by N. Malathy, January 7, 2022
I first heard about Margaret Trawick through the “Tamil Circle” email group during the late 1990’s. This was before internet-based news sites had become common. ‘Tamil Circle” was a way to share news about the homeland. From a university library, I borrowed Margaret’s book cum her PhD thesis, “Notes on Love in a Tamil Family”, which was based on her anthropological work in Tamil Nadu. That was the beginning of my journey to understand my own society. Margaret’s book taught me a lot about the anthropological perspective of societies, a perspective that the science-focused Tamil elite of my generation lacks. It remains a weakness of my society.
Margaret and I made contact and we have met several times in New Zealand and even stayed at each other’s homes. Margaret worked as professor of anthropology at NZ’s Massey University. By this time she had also spent many months in Batticaloa, studying LTTE activities. In Batticaloa she met Sivaram (Taraki) and became his friend. Later she also invited Sivaram to New Zealand to help her with her work on Batticaloa. On this topic, she wrote papers, presented seminars and finally also wrote a book which came out only in 2007, “Warfare, Childhood and Play in Batticaloa”. When the book was released, I was in Vanni. Margaret sent me a signed copy. Part of the book describes the family of a senior member of the LTTE in Batticaloa who worked in the political division. By this time the LTTE had withdrawn from Batticaloa and this member and his family too had also withdrawn to Vanni. I located the member and lent him the book to read. Margaret published her third book “Untouchable Women Create the World” in May 2017.
Margaret wrote in the introduction to her first book that she had exceptionally strong empathy for the underdog. She said there, if two males had ever fought for her, she would have chosen the one who lost. It was then no surprise that she did not hesitate to speak out for the Tamil struggle. For this she faced many assaults from the Sinhala side. The Sri Lankan consulate in New Zealand even wrote to the Vice Chancellor of Massey University demanding that she be disciplined for her statements on Sri Lanka. Around 2007, in one email to me Margaret said she wanted to come and live in Vanni once she retires.
When I was looking for a cover photo for my book, “A Fleeting Moment in My Country”, it was the photo Margaret took soon after the 2002 ceasefire when she visited Vanni that I chose. Unfortunately, the credit for the photo was not mentioned in the book. My apologies to Margaret. Margaret retired sometime in 2009 and shifted back to USA, her place of birth. She suffered from a muscle deteriorating illness.
In 2015, I posted translations of some pre-2009 poetry by the LTTE women. Margaret’s appreciation was touching and she said “They were more than beautiful”. Margaret was always prompt in responding to email, but around 2019 she stopped. It was clear that she had been inactivated by her illness. All efforts to find out more about her failed. Personally she was the only woman, outside the LTTE women, with whom I could connect at a deeper level as a friend. I have been deeply missing her.
Then came this news that she has left us on Jan 1 2022.
Margaret is among a handful of western academics who were touched by the Eelam Tamil struggle even before the 2009 genocide. For this and for her extensive anthropological academic work on Tamils, especially Eelam Tamils, she will be remembered in Eelam Tamil history.
For more information about Margaret, the Tamil Nation website has several photos Margaret took when she visited Vanni in 2002 (https://tamilnation.org/tamileelam/defacto/trawick2.htm) and also a collation of her writing on the topic of Eelam Tamils (https://tamilnation.org/forum/trawick/index.htm)