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2016-08_dc

14 D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 Culture and tradition play a big role in the development of any community. This is especially true of marginalised rural communities such as India’s Adivasi tribes. Boro Baski, who belongs to the Santals, who live in eastern India and Bangladesh, assesses the matter. By Boro Baski In November 2015, the Universities of Oslo and Tromsø organised an important symposium. The title was “Belief, Scholarship and Cultural Heritage: Paul Olaf Bodding and the making of a Scandinavian- Santal legacy”. Bodding was a Lutheran missionary from Norway who worked among the Santal tribes in what is now the Indian state of Jharkhand from 1890 to 1934. Bodding wrote down hundreds of Santal folk tales and songs, worked on a Santali dictionary and pre- pared a large body of religious literature in Santali. Moreover, Bodding collected more than 3000 ethno- graphic items of Santal people. These items are now preserved in Norway, Denmark and the USA. Many of them are in the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cul- tural History. It is also true, however, that Christian missionar- ies in the 19th and early 20th century generally did not appreciate Santal culture. To the extent that they con- verted tribal people to their faith, they tried to uproot the cultural heritage (see box, p.  15). Accordingly, it is no coincidence that the artifacts Bodding gathered are now in Europe and America. That it is valued is important however. International appreciation of our culture and international support for protecting our heritage is most welcome. Participants in the symposium last year included scholars, social activists, staff from government agen- cies including the embassies of France, Denmark and Japan as well as representatives from Santal vil- lages in India and Bangladesh. I attended on behalf of our community-based organisation which works in Ghosaldanga and Bishnubati, two Santal villages in West Bengal. With support from the famous Indian Museum in Kolkata, we have managed to establish our own rural Museum of Santal Culture. Our own museum We Santals have no history that was written by our- selves. The memories that exist have come down to us from our ancestors through oral traditions. Myths, songs, folk tales, dances et cetera are important in this context. The written history of tribal people tends to be the work of the dominant groups in society. In main- stream schools, our children learn about the lives of the great personalities and rulers of our country, but our history is not reflected. We need to know about our own heroes and heroines however. It boosts self- respect and self-confidence to grow up with an under- standing of one’s own people’s talents and genius. Therefore, we decided to build a museum dedicated to Santal history and culture in our village. At first, the villagers – and even some educated Santals – were sceptical about the idea. Some said the “backwardness” of Santal life should not be cel- ebrated. We explained to everyone that it makes sense to put on display things like the musical instruments, Saving our heritage Visiting the village museum. Baski

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