Introducing the Folklore and Folklife
(FOFO) Study Project
Nepali Folklore Society (NFS) is running a project entitled “Folklore and Folklife Study Project: A Study of Living Cultural Heritage of Nepal”. with Finish support under Local Cooperation. The project has 3 years’ duration, which began in the month of June 2005 and will continue up to May 2008. The project office is located at Bhatbhateni, Kathmandu. A brief introduction to the project is given here.
So far, despite the several studies on Nepalese culture and living heritage, no extensive research has been done on ethnic communities of the country from the folkloristic point of view; and a scientific way of conserving the living cultural heritage of people is still lacking. NFS has initiated this project with the strong conviction that culture is not only one of the dimensions of public life and a matter of self-identity of the people, but also the basis of sustainable development. So, promotion of cultural heritage should be the part of a nation’s development efforts. We should know that developmental interventions cannot be sustainable, if they are made without properly understanding the local socio-cultural realities. Since the study of folklore covers a wide range of socio-cultural dimensions of the people’s life but still there is the lack of focus on this sort of study in Nepal, its research and systematic documentation was felt essential. Therefore, the project was designed and works have been initiated accordingly.
Folk Groups Being Studied
The project aims to study 7 folk groups of Nepal residing in different parts of the country. Among them, 3 groups have already been selected: Gandharvas (Gaines) of Batulechaur and adjacent areas of Kaski district, Gopalis of Kunchhal and adjacent areas of Makawanpur district, and Ath Pahariya Rais of Dadagaun and adjacent areas of Dhankuta district. Among these groups, the works of data collection among the Gandharvas and Gopalis has been over, while the project office is ready to send researchers to the field to collect data from Athparahiya Rais. The remaining 4 ethnic communities will be selected out of the ones recommended by experts, which include: Danuwar, Rajbanshi, Hudke, Lapche, Dum, Pahari, Hayu, Raji, Tamang, Darai, Chepang, Tharu, Thakali, Chantyal, Sunuwar, Raute, Jhagad, Meche, and Hyolmo. The final selection of the group for the study will be based on the local situation in the ethnic community’s residential area and the feasibility shown by the preliminary survey.
The goal of the project is to study and disseminate the current situation of the folk life and folklore among people in the selected folk groups. After surveying and documenting the living cultural heritage and traditions of the selected folk groups, the project will develop the archive of folklore materials, which will have both the written and audio-visual documentation. By exploring the selected groups’ folklore and folk life, the project also aims to rediscover the work that has been done in this field by individuals and institutions, and to identify the gaps/limitations and the areas in which works need to be initiated or further intensified.
The project covers a wide range of study matters related to the ethnic communities’ folklore and folk life, which can be categorized under 4 important areas of study: 1) Folk language and folk communication, 2) Folk literature and performing arts, 3) Material folk culture and folk heritage, and 4) Socio-cultural folk life and folkways. These study matters are applicable to all the selected folk groups to be studied under the project.
Within the project, Nepali Folklore Society is going to collect, document, analyze and disseminate the folklore and folk life of the selected folk groups. Data collection is being done through the field work, in which highly qualified experts in different aspects of folklore study are involved. The information collected from each folk group will be worked into a report form, which will be thoroughly edited and published as a book in Nepali. Besides, its summary will also be published in English. Similarly, a video documentary will be prepared after thoroughly editing the video recorded materials brought to the project office from the field. The collected information will be preserved and stored so that the interested persons can consult it for their use.
The project mainly consists of the three-stage research activities –
1) Pre- field work,
2) Field work, and
3) Post- field work.
The first stage involves the activities like: preliminary survey of the field area, orientation for the field researchers, survey of the reference materials/ literature related to the folk group, etc. While the second stage works are carried out by researchers in the respective field areas where the selected groups of people reside, the third stage involves the works of documentation, analysis of data and writing the report, which are to be done in the project office, Kathmandu. The three-stage works are applicable for all the selected folk groups; and a research team spends for six and half months on a folk group to complete the works from the pre- to post-field work stage. Some other activities in the project, which are auxiliary to the three stages just mentioned, include: workshop on folklore and folklife, seminars on the study findings, publication, exhibitions, folklore performance (dance, theatre play, song, etc.) etc.
At the end of the project, a large scale exhibition of project results will be organized, whereby both the printed and audio-visual products resulted from the project will be disseminated. On this occasion, one or some of the studied folk groups will be invited to demonstrate their performances of folklore: dances, theatre plays, songs etc. This will mark the end of the project.
Data Collection and Documentation Process
During the field study, the main ways followed by researchers for data collection include questionnaires, interviews, observation, participant observation, note-taking, use of some modern equipments of technology (like photography, audio and video recording, mapping, measurements) etc. The field researchers are collecting the information by observing and participating in the folk groups’ daily life and activities as closely as possible.
Individual members of the research team are responsible for collecting the information, observing the events and actions in the ethnic community, filling in the questionnaires, verifying their authenticity, taking photographs, video and audio recording the relevant events and texts, transcribing the oral texts, etc.
In a team of field researchers, one person becomes the coordinator who is responsible for coordinating the activities of the research team, finding the local assistants and informants, and reporting the progress of the field work to the project office.
Within a week of the researchers’ arrival from the field to the project office, they give a report of their field work and hand all the collected materials over to the project office. After the phase of data collection, all the collected folklore materials, the photographs and audio/video cassettes are processed; and then they are indexed to ensure systematic documentation. The project office is working to ensure a systematic preservation of the materials and information by computerizing them. This will be developed in the form of a folklore archive.
The project was initiated with a view to establish a system of scientific documentation of information related to folklore so that it will be helpful for the people to access the information in the future.
This project is the first one of its kind in the history of folk life and folk culture studies in the country. It is expected that the project not only will document the information on folk life and folk culture, but also can help a lot in the process of overall planning for national development by providing the concerned bodies/experts with the necessary information on the local situation in terms of the folk life and folk culture found in the ethnic communities. The direct beneficiaries of the project will be the researchers, scholars and other people seeking information on the culture of different folk groups. The findings and documentation will be made available to many institutions at international, national and local levels, thus facilitating their access to the information on Nepali culture. On the other hand, people in the ethnic communities will also benefit from the project by becoming more conscious of their uniqueness, which will create awareness among them regarding the importance of their traditional culture, raise their self-esteem and thus offer a better ground for development efforts.
The project will not only seek the folk groups’ help for getting information on their life and culture; but the ethnic communities will also be benefited towards the promotion of their living heritage. By means of the project activities, local communities will be encouraged to further elaborate their cultural manifestations (e.g. dances, festivals, rituals, ceremonies, etc.) so as to promote the local folk life. Thus, the project is expected to encourage the process of cultural empowerment in the ethnic communities. After the dissemination of information related to the folk groups, it helps to promote cultural tourism as well, which will eventually contribute towards improving the economic life of the local communities.