Recirculating sound recordings in NE India

Recirculation of J. H. Hutton’s Cylinder Recordings in Nagaland

This research project, led by Dr. Christian Poske, is a collaborative effort involving the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), and the Highland Institute in Kohima, targeting the recirculation of the cylinder recordings of John Henry Hutton (1885-1968) in Nagaland. Hutton was a British colonial administrator and anthropologist working for the Indian Civil Service from 1909 to 1936 in the Assam province, which incorporated the territory of Nagaland of present-day India. Hutton made fifteen cylinder recordings at different locations in the Nagaland region between 1914-16. His recordings include ritual songs, work songs, and other pieces performed by the Chang, Sangtam, Sumi (Sema), Angami, and Lhota, five of the ethnic groups of Nagaland. Twelve of the cylinder recordings were copied to reel-to-reel tape at the National Sound Archive, London, in 1987, while three broken cylinders could not be digitised. In 2003, the reel-to-reel tapes were digitised and transferred to CD at the British Library Sound Archive. Today, the Pitt Rivers Museum holds the cylinders and digital copies of the recordings, some of which are accessible on its website.

The Museum also holds the Hutton papers collection, containing his notes on the performers and song lyrics of some of his recordings. The material also includes Hutton’s diaries and correspondence, which may throw further light on the circumstances of his recordings. In addition, the Pitt Rivers Museum exhibits numerous Naga artefacts and objects collected by Hutton and stores an extensive physical and digital repository of Hutton’s photographs of the Naga people. His publications are another source offering information on the context and content of his recordings, as his monographs on Naga culture include lyrics and musical transcriptions of Angami, Sema, Lhota, and Ao Naga songs (Hutton 1921a: 282-7; 1921b: 362-70; Mills and Hutton 1922: 200-6; 1926: 328-31).

             The research project will take place from January to March 2022. In the first stage, the investigation will evaluate Hutton’s cylinder recordings, documentation, transcriptions, correspondence, and field photographs at the Pitt Rivers Museum to gather information on the content and context of his recordings. This evaluation will yield information on the approximate places and dates of Hutton’s recordings and the names of some of his recording participants. In the second stage, fieldwork will be conducted at the identified locations to evaluate the relevance of his recordings to contemporary Naga communities, thereby gathering further information on the original performers, their descendants, and the recording content. The Pitt Rivers Museum will then provide digital copies of the recordings and documentation to the ARCE and the Highland Institute to make the material permanently accessible to researchers and Naga communities in India.


Hutton, J. H. 1921a. The Angami Nagas, with Some Notes on Neighbouring Tribes. London: Macmillan.

— 1921b. The Sema Nagas. London: Macmillan.

Mills, J. P., and J. H. Hutton. 1922. The Lhota Nagas. London: Macmillan.

— 1926. The Ao Nagas. London: Macmillan.