Folklore and Folklife of Tharus:

Exploration through Field Research

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The study of the sixth folk group – the Tharus on various aspects related to the people and the culture is also completed as the project is continuing with Finnish support under local cooperation. Five studies under the Folklore and Folklife Study Project have already completed on Gandharva, Gopali, Aathpahariya Rai, Danuwar and Meches folk groups and reported in the earlier issues of the Newsletter (volume 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). This issues focuses on field research activities of Tharus. It concentrates on research methodology, achievements and success criteria. The following topics include the description of the processes and the activities carried on the field study along with its achievements.


Preparatory Works


The works of purchasing some equipments and preparing the research tools are the starting points for the field research as preparatory works. Therefore, the equipments necessary for field research were purchased, including the digital voice recorder, rewritable CDs, DVCs (digital video cassettes) etc. Besides, field sheets, questionnaires and schedules were also prepared, prior to the beginning of the field-based activities.


Pre-field Work

The Project Team Leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, requested local resident Dr. Govind Archarya to visit the field and collected all the necessary information of Tharu folk group of Dang and Deukhuri valleys in Dang district prior to the research team's departure. When he submitted the preliminary field report, the members of the society decided to send the sixth group to the field, and the group was sent to Dang on 13th April 2007.


A team of four researchers was appointed for Tharu Study Project, agreement was made with them, and MOU and TOR were signed. The composition of the research team was as follows: 1. Dr. Govind Archarya (team coordinator) 2. Mr. Ashok Tharu 3. Mr. Bir Bahadur Khadka and 4. Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary.


The basic information and the skills to operate the essential equipments and tools like digital camera, digital-audio recorder and video cameras were provided to the researchers from April 1-12, 2007. The researchers also operated the equipments as a practice. 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 Deupur, Palanse and Adjacent Areas of Dang


The field researchers collected data on Tharu folklore and folklife during three months (from April 14th to July 16th, 2007) in the settlement areas of the Tharu folk group in and around Deupur and Palanse VDCs in Dang district which cover various aspects of the folk group. The work of data collection was divided into four different areas of Tharu folklore and folklife. The subject areas are as follows: 1) Tharu folk language and folk communication, 2) Tharu material folk culture and folk heritage, 3) Tharu folk literature and performing arts, and 4) Tharu socio-cultural folklife and folkways. Mr. Bir Bahadur Khadka, Mr. Ashok Tharu, Dr. Govind Archarya (Team Coordinator) and Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary collected the relevant information in their areas respectively.


The researchers sent altogether six reports fortnightly to the project office, Bhatbhateny, Kathmandu during their stay in the field which cover their activities, collections and achievements. The methodologies that the researchers have followed to get the relevant information were visit to the key informants of the folk group, interview them and audio record the speech, take the photographs, and video-recordings of the several aspects of their life, community, culture, language etc.


The researchers 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 Tharu folk group settlement area. The Tharu people cooperated them a lot during their field visits and data collection.


Prof. Tulasi Diwasa, the project coordinator, along with the video-cameraman Mr. Siddhartha Kumar Shakya and Eeva Maijala and Karina Kurin, representative from the Embassy of

Finland also visited and inquired the achievement and problems of the research work and gave guidelines to the researchers on the 30th June 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 regarding ethical issues, i.e., to prove themselves honest for getting community’s belief and support for the study. This is because, according to some of the community leaders as they have explained their past experience, some experts visited the Tharu settlement areas, consulted them and collected materials; but neither they made clear about the purpose of their “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 requested for their co-operation. Finally they were successful in in convincing the community about their honesty.


Post-field Work


The researchers submitted their field study survey report after completing the work of data collection from the field in the third week of July 2007. The information collected from the fieldwork area are documented in the office, mostly in the form of digital audio/video recordings and photographs. Some items representing Tharu material folk culture, collected from the field research, are also preserved in the office. The researchers had finished transcription, analysis and interpretation of the data and prepared the detailed report. All the researchers had finished their report writing and submitted to the project office.


Collections and Achievements


The researchers completed data collection on 16th July 2007. 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.


The researchers have brought some items representing the Tharu material culture. These items include: Jhopaha berra (head band used by bride for the first time to carry water pot), Lahanga (traditional cloth), Kurtha (traditional kurtha), Dhakya (grass basket), Pilhu (musical instrument made from mud), Basya (flute), Cholya-Gonya (traditional cloth), Delwa (especially decorated basket used in aucuspicious occasion), Machya (wooden sitting tool), Gondri (mat), Tekui-Doktha (cotton thread making traditional tool), Pauwa (wodden slipper), Siratta-Berra (head band to carry weighty things), Byana (fan), Barharni (jhadu) etc.


The field researchers have completed video-recordings of the relevant information in altogether 14 DVC cassettes for 14 hours in total length. Besides, altogether 3,010 pictures and 104:39:37 hours’ long audio materials have been collected. In addition to that the project team leader Prof. Tulasi Diwasa and Cameraman Mr. Siddhartha Kumar Sakya have also visited the area and video-recorded the relevant aspects of Tharu folklore and folklife, with the length of 12 hours in total, 375 photographs and 5:50:53 hours audio recordings.


The data collected by the individual researchers of the research team in their respective areas as mentioned above are reported below.


I. Folk Language and Folk Communication:

Mr. Bir Bahadur Khadka


Mr. Khadka spent 1209 hours with the informants in the field, and has taken 360 photos depicting the folklore and folklife of Tharus. He has recorded sound bytes of total 109 oral texts with the total length of 47:25:29 hours. Moreover, he has also 6 hours long video-recording of the relevant information. This collection includes materials on phonology, morphology, syntax, communication, multilingualism, language attitude and use, baby talk, dialect study, etc. In total, 130 texts, 105 proverbs / proverbial expressions, 8 folk tales, more than 2000 vocabularies, 20 nicknames, 50 onomatopoeic words, 15 curses/taunts, 10 folk jokes and 90 special vocabulary items have been collected.


II. Folk literature and performing arts:

Dr. Govind Archarya


Dr. Archarya has taken 398 pictures, and has recorded sound bytes of different 179 oral texts, with the length of 5:43:00 hours in total. The collection involves folk songs, folk tales, performing arts, narratives, myths, memoirs, folk music, musical instruments, etc. He has collected 5 folk tales, 1 memoir, 4 folk ballads, 16 folk songs, 10 seasonal/festival songs, 3 ritual songs, 5 folk epics and 115 folk sayings, and descriptions about 9 folk dances, 9 folk musical instruments, 12 folk games and entertainments.


III. Material folk culture and folk heritage:

Mr. Ashok Tharu.


Mr. Tharu has taken altogether 1318 photos and has audio-recorded oral texts with the total length of 15:11:25 hours. The subject matter covered in the collection includes the descriptions of rites and rituals, folk foods, folk clothes and ornaments, folk medicine, folk feasts and festivals, folk art and crafts, gods and goddesses, traditional technology and wisdom etc. From his collection, 7 folk rituals, 25 folk food items, 29 folk clothes, 23 folk gods/goddesses, 34 folk arts/ crafts, 7 folk architectures, 35 folk medicines, 12 folk weapons, 5 folk furniture items, and 7 different forms of traditional technology/wisdom have been documented.


IV. Socio-cultural folklife and folkways:

Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary


Mr. Chaudhary has taken 934 photos, and has audio-recorded different oral texts, with the length of 36:19:43 hours in total. He has also video-recorded relevant information with a total length of 8 hours. The subject matter covered in the collection includes: folk life and daily activities, indigenous institutions, folk beliefs, customs and livelihood, division of labour, gender issues, kinship system, religious beliefs, gods and goddesses, change and continuity, rites of the passage, decision making procedures etc.


Concluding Remarks


As a whole, the researchers have completed the field research successfully among the Tharu folk group. The research, similar to the previous researches, has two very important consequences at this stage. Firstly, 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 become self aware in preserving and promoting their language, culture, folk ways, folk traditions and other several aspects of their own cultural heritages. Such awareness among the community members lead them towards enthusiasm and to take an 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 researchers should 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.


It has become very successful and fruitful field visit in terms of qualitative as well as quantitative point of view because the research team has collected lots of information and materials on Tharu folk group during the three months stay at Deupur and Palanse. They get invaluable support from the community during the field visit and they have had many opportunities to witness the social and cultural performances, and captured them in audio and audio-visual forms.