Rooted in tradition

Last Updated : 05 December 2011, 14:41 IST

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Their love for folk heritage and culture is so deep that this scholarly couple from Honnavar, N R Nayak and Shanthi Nayak, chucked their careers as professors, and took to safeguarding the rich culture of indigenous communities of Uttara Kannada.

They have meticulously documented their extensive field and research work of over four decades in an effort to preserve native knowledge, folk culture and oral traditions for posterity. Between the two of them, they have authored over 80 books on folk literature, arts, crafts, dance, food, drinks, songs, games, medicinal plants, costumes, etc. Today, carrying on this legacy forward is their daughter Savita Uday. She founded an NGO, Buda Folklore, to save and share the precious knowledge. Headquartered in Honnavar, it has a vast database on various tribes and indigenous communities of Uttara Kannada and is a focal point for study and research of folk heritage.

Connecting with nature

Savita grew up in the lap of nature in the fertile green lands on the banks of the River Sharavati watching her parents interact closely with the local tribes. Her own interaction with the tribal communities however, happened during her research for her doctoral thesis on tribal ornaments and costumes. What fascinated her most was the strong connection that the tribal communities had with their surroundings and as a consequence an immense respect for the same.

Their lives were deeply intertwined with their surroundings. Their art, culture, food habits, lifestyle, everything reflected the ecology they were part of. So, when her own marriage took Savita out of Honnavar to bigger cities, she was engulfed by a sense of disconnect to surroundings that existed in the cities, that left her longing to go back to the warmth of her home among the rivers and valleys.

To urbanites who earn their degrees, earn a living and live a life within the confines of four walls, whether the four walls were on a hilltop or on a riverside or a valley hardly mattered.

The abuse of nature by man in cities is precisely because of this disconnect, it seemed to her. In contrast, the intimate connection that the tribals enjoyed with environment was heartening. The simplicity and wisdom inherent in their way of life stirred her into action.

As she says, “When you connect with something, you learn to value it and you want to bring its essence into your own life. Somewhere deep down I connect with these people and would like to see these cultures preserved for posterity.

There is lot of wisdom in indigenous cultures and it would be a shame to lose it all and perhaps repent later. It is important to recognise the value right now and work towards preserving it. I believe modernity and local cultures can coexist only if we value local cultures enough to embrace them proudly.”

Tribals as resource persons

What is unique about Buda Folklore is that the tribals themselves are resource persons. They are ‘guides’ on study tours and ‘honorary professors’ at workshops conducted as part of the awareness programmes. Participants get to interact, live and learn from tribal communities in their heartland which is indeed a unique and enriching experience as many of those who attended these programmes would testify to.

Buda also facilitates research and internship programmes for students, social scientists, food technologists and designers. Apart from running these programmes, Savita is associated with various schools where she inspires children to get involved in various projects with very hands-on, on-field learning.

Savita’s philosophy as an educator is that children learn best outside the confines of a classroom. So her classrooms could either be a herbal garden or a riverside, a forest or a tribal village. She conducts workshops as well for the children on different facets of the folk life, be it a workshop on the beverages of the tribes (of which Savita says there are about 300 documented varieties!) or it could be about the 100 varieties of greens and tubers used in daily cooking (leaves one wondering whether global food shortage is really an issue) or it could be about the tribal puzzles and games. The workshop could be also be hands-on study of materials used in their crafts and arts or their rich oral tradition.

Another aspect that sets Buda Folklore apart is that the focus is on educating people about tribal culture, not on commodification of their art. “Commercial activity may give them a living and a reason to hold on to their art, but by just putting a price on their products. We can never learn to value and appreciate the product in its entirety, because there is a cultural context linked with every art form.

Displaying tribal crafts at lifestyle exhibitions in the cities or having a dollu-kunita performance (a tribal dance form) in a mall is meaningless for both the tribals as well as the urbanites, since the context is missing.

The time and effort that goes into making the products or the months of practice behind the performance and the significance behind it all for the entire village which is involved in the preparations just cannot be fathomed as outsiders. If instead the urban folk come to the tribal heartland and interact with them and see them at work, the experience is entirely different! This is part of building that connection which is my buzzword,” Savita says.

Museum and library

Savita has set up a museum and library at Honnavar. The museum has a rich collection of various arts and crafts from the daily and ceremonial lives of the local community. The library with its well-researched database and large collection of books related to folklore is indeed a treasure trove of knowledge.

Talking of future plans, Savita’s dream is to start a learning centre which would act both as a cultural centre and a facilitation centre for the community.

Work has started in part already towards the same, she says. People from urban areas can visit and participate in various programmes to get a better understanding of the tribal culture by experiencing it firsthand. People from rural areas can avail of the facilities at the learning centre to carve out a sustainable livelihood for themselves. One only hopes that Savita’s tribe increases.

Published 05 December 2011, 14:39 IST

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