team undertook one of the first genetic studies of the Chenchu people of southern India. Long thought of as one of the oldest populations on the subcontinent and a potential link between South Asian and Aboriginal Australian populations, the study hoped to illuminate the deeper demographic histories of both India and Australia. Coming as it did immediately on the heels of decolonization, it also signaled a new era of scientific collaborations after empire. But what exactly does “collaboration” entail? How far do agendas and imaginations actually cohere in such a “collaboration”? The various collaborating actors in the Chenchu project held very distinctive ideas and agendas. Keeping blood at the center, this article explores those distinctive “bloodworlds” that were mobilized in the course of the Chenchu study. The published text of the study was a potpourri of these different bloodworlds; equally important, however, was the bloodworld this potpourri could not accommodate: the bloodworlds of Chenchu wizards. Not a world engendered in some pure or isolated “tribal culture,” but a magical bloodworld created through historical interactions with Shaivism and Shi’ism. This was a bloodworld eminently recognizable by the Chenchu themselves, but incapable of accommodation in the published study on them.
This essay is part of a special issue entitled Pacific Biologies: How Humans Become Genetic, edited by Warwick Anderson and M. Susan Lindee.