kdanceydowns Written by

Tara Douglas, who is completing her Prof. Doctorate thesis at BU, shares the story of her fascinating research with us…

The tribal population is just over 84 million or 8.2% of the total population of India.   Storytelling was acutely important for these Indigenous communities – it was a way that the young people learnt about their society, environment and responsibilities before the introduction of formal education, and it connected them to a shared ancestry, history and geography.  In essence, the folktales that the elders told their children were a way of imparting traditional knowledge in an entertaining way.

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Tara with the miniature huts that were made in Arunachal Pradesh for the Abotani animation film, 2014

Animation media programming beamed in from afar on the multitude of television channels now entertains young audiences across the Indian subcontinent. The question is whether the TV programmes that the Indigenous youngsters are avidly watching is leading to them adopting cultural traits of mainstream society. While they may be familiar with popular culture, and eager to cite particular Hollywood blockbuster cartoon films as favorites, many now feel that their own cultures are outdated.  This situation led to my two research questions – Can animation be used to reconnect the young generation with existing cultural forms and practices? And if so, in what ways can Indigenous art and culture be adapted to the animation medium?

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Wangdan Wangpan, one of the animators from Arunachal Pradesh who has worked on the Abotani animation film for the Tales of the Tribes collection.

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Participants experimenting with stop motion animation in the Animation Workshop in Arunachal Pradesh, 2013.

My research journey with Bournemouth University for a practice-led PhD led me to explore five case studies on how to adapt Indigenous storytelling for short animation films as a way to sustain the stories and to communicate them to wider audiences, to raise awareness of the contemporary value of Indigenous cultures.   In my research, I worked with groups of young artists and participants in the North East and central regions of India in workshops to develop a sample collection of films called Tales of the Tribes, that have been made using methods of participatory film-making practice;  the stories and art forms are their cultural heritage, and they have a right to determine how their cultures are represented.   Our local collaborators are excited about this work. Indeed, it is the first time they will be viewing their own cultures depicted in the animation medium.  They warmly invite me into their homes and we learn to navigate our way across cultures.

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A still image from the story from Nagaland, Man Tiger Spirit, in the Tales of the Tribes collection.

DragonanimThe dragon in Nye Mayel Kyong, the story from Sikkim in the Tales of the Tribes collection.

Long distance communication and follow up is ultimately challenging. The internet makes it possible, although mostly broadband speeds are not available there yet.  As the technology is not accessible to everyone, we try to incorporate local materials and textures, and find solutions that are the best suited.  When all the films are completed, I will travel back to those areas to screen the films to young audiences in North East and central India.

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Russell animates the title sequence for Man Tiger Spirit, using cowrie shells and the stop motion animation technique.

And for you too, look out for the Tales of the Tribes:  Manjoor Jhali (the Pardhan Gond story of how the peacock was created); Man Tiger Spirit (three brothers from Nagaland); Nye Mayel Kyong (the magical, mythical paradise of Sikkim); Abotani (the cultural hero of Arunachal Pradesh) and fearful Tapta from Manipur. Five charming, unusual stories either coming to a screening near you, or else soon to be available in cyberspace.

By Tara Douglas

For more information visit the Adivasi Arts Trust website or join them on Facebook.

You can see more of the project on Tara’s YouTube channel or email her at tarapurnima1@gmail.com