When I was first introduced to the transcendental world of folklore, I did not even discern what the folklore was. My vague idea about folklore was a simple fairy tale where the prince met the princess and the story ended happily ever after. If I had not joined the workshop on Advanced Intensive Workshop on Folklore recently organized by the Department of English, Manipur University, I would have never acquired an immense knowledge of folklore and its various aspects. The resource persons were Professor Jawahar Handoo (the President of Indian Folklore Congress), Professor M. Mani Meitei (Head of the Department of English, Manipur University) and Professor Sanatombi Singh (Dean Humanities, Manipur University). The meticulous and methodical lectures on folklore, its theories, and methods and its application on different folktales of Manipur, addressed by them were commendable and somehow they altered the prejudices that we had towards the issues regarding folklore and its studies.
In the contemporary society we are constantly struggling to go back to our own roots and to maintain our ethnic identities. ‘Who am I?’ is a question that has been scrutinized by us in diverse forms in our lives. As a matter of fact, we are living in such an unpredictable position where we are enforced to rethink, redefine and elucidate our identities to different social institutions. Many communities have been persistently debating on the concept of ethnic cleansing and ethnic assertion but when we are asked about the elements that constitute this very ethnicity, we do not have answer to give. Folklore studies may facilitate us to discover the roots of distinctive communities, the past, the commonality of varied cultures and of course our ethnic identities.
The term ‘folk’ suggest people belonging to different groups which shared a common factor, language, religion, culture and traditions. The knowledge of such kind of traditions and culture is known as folklore. The very notion of ‘folk’ conjures up the feeling that it belongs to the field of illiterate and marginalized people. It is a fact that the oral tradition, on which the folklore is based, is often used as a tool by the subaltern groups as a voice to their predicaments. Somehow people could not decipher the implicit meanings in the stories, proverbs, jokes and riddles. The folklore theories endeavor to delve into the deep rooted meaning of folklore and attempt to find out the origin of the tales. Folklore studies can also be taken as a way to raise one’s awareness of the culture that one is coming from.
Orality is often considered a symbol of culture and identity. Oral tradition has been preserved through ages. It may take the form of not only the narrative genres like myths, legends, anecdotes, jokes, fairy tales, ballads, epics, proverbs, and riddles but also folk painting, folk costumes, folk theatre, etc. A folklore study is all-inclusive as it includes all the genres of our culture both spiritual and material aspects. Folklore has been used as a mechanism to reconstruct ancient beliefs, customs and rituals. One aspect of folklore studies is that it helps us to understand the rich folklore and mystic tradition of our ancestors. In understanding and appreciating the folklore of our ancestors, we develop an understanding of their culture from whence we sprung. Another motive for the study of folklore was nationalism, which reinforced ethnic identity and figured in struggles for political independence. Folk culture is a way of establishing unity among the different people living in the same country. Traditional culture is seen as proof of distinctiveness among different societies and as continuation that a culture can be based on oral traditions.
The Polygenesis theory, unlike Diffusionist theory, believes that the origin of folklore is not one but many. Different versions of folktales are circulated crossing the geographical barriers owing to the fact that since primal time people have been affected by the universal emotions’”love, hatred, misfortune, fear, trepidation, distress, jealousy, egotism, ambition, courage, kindness and so forth. Every nation consists of different ethnic communities which have their own distinctive, identities. Despite this dissemblance, people belonging to different cultures shared a collective sub consciousness which stimulates an understanding of human agony and grief Human beings are born under similar circumstances and they approach the given situation in the same emotional pattern or structure. Folklore is all about human sufferings and pains which are transmitted in the forms of folk narrative, material culture, social folk customs and performing folk arts. Notwithstanding disparate ethnicity, people also shared at least one important cultural thing in common i.e. tradition. This tradition renders communities to share some common elements like folktales, folksongs, folk customs, and folk arts and so on. This facilitates to generate a shared identity for the groups.
Like any other disciplines, folklore study utilizes a number of theories and methods. Finnish historical-geographical method affirms that a tale which has been found in hundreds of oral versions/oicotypes must have originated in one time and one place and consequently it travels to other places. Contrary to the Finnish method, Vladimir Propp and Claude Levis Strauss believed in structural analysis of folktales, myths and narrative fictions in the folklore study. Prop drew an analogy between the structures of language and folktales. In the Morphology of the Folktale (1928), he dissected the general structure of a group of 150 Russian folk tales that all of them could be generally categorized in terms of thirty one narrative functions. These thirty one functions act as constant elements to make the infinity of folktale into a finite object Propp’s empirical method can be used in an indefinite number of stories from diverse cultures. His diachronic approach can also be applied to many of Manipuri folktales. The tales like Sandrembi and Chaisra and Snow White story, on the one hand, Khamba Thoibi and Romeo and Juliet, on the other, can be taken as different variants prevalent in different places but they can be analyzed using Propp’s structural analysis.
Levis Strauss, on the other hand, stresses the study of myths and demonstrated that the myths function like Saussure’s theory of language. Every myth gives meaning only when its relationship to the other elements is structured so as to make it a complete whole. No myth has a meaning in separation. His paradigmatic approach and the system of binary opposites help in unearthing the deep and symbolic meaning of a tale. If we search the binary opposites of our own folktales like Pebet, Kabui-Keioiba, Eta Thaomei, etc, then we can easily explore the underlying meanings which the stories want to convey. The story of Pebet is considered the state folktale of Manipur but unless we do not discover the nationalistic elements imbued in the story, no one will be able to tell how it becomes the national tale of our land. The Psychoanalytical approach along with the structural analysis will help to uncover the unexplored means of folklore study.
Professor M. Mani Meitei had rightly said that the seed of folklore study had already been sown. Now it is the turn of our own youths to disseminate our knowledge further so that our roots remain intact with us and we could raise our head high. Such workshop opens up a panorama of folklore study which is beyond our perception. My appreciation goes to Professor M. Mani Meitei for introducing an interesting genre which is very much our own and closer to our own culture and nativity.
*The article is written by Phurailatpam Jayalaxmi
*The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)
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