The English merchant in the picture is sitting comfortably while looking through the lens of the photographer who took the pic in 1903. He had leather shoes, a rounded hat, socks, trousers, a jacket and a shirt that, by looking at its collar, appeared to be white. He is nicely staying on top of the back of the woman, who was taking him towards whichever destination he would have chosen.

Even the female was dressed according to the tradition of hers: neither socks nor shoes and had a long dress with a skirt brushing her feet. On her back she had a seat secured against herself through a leather strip tight around her forehead. The man could have an approximate weight of 80 kg (196 lb), that the woman looks to be struggling with. A severe burden of the British colonialism, one of the darkest pages of human history.

The woman in the picture was from East Bengal, area leading to India. Her tribe was the one of the Sikkimese and she was part of the “Lho-Mon-Tsong-Tsum”, representing three of the original races of the region. It is not clear which exact tribe she belonged to (if Lepcha, Bhutia or Nepalese) but probably that detail was not important for the merchant. He was probably speaking in English, expecting her to understand without knowing that the region was multiculturally rich and the spoken languages were way more than the ones spoken in his own England. The main one was Nepalese, followed by Bhutia, Dzongkha, Groma, Gurung, Lepcha, Limbu, Magar, Majhi, Majhwar, Newar, Rai, Sherpa, Sunuwar, Tamang, Thulung, Tibetan, and Yakha.

Probably to the merchant it wasn’t important the woman’s faith either, who could be either Hindu, Buddhist Vajray─üna or Mun, ancient animist cult of the region. The woman could have converted herself to Christianity, introduced by the English missionaries in the previous 10 years. However neither the woman nor the men were probably pondering about all that. He is sitting on the back of hers and she is perhaps thinking about the few coins she gains with that ride. One of the faces of colonialism was this one: dignity and human rights stepped on casually.

Thank you to Ringrazio Debora Ayla to point out the picture, in the official group of Vanilla Magazine.

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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