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OHAI’s ninth annual conference exploring oral mountain histories concludes with remarkable insights

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Shillong, March 15: The ninth annual conference of Oral History Association of India (OHAI) titled “Mountain History: At the Intersection of Memory, Politics and Identity” successfully concluded at U Kiang Nongbah (Old) Guest House, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong, on Friday.

The insightful and informative 3-day conference brought to light the oral traditions and their intricate linkages with the socio-political landscape in the mountains across the nation. Thereby, fulfilling its objective of exploring India’s rich regional histories and cultures, focusing on the often-overlooked and ‘imbalanced’ narratives from the mountain and mountain communities and address them.

Hosted in collaboration with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, North-Eastern Hill University and Northeast India AV Archive, St Anthony’s College, Shillong and supported by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Japan, the conference was inaugurated by Minister of Education, Government of Meghalaya, Rakkam A. Sangma, on March 13, 2024.

OHAI’s ninth annual conference exploring oral mountain histories concludes with remarkable insights

The inaugural Keynote address by delivered by activist and author, Dr. Shekhar Pathak, who spoke on the “Himalayan Histories: Looking at the Corners”. He said Himalayas is like the spine of a living body of thousand mountain range and valleys. He further emphasised that in the Himalayas, the dynamics of uncertainty has shaped the behaviours of the lifestyles of the locals and the Oral histories in the Himalayas have prompted the art of writing. He also opined that “While written words can walk, oral expressions can fly.”

The first session was on the theme “Exploring Pastoral life- worlds”, chaired by Sumallya Mukhopadhyay, in which the first presenter Nikita N. spoke on the ‘Route, Rituals and Relationships between Gojri Buffalo herders and the Alpine meadows’. On the same line, the second presenter Garima Sudhan spoke on the life along the Mountain Frontiers with special context on ‘Post Partition Dilemmas of pastoralists in Kasmir’. She spoke of the challenges that force the pastoralists leading them to lose access to pastures due to “shifting borders” and said this ambiguous nature of borders often pose challenges to the pastoralists forcing them (Gujjars and Bakarwals) to do labours of various kinds. The third speaker Swati Condrolli opined that the cuisine serves as a gateway to understand various cultures. The Fourth Speaker was Rosaline Varsangzuali who spoke on the ‘Oral History of Mizo Dress: Tawlhloh Puan as a symbol of Identity and Politics’ and how the dress evolved and symbolized into a political statement and symbolism for nationalism and cultural identity. Fifth Speaker Regina Gurung presented her paper on ‘Funeral rites and practices of the converted Buddhists and Christian communities in Sikkim Himalaya’. The sixth participant Aman Kant Panta discussed the ‘Role ‘of the Himachal Devtas in Times of Social change’. His study showed that the deities in the western Himalayas are changing, transforming and reorganizing due to which the forms of castes in the ‘lower castes’ are also impacted.

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The second session was on the theme: Histories, evolving masculinities and ecofeminism chaired by Dr. Barath N, Asst. Professor, JMC, NEHU. The first speaker C. Lalmuansanga explored the creation of masculinity in Mizo society through ‘Myths, Legends and Heroes’, where he found that the Christian ideology and the Mizo culture intertwine, hence, the Christian sense of masculinity or manhood stands well with the Mizo culture and is widely accepted. The second participant Rohit Mahanta explored the paradigmatic embodiment of ecofeminism in India taking Kong Spelity as a subject of his study who is revered as a ‘Hero’ among the locals for her resistance against the Uranium mining in the state of Meghalaya.

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On DAY 1, in a parallel session with the theme “Music Tradition in the Mountain” chaired by Dr. Karen Donohue, Asst. Professor, JMC, NEHU. The first speaker Shantanu Majee studied the sound of the Pahadi Music. In the same vein, the second presenter discussed the wedding folk songs of the Tamangs. The second session was themed “Linguistics, toponymy and the construction of moral geographics” which was chaired by Sangamitra Chatterjee, Secretary, OHAI. The first speaker Santhwana Santosh spoke of the Mountain narratives and reading Tottam of North Malabar. The second speaker Upasana Chettri discussed Tales, Toponymy and Terrains through the Exploration of the Geography of Sikkim in Lepcha Folklore. The third session was themed “Evolving trends in Mountain Histories” was chaired by M Indrakumar Singh. Sonam Chhomo presented a paper on Re-imagining home through folktales and adivasi futurism in Subhash Thebe Limbu’s Ningwasum. The second presenter Nakhrai Debbarma presented her paper on Mountain and Ecosystem, cultural Narratives and Conservation. The third presenter Lobsang Norbu Bhutia, traced the construction of indigeneity through oral history.

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On DAY 2 of the conference, the keynote speaker was Vasudha Pathak who is a retired Professor of Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi. She spoke on the topic ‘Telling’ Tales of Mountains and Changing Himalayan Landscape’. She observed that the British created an understanding of the Himalayas and looked at mountains in terms of the river systems. They commodified the mountains. The session was themed “Perspectives on World War-II from North east India” chaired by Manash P. Goswami, Head of Department, Journalism and Mass Communication, NEHU. The first presenter on this theme was Lianboi Vaiphei who spoke of Recollecting the oral Narratives of second world war from the tribes in North East Frontier and its Impact of Modernity on the Tribal world. She observed that the locals of Manipur saw the airplanes as a symbol of suffering and death. The second speaker Sochanphy A. Shimray narrated the Journey of a young girl in the Tangkhul Hills during World War II through the eyes of a young Tangkhul girl through personal anecdotes. The third speaker Dawa Lhamu Sherpa explored the historical Trajectory of Military Recruitment of the Gorkhas of Darjeeling Hills.

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The next session was on the theme “Studying Animals, diseases and the environment through orality” chaired by Rahi Soren. The first presenter of this session Ritu Mehra studied the ‘Traditional Interpretation of Bird Calls in the oral histories of Bhumiyathal Village in the Kumaon Region of Uttarakhand’; she emphasised that the problem in the area is not deforestation rather overgrowth and the lack of proper care for the aquifers which forces the birds to move towards larger water bodies. The second presenter was Darisha Lyngdoh who probed into the history of Environmentality and Orality in Khasi-Jaintia Hills. While the third presenter C. Lalrinchhani spoke of the COVID 19 pandemic and Mizo society which was a socio-cultural study. Fourth presenter Tenzin Nyima Bhutia delved into the topic of Tibetan Buddhist Monks, Reviving Faith, Revisiting Memory and Revising Culture in the Eastern Himalayan Regions of India as a custodian. The fifth speaker of the session Adhiraj Singh Bhist spoke on Brahmanism, Masculinity, Orality and Text in the Deific Cosmology of the Kullu valley.

On the 2nd day, the parallel session was themed “Oral History from below: protests, and rebellions in the hills” chaired by Etawanda Saiborne. The presenters, Rahi Soren, Richa Raj and Arpeata Sharma spoke of Hul Narratives, Halla Bol and the Gorkha women testimonies. The 2nd session was themed “Oral History perspectives from the Western Ghats” chaired by Ravindra Vemula. The presenters Jagath V. and Parvathy V. presented their studies on memory and displacement and the struggles for identity in Wayanad respectively. The 3rd session was themed “The making and unmaking of places” chaired by Dr. Cherry Kharshiing, Board member, NEIAV, where speaker Antarlina Bhattacharjee spoke of the narratives weaving Jampui Hills and its nostalgic tapestry.

OHAI’s ninth annual conference exploring oral mountain histories concludes with remarkable insights

On day 3, the theme was “Constricting mobility, constructing precarious economies” chaired by Aniket Alam. The first speaker Somashree Choudhury traced the movements of Hakka Chinese in India and their series of migration to various locations. The second speaker Lahun Dashisha Rumnong traced Iewduh’s Past through storytelling of a farmer who aspired to be a poet. The third speaker of the day Kishan Sirswal mapped the Trans Himalayan Trade in the Darjeeling Mountain economy through Oral History.

The afternoon session ended with valedictory session followed by a visit to the Ever-Living Museum at Mawshbuit for the participants.

OHAI’s conference has been an eye-opening event in bringing to the fore the multifaceted histories and cultures of India’s mountain regions, contributing significantly to the understanding and appreciation of these unique communities.

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