Field Study on the Gopali Folklore and Folklife
As reported in the earlier issue
of the Newsletter, Nepali Folklore Society has successfully conducted the field
study among two folk groups of Nepal (Gandharvas and Gopalis) under the Folklore
and Folklife Study Project. Out of these, the works completed in connection with
the study of Gandharvas have already been reported earlier. So, hereby, we are
reporting the activities conducted in course of studying the Gopali folk group
under the same project. The topics that follow will describe the progress and
achievements of the field study on this folk group.
The preparatory works done in
connection with the study of Gopali folk group consisted of the preparation of
research tools needed for data collection from the field. Accordingly, field
sheets, questionnaires, schedules and other tools were prepared. This work was
completed in the first week of October 2005, prior to the researchers’ departure
to the field – i.e. the settlement area of Gopalis.
In the 4th week of September
2005, a preliminary survey of Gopali folk group living in Kunchhal and adjacent
villages of Makawanpur district was conducted by a team of experts including
Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha and Mr. Ekaram Maharjan. The
survey team found that the people belonging to this folk group densely reside in
some localities of Bajrabarahi VDC including Kunchhal, Toukhel, Nhulgaun, Gahate,
Papung (Tistung) and Sikharkot (Palung) villages of Makawanpur district. From
the survey, about 450 households were found residing in and around these
localities. Based on the preliminary survey, the team concluded that it would be
a meaningful work to study the historical, cultural, linguistic, social and
economic aspects of the folk life of Gopalis, a historically important folk
group residing in that area for centuries. It was also found that there was a
possibility of obtaining several facts about this folk group from field
research. Considering these things, the survey team concluded that a detailed
study of the Gopali folk group was essential and relevant in studying the
Nepali folklore and folklife.
In the 3rd week of October 2005, the field researchers surveyed some reference materials on Gopali folk group and obtained the preliminary information on their folklore and folklife. Besides, the project office organized an orientation programme for the researchers whereby they were given the necessary guidelines regarding the methods and procedures and using the instruments and tools (e.g. the digital camera, audio and video recording, etc.) for data collection in the field. On the occasion, the researchers also shared the experience of field research from the members of the earlier research team who had completed the field-based works among the Gandharvas.
The field researchers stayed in
the settlement areas of Gopalis for 3 months (from the 4th week of October 2005
to the 3rd week of January 2006). The team comprises four researchers: Mr. Tej
Prakash Shrestha (Team Coordinator, folklore), Dr. Rudra Laxmi Shrestha
(language), Mr. Ekaram Maharjhan (culture) and Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary
(anthropology). Their work of data collection was divided into four main areas
of folklore and folklife study, whereby Mr. Shrestha, Dr. Shrestha, Mr.
Maharjhan and Mr. Chaudhary collected the relevant information in the areas of
folk literature and performing arts, folk language and folk communication,
material folk culture and folk heritage, and socio-cultural folklife and
In the meantime, the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa visited the field work area (Kunchhal and the surrounding villages of Bajrabarahi VDC, Makawanpur district) from 21st to 25th December 2005, with the cameraman Mr. Siddartha Kumar Shakya, for the purpose of facilitating the field researchers as well as for video recording the relevant aspects of Gopali folklore and folklife. On the occasion, Prof. Diwasa attended a Gopali folk cultural programme as the Chief Guest, which was organized by the local Nispaksha Gopali Yuba Club (a local Gopali youth club, working in association with NFS) in Kunchhal village on 21st December. Mr. Chandra Bahadur Gopali had presided over the function, where people of the Gopali folk group from Kunchhal, Papung, Tistung and Gahate villages were present. The Gopalis had performed their folk dances, folk songs, religious songs and traditional dramas in the programme, using various folk and modern musical instruments and wearing their folk dresses during the performance. Among some of the good performances, a dance in the song based on the story of King Kam Singh and his minister Chandra Singh is worth mentioning. Playing the harmonium, Dr. Rudra Laxmi Shrestha, a member of the research team, had also presented a Bhajan (religious song) on the occasion. The club had organized the programme at the request of the field researchers; and this became the opportunity for the researchers to record the required information related to the traditional Gopali culture.
Problems and Rapport Building
Although the researchers did not
feel major difficulties during their stay for data collection in the field, they
faced some problems in the beginning. The informants had a lack of time to spend
with the researchers, due to their priority to spend time in agricultural
activities during the day time in particular. Sometimes the researchers could
not spend with the informants for the collection of data even in the morning and
In the beginning, the local informants did not believe the researchers and hesitated to cooperate fully. However, the researchers succeeded in building up a good rapport with them later on; so the informants became more helpful and began to cooperate in giving the necessary information.
After the completion of data
collection from the field, the researchers came back and submitted their study
report to the project office. The office has preserved all the collected
information in the form of digital audio/video recordings and photographs. Thus,
the information has been documented; and the researchers are finalizing the
works of transcribing, analyzing and interpreting the data, which will be
published in the form of book later.
Collection and Achievements
The researchers have brought some
representative items of Gopali material culture and handed them over to the
project office. These items include Nalu Lhaka (shoes made of Nalu, a typical
plant fibre), Suya Lhaka (shoes made of straw), Tagi Dalo (a container to keep
the items of farm products), Haku Patasi (black sari worn by women), Sol Peche
(small container made of Nigalo, a variety of bamboo), Phirke (a kitchen utensil
mostly used for preparing liquor/beer), Durunhegun Pha (a wooden container used
for milking the cow), Chhenguya Mhiche (leather-made money bag), Gacha (shawl
made in the hand-loom), bamboo comb, etc.
Besides these, some historically important items – such as the copies of stone and copper inscriptions (10 in total), and manuscripts (altogether 23) – have also been collected from the field. Out of the collected inscriptions, two are from King Amshuvarma’s regime (Sambat 31 and 37); and others belong to Sambat 434, 820, 832, and 920. The most recent one available from the field is of 2004 Bikram Era (around 1947 A.D.).
The collection also includes audio record of oral texts, photographs, and video recordings. The audio recorded oral text is of 144.52 hours in total length, including all the 4 researchers’ collections. They have taken 6882 photographs, and made video recording in altogether 12 cassettes (i.e. 12 hours in total length). In addition to the researchers’ collection, the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa and Mr. Siddhartha Kumar Shakya have also video recorded the relevant aspects of Gopali folklore and folklife in altogether 14 cassettes (14 hours in length). These video cassettes contain the record of interviews with the informants, folk cultural performances, information related to the folk group’s settlement areas, houses, historically, culturally and religiously important places, and the day-to-day life activities of the people in the folk group. All these collections are preserved in the project office.
To mention more specifically, the information related to the folklore and folklife of Gopalis available in the project office is mentioned below.
I. Folk Literature and Performing Arts: Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha
Mr. Shrestha has taken altogether
1419 photographs. He has also audio recorded different kinds of oral texts from
the informants, with the length of 37.49 hours in total. Moreover, he has also
made 6 hours’ participatory observation in the field area. The subject matter
covered in his collection includes Dapha, story, songs, music, personal
memories, etc. From his collection, altogether 1 folk narrative, 2 folk tales, 8
folk legends, 1 annotated joke, 2 folk dances, 2 folk dramas, 1 folk poem, 4
children’s songs, 4 folk ballads, 12 seasonal folk songs, 12 religious songs, 2
festival songs, 2 ritual songs, 24 other folk songs, 64 proverbs, 5 riddles,
names of 18 folk musical instruments, 21 folk games, and 6 short biographies of
the Gopali representative experts of performing arts have been recorded and
II. Folk Language and Folk Communication: Dr. Rudra Laxmi Shrestha
Dr. Shrestha has audio recorded oral texts from several informants with the total length of 13.31 hours, and has taken altogether 375 photographs. She has conducted interviews with different informants, which cover several aspects of Gopali language. From her collection, the project office has documented altogether 109 namelores, 56 onomastics words, 2 children’s folk rhymes, 6 folk riddles, 62 proverbs and proverbial expressions, 34 words related to baby talks, 12 words used for greeting and leave taking, 2 nicknames, about 2400 special vocabulary items, 32 curses and taunts, 200 different sentences, 2 slangs, etc.
III. Material Folk Culture and Folk Heritage: Mr. Ekaram Maharjan
Altogether 2514 photographs have been taken by Mr. Maharjan. He has audio recorded oral texts from the informants, with the total length of 61.32 hours. The subject matter in his collection includes a wide range of information related to material folk culture and folk heritage – such as folk festivals, folk weapons, folk food, religion, traditional technology and wisdom, folk utensils and furniture, folk beliefs etc. From his collection, altogether 28 folk rituals have been observed and documented. Similarly, 14 folk foods, 47 folk dresses, 40 folk festivals, 3 feasts, 10 names of folk medicine, 27 names of folk gods and goddesses, 12 names of folk religion, 24 folk arts and crafts, 2 folk architectures, 34 names of folk tools and weapons, 1 item of folk furniture, and 87 different types of traditional technology and wisdom etc. have been documented. He has also made a video recording of 9 hours. Besides, his work also includes some participatory observation tours and interviews with 40 people of different age groups.
IV. Socio-Cultural Folklife and Folkways: Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary
Mr. Chaudhary has taken altogether 2574 photographs; and he has audio recorded the oral text with the total length of 32 hours, by interviewing several informants. The coverage of subject matter in his collection includes several things related to the folklife and folkways of Gopalis. He has collected information on the indigenous institutions, folk rituals, etc. His collection mainly includes the information related to source of income, method of harvesting, rites of the passage, beliefs, folk festivals, customs and livelihood, division of labour, gender issues, decision making procedure, family structure, kinship system, religious beliefs, etc. Spending more than 585 hours with the informants in the field and making several participatory observations, he has also produced a video record of the relevant information with the total length of 3 hours.
In a nutshell, the study has been
a highly encouraging step towards the in-depth exploration of Nepali folklore,
as part of the continuation of the Folklore and Folklife Study Project, running
in the initiation of Nepali Folklore Society. The researchers have made a very
significant attempt to explore the folklore and folklife of Gopalis, one of the
historically important folk groups of Nepal, which was not studied in detail
from the folkloristic and folklife perspective so far. The findings of the study
will be highly relevant for the purpose of disseminating the folkloristic
traditions, culture and different folklife practices found among Gopalis. After
the people in the folk group were in contact with the researchers during the
field study, they have developed awareness regarding the importance of their own
folk cultural heritage; and they are willing to disseminate such information to
the people outside their community as well.