Folklore and Folklife of Meches:
Exploration through Field Research
The reports of the studies on Gandharva, Gopali, Aathpahariya Rai and Danuwar folk groups under the Folklore and Folklife Study Project were presented in the earlier issues of the Newsletter (volume 1, 2, 3, and 4). As the project is continuing with Finnish support under local cooperation, we have completed the study of the fifth folk group – the Meches on various aspects related to the people and the culture. The activities completed in connection with the field research of this folk group are going to be reported here. The processes and the activities carrried on the field study along with its achievements are described in the following topics.
Field research needs some preparatory works which includes purchasing some equipments and preparing the research tools. Therefore, the equipments necessary for field research were purchased, including the digital voice recorder, 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.
The Project Team Leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, requested local resident Mr. Tika Bhandari and Mr. Suren Sapkota to visit the field and collect all the necessary information of Meche folk group of Jorsimal, Mechinagar Municipality ward no. 12 and 13, Jhapa district so that we can manage the field stay for the study of the folk group. When they submitted the preliminary field report, the members of the society decided to send the fifth group to the field, and the group was sent to Jhapa on 13th April 2007.
A team was composed of four researchers and appointed for Meche Study Project, agreement was made with them, and MOU and TOR were signed. The composition of the research team was as follows: 1. Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha (team coordinator) 2. Mr. Ram Kumar Shrestha 3. Mr. Suren Sapkota and 4. Mr. Rohini Raj Nepal.
The researchers practised to operate the essential equipments and tools like digital camera, digital-audio recorder and video cameras from April 1-12, 2007. They also collected some reference materials related to the folk group and were involved in the orientation whereby they were given the necessary guidelines for field work on 6th April. Besides, an interaction programme was organized in the project office to share the experience between them and the earlier field researchers who had completed their field work. Prof. Dr. C. M. Bandhu (coordinator, first research group), Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha (coordinator, second research group) and Mr. Amrit Yonjon (coordinator, third research group) shared their experiences of working in the field in course of data collection on behalf of the earlier research teams. The project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa and Prof. Dr. Abhi Subedi were present in the programme where Prof. Diwasa also provided necessary guidelines for the researchers regarding the field study.
Field Work in Jorsimal and Adjacent Areas of Jhapa
The field researchers collected data covering various aspects of Meche folklore and folklife while they spend three months (from April 14th to July 12th, 2007) in the settlement areas of the Meche folk group in and around Jorsimal VDC - Jhapa district. The work of data collection was divided into four different areas of Meche folklore and folklife that includes: 1) Meche folk language and folk communication, 2) Meche material folk culture and folk heritage, 3) Meche folk literature and performing arts, and 3) Meche socio-cultural folklife and folkways. Mr. Suren Sapkota, Mr. Ram Kumar Shrestha, Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha (Team Coordinator) and Mr. Rohini Raj Nepal collected the relevant information in the areas respectively.
The researchers sent altogether six reports in the interval of every fortnight, reporting their activities, collections and achievements to the project office, Bhatbhateny, Kathmandu during their stay in the field. The relevant information were collected by the researchers by visiting the key informants of the folk group, interviewing them and audio recording the speech, taking photographs, and video-recordings of the several aspects of their life, community, culture, language etc. They also used the field notes and questionnaires for collection of the data. During their fieldwork, the researchers visited almost each and every corner of the Meche folk group settlement area. The Meche people cooperated them a lot during their field visits and data collection.
Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, the project coordinator, along with the video-cameraman Mohan Bikram Shah made a visit and inquired the achievement and problems of the research work and gave guidelines to the researchers on the 7th July 2007.
Problems and Rapport Building
As in the other field studies conducted under the FOFO Study Project, the researchers had to face the uneasy situation in getting community’s belief and support for the study. The reason behind, according to some of the community leaders as they have explained their past experience, was that some experts visited to the Meche settlement areas, consulted them and collected materials; but neither they make clear about their purpose of such “studies” nor they informed them about the research findings. Some of the community members told that some researchers even did distrustful acts like taking valuable documents from the villagers but not returning them back. Thus, they were reluctant to cooperate with the research team.
However, the researchers assured that there will not be any distrustful activities; they convinced the community saying that they will disseminate whatever they find during the research; and they asked for the help of the community. Finally they were successful in rapport building.
The researchers came back to the project office after completing the work of data collection from the field in the second week of July 2007 and submitted their field study survey report. The information collected from the fieldwork area are documented in the office, mostly in the form of digital audio/video recordings and photographs. Besides, some items representing Meche 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 report. Some of the researchers had already finished their report writing and submitted to the project office.
Collections and Achievements
The researchers had completed data collection on 12th July 2007 and now they are preparing their reports. The work of data collection from the folk group had been divided among four researchers covering the four main areas of folklore and folklife study. The progress of their work is reported here briefly. They have brought some items representing the Meche material culture. These items include: Dokhna (Sari), Sawl (Pachyaura), Gamcha (towel), Bathau (god), Phurlung (fish storing net), Pangkha (bamboo fan), Burung (bamboo fishing net), Wakholto (musical instrument), Dhanus (bow), etc.
The field researchers have completed video-recordings of the relevant information in altogether 21 DVC cassettes for 21 hours in total length. Besides, altogether 3993 pictures and 61:34:20 hours’ long audio materials have been collected. In addition to that the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa and Cameraman Mr. Mohan Bikram Shah have also visited the area and video-recorded the relevant aspects of Meche folklore and folklife, with the length of 13 hours in total, 473 photographs and 12:47:00 hours audio recordings.
The excerpt of the collections and the achievements of each of the individual researchers based on their reports from the field available in the project office through the team coordinator are presented here.
I. Folk Language and Folk Communication:
Mr. Suren Sapkota
Mr. Sapkota has taken 1118 photos, and has audio-recorded oral texts having the total length of 19:40:50 hours so far. He has also collected the video recordings with the length of 10 hours. The collection of the data covers the areas of communication, bilingualism, language attitudes, baby talks, dialect study, etc. Among these areas 113 namelores, 9 onomatopoeic words, 6 prayers, 11 proverbs/proverbial expressions, 10 curses/taunts, 8 blessings, 3 commands, 18 nicknames, 1220 special vocabulary items, 9 adverbials, 14 time adverbials, 430 folk words, 20 name of the diseases, 11 folk medicine terms, 62 kinship terms, 5 riddles, 12 traditional beliefs, 30 names of the traditional food items and folk games, 12 folk ornaments, 2 dialogues/conversations, 3 discussions and sentences have been collected.
II. Folk literature and performing arts:
Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha
Mr. Shrestha has taken 702 pictures, and has audio-recorded oral texts with the length of 26:52:12 hours in total. He has also produced a video record with the length of 2 hours. The collection based on the areas of folk narratives, myths, folktales, personal memoirs, folk songs, performing arts, music, musical instruments, etc. Among these areas the collection includes 3 folk narratives, 1 myth, 16 folk tales, 3 folk legends, 9 personal memoirs, 49 folk songs, 12 religious songs, 2 seasonal/festival songs, 13 folk dances, 1 children’s song, 14 folk music and musical instruments, 26 folk games, 11 riddles and 10 proverbs.
III. Material folk culture and folk heritage:
Mr. Ram Kumar Shrestha
Mr. Shrestha has taken 1118 photographs and has audio-recorded oral texts with the total length of 06:38:30 hours. He has also done a video record with the length of 6 hours. The field of research covered includes rites and rituals, folk foods and festivals, folk clothes, folk feasts, folk medicine, folk gods and goddesses, folk religion, folk art and crafts, traditional technology, etc. His collection also includes 16 folk foods, 9 folk clothes, 3 folk festivals, 8 folk feasts, 14 folk medicines, 12 folk gods and goddesses, 14 folk arts and crafts, 1 folk religion, 2 folk furniture, 13 folk weapons and 8 traditional technology and wisdoms.
IV. Socio-cultural folklife and folkways:
Mr. Rohini Raj Nepal
Mr. Nepal has taken 1070 photographs, and has audio-recorded the oral texts with the length of 8:22:48 hours. The subject matter covered in the collection includes: folk life and daily activities, source of income, method of harvesting, rites of the passage, folk beliefs, customs and livelihood, division of labour, gender issues, decision making procedures, kinship system, family structure, religious beliefs, folk gods and goddesses, etc. He has also video-recorded the relevant information with the total length of 3 hours. He has collected 24 folk beliefs.
As a whole, the researchers have completed the field research successfully among the Meche folk group. The research has two very important consequences at this stage. First of these, various aspects of the folklore and folk life have been explored and the information have been collected which will be the useful resources for outsiders to understand the community and to know about their rich cultural heritage. Secondly, the community members themselves become aware in preserving and promoting their language, culture, folk ways, folk traditions and other several aspects of their own cultural heritages. Such an awareness among the community members lead them towards enthusiasm and the initiative role in organizing programs to promote their cultural heritages and uplift and empower the community so that the community can stand in its own and identify in terms of its own cultural heritages. The lesson learned from this research activity is that the debate on whether the outcome should be scholarly and for the scholars or should be presented in simple non-technical language and for the people who own the resources can be solved easily if the researchers work together with the community members; let the community member feel that the research is done for them, they should be involved, and the outcomes are for their use; help the people in empowering themselves; be honest to the community; and finally present the report semi-scholarly so that it could be used by both the scholars and the community members.
The research team has collected lots of information and materials on Meche folk group during the three months stay at Jorsimal. They get invaluable support from the community during the field visit and they have had many opportunities to see, to entertain the social and cultural performances, and captured them in audio and audio-visual forms. Thus, it has become very successful and fruitful field visit in terms of qualitative as well as quantitative point of view.