Documentation is one emerging area in our work. Over the
last few years, especially after its convergence into an organisation, Acoustic
Traditional is now looking at ways of documenting, especially the 'oral myths'
and the various traditions of narrating them (orally) in various tribal
As storytellers disappear, these oral histories (myths and legends) also disappear. It's but sadly a race against time. And given the fact that most myths (especially origins of tribes) are shared only by shamans or
medicinemen/women of a community (in the oral form), the work becomes even more challenging as the numbers of these keepers of cultural legacies are becoming more and more less. The demise of Samdup Taso (shaman from North Sikkim) in October 2011 is proof of this: he was the last surviving shaman who knew of the rituals and the wisdom associated with the worship of Konchen Chu (Mt. Kanchanzonga), a tradition that was over eight centuries old which linked the royalty of Sikkim (Bhutias) with the Lepcha tribal people.
Oral History: At The Heart of a Tribe
As the name suggests, it is history which is passed on orally. All cutlures throughout the world have it, though in varying degrees in terms of detail.While most of it have been documented and written down, there exists a vast area of content which is yet to be documented - either textually or electronically (audio/video). This area is something which relates to a vast majority of tribal (espeically primitive) communities in India and around the world.
In the recent past, there has been a surge of interst in our cultures, traditions, folklore, etc., and as auch, much much has come into light. Numerous books on tribal folktales are being published, providing fresh insights into our myths (pantheons, origin, etc.,), beliefs and practices. However, the area of interest remains fairly built around folktales, conservation tools, rituals, medicines, handicrafts, music and
"Our oral history is our guide. It is the source of our legends, stories, music, beliefs and practices and every tradition associated with our communities. It is the source upon which we have perfected our medicines, healing sytems, knowledge of the natural world, rituals, prayers and various other practices.
It is Sacred to us and hence remians protected in the hands of our shamans and medicine people. It is passed on from them to the communities during ceremonies and certain rituals, after they undergo a rigorious initiation process (in their childhood usually) and years of training under the tutelage of their Guide. This has been the tradition, despite the fact that most of our cultures have an evolved script which continue to remain in use until today." Mr. Amalee, Paniyar Shaman.
Oral history, by far an invaluable resource to the community, needs to be preserved, given the fact that they are disappearing along with its keepers. It is the fundamental basis of understanding our identities. While folktales, music and crafts have a better chance of survival in the larger community (also because they have economic value), it is our oral history that has far less scope of surviving the times.
In most communities, the threat of loss in this regard is two-fold: a. loss of the tradition of narrating tribal origins as the number of people who are trained to do it are lessening and b. the loss of orally recorded history itself. As an example, in the Paniyar tribal community of Nilgiris (Tamil Nadu, India), there remains only one shaman who conducts rituals and performs the narrative associated with oral history. He is 75 years old and without a successor. Among the Kowica tribal people of the Eastern Himalayas (less than 70,000 in number), there exists about 3 "Poiba(s)" to conduct similar activities. Instances such as these are many and across India and around the world.
Our Objectives in Documentation
Collaboratively work with shamans and medicine people to document electronically the narrative sessions and rituals associated with them and enage with them even in the long run
Build an offline/online archive accessible to communities and stakeholders
Create opportunities for such storytellers, post documentation process, to interact with a larger audience (sessions, workshops, seminars, etc.)
Eventually enable the storytellers and community members to document such processess on their own in the long run where we are seen more as facilitaors
Documentation in Progress
Acoustic Traditional has recently started to work, collaboratively, with Mr. Dhan Bhadur Limboo ("Bijuwa" or a Limboo medicineman)of the Limboo tribe in Darjeeling. It'll be a long association as the documentation involves primarily around his ceremonies held at different times of the year and on various occassions. The nature of this documentation is fairly intensive as is the nature of our "sessions" with him, which entails his process of possession by Guardian Deities before any narrative begins.
The documentation would result in an electronic form of publication of the sessions (audio).
Copyright, Acoustic Traditional, 2011