Folklore and Folklife of Athpahariya Rais:
Exploration through Field Research

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In the earlier issues of the Newsletter (volume 1 and 2), we had reported our studies on Gandharva and Gopali folk groups under the Folklore and Folklife Study Project. In the course of continuing the same project with Finnish support under Local cooperation, now we have completed several works related to the study of the third folk group – the Athpahariya Rai. Therefore, the activities completed in connection with the field research of this folk group are going to be reported here. The topics that follow will describe the progress of the field study along with its achievements. 

Preparatory Works

For the purpose of data collection from field, the preparatory works needed to be done included that of purchasing some equipments and preparing the research tools. Therefore, the equipments necessary for field research were purchased, including the memory cards, rewritable CDs, DVCs (digital video cassettes) etc. Moreover, field sheets, questionnaires and schedules were also prepared, prior to the beginning of the field-based activities.

Pre-Field Work

From February 28 to March 3, 2006, a preliminary survey of Athpahariya Rais’ settlement area was carried out by the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa and researcher Mr. Shambhu Khatiwada. They had visited Dadagaun and adjacent areas of Dhankuta Municipality, whereby feasibility study of the field research was carried out.
Based on the survey, it was reported that Athpahariya Rais have some distinct ways of life and social characteristics, which differ from the rest groups of Kiranti community. As such, with the view to preserve their language, culture and traditions, the need for a detailed study of their folklore and folklife was strongly felt.
As mentioned in the survey report, Dhankuta Municipality, Bhirgaun and Belahara VDCs are the main settlement areas of Athpahariya Rais; and altogether 1442 households of this folk group are living in these localities. Regarding their population, the report has mentioned that a total number of 7405 people of this ethnic group are residing in Dhankuta Muniicipality, Belahara VDC and Bhirgaun VDC respectively.
Prof. Diwasa and Mr. Khatiwada had mentioned 40 names of local informants, who were willing to assist the field researchers in course of data collection. In addition, the names of two local organizations working in the Athpahariya Rai community were also mentioned in the report, which could help the field-based activities. These are: 1) Athpahariya Rai Samaj Dhankuta; and 2) Triveni Sanskritik Group.
Four researchers were appointed, and agreement was made with them in the last week of April 2006. The research team comprises these experts: 1. Mr. Amrit Yonjan-Tamang (Team Coordinator); 2. Mr. Shambhu Khatiwada; 3. Mr. Bulu Mukarung; and 4. Mr. Luisang Waiba.
From April 28th to the 4th of May, the researchers learned operating the essential equipments/ tools needed for data collection (digital camera, video camera, and audio recorder). They also collected the available literature related to the folk group, and were involved in the orientation programme, whereby they were given the necessary guidelines for field research.
Besides, an interaction programme was organized in the project office to share the experience between them and the earlier field researchers who had already completed their field work. On behalf of the earlier research teams, Prof. Dr. C.M. Bandhu (Coordinator, first research group) and Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha (Coordinator, second research group) had shared their experience of working in the field for data collection. The programme was organized in the presence of the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa; and he had given the necessary guidelines for the researchers.

Field Work in Dadagaun and Adjacent Areas

Spending the period of 3 months (from May 5th to August 4th, 2006) in the settlement areas of the folk group in and around Dhankuta Dadagaun, the field researchers collected data on Athpahariya Rai folklore and folklife. The work of data collection was divided into four different areas of Athpahariya folklore and folklife: 1) folk language and folk communication, 2) material folk culture and folk heritage, 3) folk literature and performing arts, and 3) socio-cultural folklife and folkways. Mr. Amrit Yonjan (Team Coordinator), Mr. Shambhu Khatiwada, Mr. Bulu Mukarung and Mr. Luisang Waiba had taken charge of collecting the relevant information in the 4 areas respectively.
During their stay in the field, the researchers had sent reports in the interval of every fortnight, mentioning their activities, collections and achievements, to the project office, Bhatbhateny, Kathmandu. They had collected the relevant information by visiting the key informants of the folk group, interviewing them and audio recording the speech, taking photographs, and video-recording several aspects of their life, community, culture, language etc. They also used the field notes and questionnaires for the purpose of data collection. During their fieldwork, the researchers visited almost each and every corner of the folk group settlement area from Yakchana (to the South-East of Dhankuta Municipality) to Akhisalla (to the west of Belahara VDC). The Athpahariya Kirant Rai Samajhelped them a lot during their field visits and data collection.
The project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa also visited the field work area (Dadagaun and the surroundings of Dhankuta Municipality) from 30th July to 6th August 2006, with the cameraman Mr. Mohan Bikram Shah, for the purpose of facilitating the field research activities and for video-recording the relevant aspects of the folklore and folklife of Athpahariya Rais. On the occasion, he inaugurated a symposium organized by Athpahariya Kirant Rai Samaj in corporation with the field researchers, in which the first ever prepared Athpahariya Dictionary, Athpahariya grammar and the newspaper Phungning were released. The porgramme was organized to get the feedback on the information collected by the researchers on the ethnic group’s folklore & folk life. Inspired from the research activities, the members of this organization were also involved together with the researchers in making the dictionary.
On the occasion, the Athpahariya Kirant Rai Samaj had given the letters of honour to the researchers, for their contribution in exploring the cultural and folkloristic matters of the folk group, as well as for their inspiration in creating awareness among Athpahariyas towards the preservation and promotion of their folk cultural heritage. In the symposium, the researchers had presented the important findings of their field work, which were discussed by the participants and local experts, and feedback was derived.

Problems and Rapport Building

Some of the community leaders in the folk group narrated their past experience with some experts who had visit 'Athpahariyas’ settlement areas, consulted them and collected some materials; but the Athpahariyas had not understood the purpose of such “studies”, since the experts never informed them about the research findings. Moreover, they even narrated the events of distrustful acts done by the experts earlier in the name of research – like taking valuable documents from the villagers but not returning them back. Mentioning such a context, several informants raised a doubt in the present research as well and questioned regarding what could be expected as the outcome of the research for their own benefit

Realizing the need for raising the informants’ confidence in the field activities, the researchers convinced them by saying that they will disseminate the research findings among the people of the folk group. After some discussions with the members of Athpahariya Kirant Rai Samaj, they were convinced that the researchers’ field activities will, of course, contribute a lot for the preservation and promotion of their cultural and folkloristic heritage – which can be one of the inspiring sources for their community empowerment. Thus, the researchers were able to build up a good rapport with the informants through the members of Athpahariya Kirant Rai Samaj, and to seek all sorts of necessary supports from them in the field.

Post-Field Work

In the 1st week of August 2006, the researchers came back to the project office after completing the work of data collection from the field, and submitted their field survey report. The information collected from the fieldwork is documented in the office, mostly in the form of digital audio/video recordings and photographs. Besides, some items representing Athpahariya Rai material folk culture, collected from the field research, are also preserved in the office. Now the researchers are transcribing, analyzing and interpreting the data, in order to prepare the detailed research report.

Collections and Achievements

The field researchers have handed some items representing the folklife and material culture of Athpahariya Rais over to the project office. These items include: Mekhli (dress item, covering upper part of body), Takombi (shawl), Murali (musical instrument like flute), Thunche (basket made of bamboo), Mahala (that covers the mouth of cattle), Khungi (small cage for chicken), Perungo (for carrying the piglets), Halo-Juwa (the farming instruments), Dhol (folk musical drum), Khukuri (cutting device), Hasiya (for cutting grass), Dhiki (for beating rice), Dhanu-Ban (arrow), binayo (musical instrument played using the mouth), Chhitasim (woman’s dress like sari), Bamboo comb, etc.
The researchers have also made the folk group’s household survey, and brought the survey record to the project office. The main collection from the field includes the oral texts recorded from the informants in the form of interviews, songs, narratives, photos, and video records of the various aspects of Athpahariya folklife. Altogether, the researchers have video-recorded the relevant information with the total length of 15 hours. Similarly, 2948 pictures have been taken and 72.44 hours’ long audio texts have been recorded from the field. All these are preserved in the project office.
Besides, the office has also got 371 photographs and video record of the relevant aspects of the folklore and folklife of Athpahariya Rais collected by Prof. Diwasa and Mr. Mohan Bikram Shah, with the length of 13 hours.

Covering the 4 different research areas mentioned above (cf. ‘Field Work in Dadagaun and Adjacent Areas’), the work of data collection was divided among the members of research team. So, the data collected by the individual researchers are reported below separately.
I. Folk Language and Folk Communication:
Mr. Amrit Yonjan

Mr. Yonjan has spent 457 hours with the informants in the field, and has taken 291 photos depicting the folklore and folklife of Athpahariya Rais. He has audio-recorded altogether 66 oral texts having the total length of 7.46 hours.Moreover, he has also video-recorded the relevant information, which is 3 hours in length. This collection includes morphology, communication, multilingualism, language attitudes, baby talks, sociolinguistic functions of greeting and leave taking, dialect study, identification of consonants/vowels and supra-segmental phonemes, analysis of syllable structure, noun phrase, etc. From his collection, 440 namelores, 130 onomastic words, 7 prayers, 10 folk riddles, 55 proverbs/proverbial expressions, 140 jargons, 65 nicknames, 1450 special vocabulary items, and 50 curses/taunts have been collected.
II. Material Folk Culture and Folk Heritage:
Mr. Shambhu Khatiwada
Spending 332 hours with the informants in the field, Mr. Khatiwada has taken altogether 1130 photos and has audio-recorded 24 oral texts with the total length of 21.59 hours. The subject matter covered in the collection includes rites and rituals, folk medicine, dress and ornaments, handloom, folk architecture, god and goddess, traditional occupations etc. From his collection, 7 folk rituals, 4 folk food items, 39 folk clothes, 3 folk festivals, 7 folk feasts, 12 folk gods/goddesses, 12 folk arts/crafts, 34 folk architectures, 11 folk medicines, 35 folk weapons, 15 folk furniture items, and 42 different forms of traditional technology/wisdom have been documented. He has also produced a video record of 3.55 hours.
III. Folk Literature and Performing Arts:
Mr. Bulu Mukarung

Mr. Mukarung has taken 1040 pictures, and has audio-recorded 230 different oral texts, with the length of 26.33 hours in total. He has also produced a video record, which is 4.30 hours’ long. He has spent altogether 604 hours with the informants in the field. The collection involves folk songs, folktales, performing arts, narratives, myths, personal memories, folk music, musical instruments, etc. He has collected 10 folk narratives, 15 myths, 55 folk tales, 2 legends, 9 personal memories, 23 annotated jokes, 7 folk poems, 73 folk songs, 4 seasonal/festival songs, 5 work songs, 1 ritual song, 3 folk dances, 4 children’s songs, 5 musical instruments and 2 folk games.
IV. Socio-Cultural Folklife and Folkways:
Mr. Luisang Waiba

Mr. Waiba has spent 420 hours with the informants in the community of Athpahariya Rais. He has taken 901 photos, and has audio-recorded 23 different oral texts, with the length of 23.07 hours in total. He has also video-recorded the relevant information with the total length of 6.06 hours. The subject matter covered in the collection includes: the clan, social heroes, day-to-day life activities of people, rites of the passage, division of labour, gender issues, decision making procedures, kinship, religious beliefs, etc.

Concluding Remarks
Overall, the researchers had a wonderful experience of working in the field among Athpahariya Rais. Not only has the field research been successful in exploring several aspects of the folklore and folklife of this community, but it has also become a highly encouraging endeavour in increasing the awareness of the people of this folk group towards the preservation and promotion of several dimensions of their folklife, culture and language. The people of this folk group, influenced from our research activities, have become highly enthusiastic to initiate prorgrammes for the upliftment of their community and for the promotion of their valuable folk cultural heritage. We have experienced that, if the awareness of the folk group is maintained in this way, no doubt, any folkloristic research will not simply remain the matter of expert’s task;instead, it will also be the part and parcel of the folk group’s life - which, in turn, will be more meaningful. We have learned this great lesson from our field-based activities among Athpahariya Rais, in which the people belonging to the folk group have cooperated with us as if they are themselves the responsible persons to handle the research activities.