FOLKLORE, LITERATURE AND SOCIETY: READING CULTURE-SIGNIFYING PRACTICES FROM NORTHEAST
Folklore and literature are culture-signifying practices socially produced by cultural beings in a material environment. They exist to substantiate inherent cultural values, traditions and genealogy of cultural knowledge, life practices and belief system along with traces of historical transformation and the material and epistemological underpinnings of communities and societies. They are orally produced, maintained and transmitted throughout generations and play important roles in formation of culture at large of a given community and society. As mutual cultural phenomena, both have witnessed substantial context-sensitivity and, which, in turn, are soaked with the sweat and scent of the provincial context of initial production. For example, the creation myth of various tribal communities from Northeast India is highly context specific likewise ritualistic practices, cultural performances and idioms fused in their folk tales. Those myths, practices and performances as expressive folk forms are recognized by those communities as a storehouse of recorded values, memory and identity. Although they are produced in material environment, some folklore items like folk tales present a utopian world. Such tales despite their immaterial nature present a vision of alternative reality vindicating Picasso’s famous statement- art is lie that tells the truth as well as intrinsic human nature of those tales.
Indeed, the tribal lores, tales and other oral narratives show their clear appreciation of the natural world. The mythologies from the region also draw their saps from the mesmerizing world of the flora and the fauna. Studies about the worshipping of plants, stones, rivers, animals etc. may be rewarding as the storehouse of priceless intellectual resources. The biological ecosystem indeed has always been the stimulus behind the innumerable narratives born out of a region’s tribal traditions. Rituals and festivals are important components of the belief –system of a region and many of them are linked with the cults of a mythical spirit which is believed to be at the root of the fertility of the earth.
Besides all this, most of the writings from Northeast India are conspicuous by the folklore items as components of specific space. This not only bears testimony to a community’s past, but also a tactic towards politics of location and paradigm of root and identity politics. In such writings, they are used strategically as literary devices in a way that may help to transform disabling fictions of being and belonging of a community into enabling fictions or concrete images in the present by creating a bridge between the past and present, root and route. Hence, reading of folklore in tandem with literature and society leads to the understanding of shared cultural roots and successive descent along with the imaginative faculties and world-view of their makers and successors. Likewise, parallel study of folklore, literature and society also reveal the art of conscious creativity and aesthetic dimensions in written literature vis-à-vis folk narratives along with common themes, content and style.
However, within the ambit of the ‘interactive pan-Indian system’ folklore has the intrinsic ability to move from context-sensitivity to context-free even though they are produced by nonliterate village communities. When they cross the linguistic boundary, they are shared by larger communities and produce different meanings in different regions and users. In that way, the folklore items even become a part of the international network with their inherent productivity and, thereby, produce a larger culture area of liberal humanist values. In such cases, in order to contextualize the folklore items, one needs to identify the context-specific elements, tellers and the ethnography of the narratives which are markers of meaning and context-sensitivity. A reading of folk tales, myth and legends, proverbs, lullabies etc. from Northeast India in a broader network or even within the eight states of the region, hence, may reveal the cultural and literary archetype and differences of meaning and values.
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