UK researcher helps Arunachal tribe preserve culture

UK researcher helps Wancho tribe in 'disturbed' Arunachal district preserve culture

Tara Douglas, the researcher, is trying to preserve folktales of the tribe through animated films

The bamboo hut cultural centre for Wancho tribe in Longding district in Arunachal Pradesh. Credit: Tara Douglas

Taking the folktales of Wancho tribe in hilly Arunachal Pradesh to the outside world through animation films was Tara Douglas' aim. But on reaching Kamhua Noknu, a remote village in "disturbed" Longding district weeks ago, the UK-based researcher realised that preserving the culture and tradition for the next generation of the Wancho tribe in the village itself was equally important.

This prompted Tara to encourage the villagers set up a centre for art, cultural and knowledge on the hills, where village elders are now sharing the folktales and ancient tradition with the young boys and girls for their documentation and preservation. 

"The Wancho are intensely proud of their wealth of traditions. Their earlier reputation as warriors and headhunters stems from many stories that are recounted by the elders in the community that detail the conflicts of the past, in which powerful villages challenged each other over claims to territory. These traditions need to be documented before the oral narratives are lost forever and submerged by the pressure of modern life. The traditional culture and stories need to be celebrated and their value must be recognised. The small hut on the hill is the start of a modest initiative to set up a small museum and library to encourage further discussion and research on the local traditions and for their preservation," Tara told DH.

With population of a little over 56,000 (2011 Census), Wanchos are ethnically related to the Konyak tribe in neighbouring Nagaland. Wanchos mostly live in Longding, a district still tagged by the government as "disturbed" as it shares its international border with Myanmar. The entry of outsiders in Arunachal Pradesh is restricted without an Inner Line Permit. Tara was welcomed by the villagers and she got the permit as she was planning to make animation films to document and take their folktales to the outside world. 

Tara is working on "Stories of our Ancestors," an animation film making project of the North Eastern Hill University based in Shillong, Meghalaya to research and document the oral storytelling traditions of the Wancho of Arunachal Pradesh and the Tangkhul community of Manipur. The North Eastern Council is funding the project. 

The bamboo hut museum has now been decorated with props and artwork that has been created during a recent animation workshop Tara conducted to bring a local folktale alive through animated film. "A new Animation Film Club is also a part of the centre. Animated films made by independent film-makers and indigenous communities in other parts of the world are screened to inspire local audiences.  This is quite a change from the usual diet of Bollywood films but it is giving the younger people of Kamhua ideas about how their own folklore can provide content for interesting cultural films," she said.

"In the film club, we have already screened the animation masterpieces by Norman Maclaren, Jan Svankmajer, Tim Burton, Bill Plympton, Caroline Leaf, Emma Calder, Ben Fox and others. I just hope that the Wancho Centre for Art, Culture and Knowledge will attract more workshop activities. Their skill in creating traditional sculptures was recognised by some anthropologists and administrators during the British colonial period but very little is known outside," Tara said.