Monday, 27 July 2015

Folklore: Our Fading Link to the Past

-Brian Mendonça

             When an old woman or man dies, a library burns to the ground.

When I signed up for Coursera’s online programme on ‘The American South: Its Stories, Music and Art,’ I had no idea that the course instructor would be a folklorist. After doing the 6 course hours at a stretch last Sunday as the rain pelted on my window I felt that it was an obvious choice. Only a folklorist would be able to painstakingly bring together the diverse ‘quilt’ of the stories, the music and the art of the American South.

Of course, Dr. William Ferris, the course host, is the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History at UNC but it is from a tradition of folklore that his teaching emanates. As he oscillated between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement in America I was thinking how non-formal sources of knowledge provided so intimate a view of a people’s past.

Folklore is essential an oral source, i.e. which is told, sung or made. It was fascinating how he included and analyzed basket-weaving and quilt-making as art forms. The South, he said has to be seen through the prism of race, class and gender all of which are informed by oral narratives. The point is made starkly in  Kate Chopin’s chilling short story, ‘Desirée’s Baby’ (1893) set in Louisiana – the Creole state -- and William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ (1930) set in hometown Mississippi.

I was thinking why could such an initiative not be nurtured for Goa? There are so many stories waiting to be told – to someone who would only listen. When elders go away to the happy hunting grounds (a Lakota belief in the afterlife) we are bereft of all their lore, mostly undocumented.

I was recently invited to chair a session at Goa University (GU) featuring a paper by Tanvi Bambolkar titled, ‘Lore through the Lens: Integrating Technology in Folkloric Studies.’ I discovered that there is no separate department for folklore studies at GU. Tanvi was pursuing her research through the Department of English at GU. ‘Being a new science [folklore studies] opens up a new possibility in the field of humanities for folklore to be a technology-driven field,’ says Tanvi. While this speaks for the latitude of the Humanities this is no reason why the GU should not consider a full-fledged department for folklore studies.

I was gladdened when I read the establishment of a Folklore University in neighbouring Karnataka. Karnataka Folklore University (KFU) at Haveri offers a PG in folk tourism which trains students to appreciate folk art and culture of the region and showcase them to tourists including foreigners.

Goan Quest – an initiative of Goa Chitra, Benaulim, conducted on Sundays through the season -- provides a window to the folkloric traditions of Goa. The experience allows participants to view pottery, mat-weaving and cane-weaving on the premises. Supported by the Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Goa, Goan Quest has provided the lead. Will others take the cue?

Published in Gomantak TimesWeekender , St. Inez, Goa on Sunday 26 July 2015; Pix source http://colvaholidayhomesgoa.blogspot(dot)in

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