The cover: Boyi

The cover of ‘A Land of Their Own’ shows the first photograph ever of a HO. His name was Boyi. In 1862 this picture won a gold medal in London.


As exhibit 4510 ‘Lurka Cole, Singhbhoom’ it was part of Benjamin Simpson’s winning series on the London International Exhibition. A few years later, 1868, it was published in volume 1 of a series of photo books by John Forbes Watson and John William Kaye, ‘The People of India’ , as plate 18 ’Lurka Cole. Aboriginal (‘Fighting Cole’). Chota Nagpoor’. The extensive commentary with the title ‘The Ho Tribe, otherwise called the Lurka or Fighting Coles of Singbhoom’ was ‘compiled from a report’ by E.T. Dalton. Indeed, some wording is nearly identical with Dalton’s 1968 article ‘The “Kols’of Chota Nagpore’, of which Watson and Kaye must have had an early version. Unfortunately, they gave no information about the photograph itself.

In that eight-volume series, the illustrations were still real photographs on thick paper, each glued to the pages by hand. The set is extremely rare and costly. In 2012, one set was sold for US $ 80,000,500. That was at an auction, which perhaps explains the last US $ 500. Years before, I found one complete set in a metal cupboard in the cellar of a library in Utrecht University. It was a bad state (and obviously not getting better), but I do hope they are taking more care now.

In 1872, Edward Tuite Dalton used Simpson’s photo in his ‘Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal’. It was on plate XXVI, which like the other photographs was lithographed and appeared after the text. Dalton gave the name as Boyi, 22 years, height 5 ft. 5 ½ in. (1.66 m), and his kili or clan as  Kundada (‘Koada-dah’). Benjamin Simpson, who was a medical man, must have recorded the name, age, and measurements when he took the photograph. Dalton tells that Simpson passed the information on when he got permission to publish the Exhibition photographs in the Descriptive Ethnology. They must have had direct contact as Simpson received a commission to take some additional pictures, now of people in Assam, for publication in Dalton’s book. Simpson stayed in Assam from December 1867 to April 1868.

Boyi’s photograph was used again in 1908, now by Herbert Hope Risley in his famous book ‘The People of India’. Unlike its photo album namesake, it was a regular book. Risley had written a comprehensive overview of different groups in India with a heavy emphasis on anthropometry, racial theory, and caste – and with some quite political implications. Again, it had the pictures added at the end. Risley did not mention Boyi’s name, but gave ‘A “Ho” or Kol of Singhbhum’. Obviously, he had taken the picture (and the appellation HO) from Dalton’s book. Of course, it was also in the second edition, published in 1915, a few years after Risley’s death.

So Simpson’s photograph of Boyi – the first ever of a HO – served for well over fifty years.