Redefining Folklore: From Academic Domain to Public Sphere
Mahendra Kumar Mishra
3 In 1989, we conducted a seminar on Gond folklore in a Gondi village. Eighty Gond traditional leaders attended the meeting. Government sanctioned three thousand rupees to our organisation to conduct the seminar. But while attending the seminar, eighty Gond leaders contributed their share in form of rice, money and labour. Their contention was that the meeting is on us and for us. So we can¶t sit with out contribution.
In the seminar ten scholars, who had studied the papers on Gond folklore and had the discussion with the audience had the scope to rethink about their authenticity of studying of Gond folklore. The senior Gond leaders experienced with their ethnic knowledge explained the purpose and meaning of folklore items interpreted by the scholars. It was found that the scholars were more fascinated with their preconceived ideas of viewing folklore from their scholastic point of view.
The scholars were from the discipline of literature, sociology, economics and history. They collected the stories, songs, and proverbs. They also studied Gond religion and performance. Their collection and interpretation of data were mainly based on the theories and concepts they had acquired from their discipline. But the Gond leaders were not so. They were rich in their traditional knowledge.
When they interpreted the items, the Gond leaders did not accept the findings and while the discourse was going on, the scholars felt that they are still to learn from the Gond culture.
Interestingly, this was a major breakthrough in the mindset of the scholars who were limited in their understanding of Gond culture.
In stead it was found that many items of folklore the Gonds use have different meaning and purpose than the scholastic purpose. ́
Parghania Lambodar Majhi, the Gond singers expressed that their patron or clan masters do even not know their esoteric knowledge. So the scholars meeting will also not serve the purpose of getting all esoteric knowledge. Another threat to the Gond genealogists that if their knowledge is transferred to the scholars who will respect them as the borrower of esoteric Gond knowledge. ́
(Seminar on Tribal Culture, 1989,ASGP)
Folklore is defined as the body of knowledge, mode of thought and kind of art (Amos: 1975:5). Its existence is validated in its social context. It is termed as verbal art or expression. Collective representation, collective creation and sharing in a group of people with common interest and common identity signify the importance of folklore.
In the history of folklore study, there have been a lot of efforts to establish folklore as an independent discipline. Of course folklore study was initiated and shaped by scholars of many disciplines like history, anthropology, linguistics, literature and many others.
Since last thirty years, folklore in India has attracted many a scholars to define folklore as they see and observe.
The distance between the definition 3lore of the folk ́ to public space and civil society is a long way to define folklore. It has stretched out from folklore to folk life ranging from academic domain to public sphere.
Folklore in academic domain: Folklore, during these days, is appeared with many a new theoretical models. Universities/ Institutions promoting folklore as a discipline have their objective of establishing folklore as a curriculum followed by teaching, research and publication. But this effort is one-dimensional.
The folk them selves do not study folklore. The people who need folklore as an object of their study have institutionalised folklore as a subject. This has created a demarcation of folk and non-folk. The non-folk have many interest and objectives to study it.
The reasons may be to understand the culture of the people to bring cultural harmony.
It may be also possible to compare one culture with the other, or to understand the social dynamics and role of folklore in retaining the social rules, customs, and tradition.
Some study folklore to create a national identity and utilise them for political gain
Some to revise their social protest against the ruling class,
Some to rule them,
Or some to promote them in their development.
When an object of folklore is studied it is studied with many a dimensions. Understanding the use of an item of folklore by the group or a community with definite purpose and meaning in their socio-cultural context is the basic interest of a folklorist. But besides it, the current theories and methods fascinate the scholars to see folklore from theoretical point of view. And we know no theory or method is complete to understand the completeness of folklore. Instead the scholar¶s option and purpose of adopting certain theory or method to use the data for some experiment lead to some theoretical limitations. The gap is two-fold. One is the gap of folk and non-folk. In verbal art the gap is very low and have direct communication. But in static art, there is a gap between the creator and the consumer. Another gap is the folklore data and the understanding of the data by the folklorist. The language and its meaning in a given context is more meaningful in understanding the data and if the folklorist is unknown of their language and culture, folklore may loose meaning while interpreting the data. The scholar perceives the data from his own point of view. The training and orientation of the scholar regulate the study.
Educated scholars armed with current theories and methods of folklore research are fascinated to put their analytical model taking the item of folklore. According to Amos, ́ ethnic genres are cultural modes of communication and analytical categories are model for the organisation of texts ́(Amos; 1980:3 This dichotomy is predominant, due to the gap of the folk and folklorist.
In Indian context, scholars like us are very much tempted to write paper on folklore using the models like structural analysis, performance context, discourse of oral and written, deconstruction, and post modernism. The scope and limitations of using the theories are always a debatable and one dimensional in terms of analysing the data. The reason is the dichotomy of purpose and meaning.
Learning from the folk: In addition to using the theories, it may be more authentic to learn from the performers/ respondent why and how the data is used in particular society. Role of folklorist is also not a one-way communication that the respondent will narrate and the scholar will record it. In stead the folklorist should learn to analyse the data from the respondents criticism that create it.
It means the interpretation of folklore by the folk and his objective of using an item of folklore in the community or the group is more important and in this interpretation, the folk and the folklorists should share the knowledge. Even the perception of the folklorist in understanding the data from his theoretical point of view also should be open to the respondent, so that the creator of folklore can get a new meaning of folklore.
Unfortunately in rural Indian and tribal India, some item of folklore is no more available. Educated and semi- literate people consider folklore as the forgotten matter of their past generation, may be individual or community based. For instance in Orissa, 70 % Saora people have converted and their folklore is no more available with the younger generations. The old Saora people recollect the memory when asked by some body that is interested in folklore.
Unfortunately, the academic domain of folklore is yet to share their valuable findings with the people who created it. Now there is a trend to give back the knowledge of the people, which have been collected, of course with a new meaning, that is to interpret with the creator of folklore.
Non- author folk and author folklorist: Then comes the question of authorship. In fact the folk is non-author and the folklorist is interpreter of the item to take the local knowledge to a wider scholarship. This combines the local with global and the role of a folklorist is more important to offer the unheard voices of the unknown or undiscovered many. Folklore as the intellectual property created by the folk has non-authorship when the folklorists own it. How much we really understand the totality of folklore in comparison to the creators of folklore? When we collect folklore, edit it, and publish it the authorship of the folk is neglected, and the folklorist becomes important. Again the publisher becomes another authority by writing on the body of the book that no part of this book is photocopied or translated etc.
Thus folklore in universities and colleges have become a discipline since last 30 years and have witnessed a considerable changes. People writing modern poetry or modern literary criticism is now taking much interest in post modernism or deconstruction theories. It is not understood why at all we would immediately adopt a new model to understand our own culture. It appears to us that scholars are more conscious about looking the subject through the theory lens, and not the data. At least, the data itself has its own function for which it is created.
The shift of folklore from oral to written, from performance to the textualisation, somewhere, loose its originality. It also looses its context. Folklore data, like the birds and animals in the zoo, becomes the object of study in the library than to share in the community in which it is originated. Therefore the division of folk and nonfolk and folklorist needs redefinition. . The best of folklore is to understand the best with in the people. African people say, when an old man in our village is passed away, a rich library is lost in our village. How
much have we been able to enrich ourselves with the people¶s knowledge? This needs re-examination.
Another area of ethics in academic domain is that, we, as the academicians, isolated from the folk themselves, and creates a world of hierarchy in the study in which either it is confined to some folklorists or the folk have nothing to do with it.
Folklore in public sphere
First of all folklore is a social and cultural necessity used by the people, then it became a subject of study in the institutions and universities. Folklore is dynamic, both verbal and static. The social group and the performers/ interest groups reshape the static and performing arts according to the needs of the people.
From tradition to modernity:
For instance, the rural girls of Western Orissa used to play and sing Dalkhai (leaf eater dance) associated with rituals. It was a sacred dance during Aswina (October). But nowadays, the dance, music and song form is adopted by the educated women and this has become a popular medium of self-exposure to the wider world. Unfortunately, the creator of Dalkhai dance staying in the villages has deprived of this opportunity.
Ghumra a war dance of Goddess Durga is now performed to invite the Ministers and VIPs. The changing role of performing arts and static arts have no doubt popularised the folklore irrespective of rural and urban.
Love for traditional art and its consumerism: The Saora wall painting 3Id -tal 3 is widespread in many parts of the State, and its marketability has amazingly attracted the textiles and the businessmen to prepare sarees and T-shirts adopting the Saora 3Id tal ́ motifs.
This aspect has created consumerism and the Ur art form is molded. No matter how a folklorist is worried about its μUr¶form either to retain its originality in the documentation, but in the public sphere, folk art, craft and folk textile has become more demanding.
Therefore while redefining the folklore from the public sphere, it is necessary to understand the manifold aspects of collective creativity, both ideological and material, and to know why and how the art forms are transformed from one model to the other and to understand the changing shape of the art.
Scope for Public sphere acceptance:
In social sphere, folklore as the vehicle of protest, identity, group solidarity, and as the agent of other development schemes like environmental education, primary education, rural handicrafts, textile, recipe, eco-tourism, sustainable development of natural and cultural resources invites the academicians to rethink and redefine folklore from a wider dimension. Ethnography of the Artists: The folklorists are of opinion to safeguard the folk arts by making it useful producing in form of household materials both for aesthetics and durable. Further the ethnography of the folk artists, their sustenance in life and creativity are also some of the concern of folklore research. So it is a shift from the folk art and craft to the ethnography of artists and their involvement in perpetuating the art creatively. This again affirms the creator¶s identity, recognition, and intelectual property rights. This questions the traditional
definition of folk arts and craft and to redefine it.
Ethnic Folklore as the vehicle of politics:
Use of folklore in respective castes is another areas of concern in Indian situation. Each and every caste / tribe have their own caste genealogies or origin myth/ legend/ heroic epics. People maintain their ethnic identity through using creation myth and caste genealogies. This leads to caste unity and the knowledge of the past helps the present. Caste group uses the caste glory for their political gain. Culture unites the caste group in recapturing the political power and caste hierarchy. The caste symbol is the culture hero of the past. In present context, modern political leaders also play a prominent role in unifying the caste identity through which they achieve political power. The Yadav Samaj in Bihar and Orissa, Gond mahasabha in Chhatishgarh and kalahandi, Kondh Samaj in Kondhmal in Orissa, Munda and Santali samaj in Jharkhand have tried to revitalise their group identity through caste myths. They also revise their religious belief. The rituals and festivals play a political role than cultural at times. Kaivarta Geeta – of the fisher folk written by poet Achyutananda Das in 16th century regained its relevance since last 30 years. When some castes in British India were demanding their caste hierarchy, demanded to redefine their caste hierarchy in the fold of scheduled caste or scheduled tribe referring their caste myths and narratives.
Varna and Jati form the foundation of ethnic folklore. Family and clan, kinship and society are regulated through Jati system. Each Jati try to identify oneself with some Aryan God, sage, or kings belong to solar and lunar dynasty.
Each caste tries to establish their ancient origin from remote past. Indian village is designed with the distribution of space associated with caste settlement. Diversities of Kulachar- clan based customs, and then lokachar- the customs obeyed by the group of people with co-existence in the village or locality signifies the cultural pluralism and commonality. The existence of friend caste and enemy caste is also another aspect of caste folklore.
Maintaining ones own racial purity, living in togetherness, sharing common beliefs and culture by many castes, diversities of customs, practices, beliefs and practices are some of the unique aspects in defining the nature of folklore. To understand the independent development of folklore in each caste and tribe in Indian social context, we have to see the four pillar of culture that is: Kulachara, lokachara, Deshachara and Sistachara, representing the cultural foundation of Indian society.
Folklore in changing context: Globalisation verses local culture
When UN and WIPO advocates for intellectual property rights and to safeguard folklore considering it as the intangible heritage, World Bank advocates for cultural and sustainable development, and propagate the marketing of cultural artefacts available in the society so that the real creators of the folk art can get better market price for his production.
Thus when the academicians see folklore as the foundation of cultural expression of human creativity, world bank see folklore and material culture from business point of view and it neglects the aesthetic value of the art form. When local culture and traditional knowledge is in terrible threat of vanishing from the society, consumerism of art and craft creating a market for the society isolate the heritage of the art from the cultural context and makes a market of cultural materials. This dichotomy of culture with
socio- cultural roots in one hand and de-linking the cultural entity for market economy raises many questions.
Lets consider the following:
Kikri – Fiddle is considered as the abode of supreme Gond God Budha Deo. Whether production of 1000 fiddles is necessary by killing 1000 iguana and covering the iguana skin over the fiddle for cultural marketing in stead of some money is justified in terms of violating the animal rights or value the heritage of fiddle associated with the caste genealogies of the Gonds.
Similarly many art forms are de-linked from the heritage.
Globalisation and mono-cultural invasion from far west has grabbed the local culture and language, and wish to create a melting pot in the developing countries. But the economists like Joseph Stiglitza noble prize winner in economics in 2000, question this. He considers that, Globalisation has undermined traditional rural society ́ which is a 3threat to cultural identity and values. ́ The price replaced the values, and market replaced the community. It is not only in developing countries, but also even in Europe the democracy is undermined and cultures eroded.
Relevance of written literature: Ancient written literature is loosing ground from the modern societies. Except the sacred texts, the kavya, Shastras, and many more scriptures have no relevance in present time. Disciplines like language and literature is lacking student enrolment in Universities. Local language and culture is at the crossroad for the wave of free market and a neo- consumerism has taken place where the human values, culture, heritage is challenged. The humanities study in the Universities is gradually loosing its utility in the modern academic and social context, and lots of management schools are sprouted in the universities. A class distinction is visible in the Universities where this feeling is crop up. The shift is a challenge to the present day academicians. Is it true that regional language and literature has no relevance among the forthcoming generations?
But with the changing time, the possibility of safeguarding the folklore has become more methodical, wider, and more demanding. The post-modern (?) era is fascinated with the tribal art, indigenous culture and taking interest in the interest of creator. The gap of folk, non-folk is reducing through sharing of folklore item in aesthetics and consumerism in the public sphere. Similarly the folklorist, reconsider scholarship and authorship from ethical point of view.
To us Indian culture lies in its mainstream traditional society, and unfortunately the modern/ western culture is dominant over both urban and rural societies of India. Cultural invasion and cultural consumerism is a concept to see culture as an object for sale and purchase putting price of it, than value it. The present challenge is to maintain a harmony between the academic domain and public sphere for the survival of cultural studies.
Relations of folk with the folklorists need revision:
Our relation ship with the folk as a folklorist is very limited. Instead of what our Gurus
offer us to become a scholar is the vision and insight to delve in to the subject. But as told earlier, who is enriched with traditional knowledge and for what purpose?
When a Guru is enriched with many a weapons of theories and methods with a scholastic purpose to operate and concretise folklore data in to a knowledge base, institutionalising the discipline in universities and institutions, the creator and consumers of folklore sense folklore differently, may be more intensively. Folklore is a necessity of life, consciously or unconsciously engrained in the experience, rules, and practices in the community with a definite purpose and meaning. The gap of these understanding determines the gap of a folklorist with the folk.
Question of Ethics: `The relation of a folk with the folklorist is not permanent. A folklorist is not invited by the folk for his scholarship. The limited relation of folklorist with the folk cannot help him to understand them. How to reduce the gap and disparity is a major question to day.
In Modern context, it is the individual and the group, which create folklore and influence the mass. The forms of folklore are represented with many purposes carrying much meaning than its earlier one.
Folklore in India as an object of collective creation, with its constant transformation and its use in the society has given a new challenge and new opportunity to the folklorists to rethink and redefine folklore.
Reference: Amos Dan Ben: Towards a definition of folklore in Context
AK Ramanujan: Another Harmony Complete works of AK Ramanujan
Joseph Stiglitz: Globalisation and it’s Discontent