Karbi Ramayana in Assam and its Modern Re-telling in Documentary Film: Papers presented for “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference) – New Delhi

Department of Philosophy, Hindu College, New Delhi


While Ramayana: The Epic is a 2010 computer-animated film from India’s Maya Digil Media, the film is a retelling of the story of Lord Rama, from his birth until his battle with Ravana at Sri Lanka. Altaf Mazid Rija’s 52 minute Karbi film, Sabin Alun (The Broken Song) has been selected at the 47th edition of the International Film Festival of India. The documentary introduces the audience to the Karbi tradition and includes interviews with the community members. Sabin Alun examines the oral singing traditions of the Karbi tribe from Assam. Ravana is depicted as a gangster who is surrounded by photographs of himself (a clever way of referring to his many heads), while Rama wears glasses and looks clueless when Sinta (Sita) is kidnapped.

Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa, a 2007 musical inspired by the Indonesian version of the Ramayana, sought to address gender discrimination and environmental degradation. Mazid’s film draws inspiration from some such sources though he adds his creative and innovative touch in its final product. In the Karbi version, Sita emerges out of a peahen’s egg unlike in other versions where she is born of mother earth. Mazid is playful in his treatment when Sita drives off into the fields on a tractor at one point. Adapting his work according to the taste of the common folk, in order to make it more popular,   characters are portrayed as human characters.

Sabin Alun is a living oral tradition of the animistic tribal society of the Karbis of Assam. The film is an attempt to recreate the tale in a contemporary context where the animistic point of view gets prominence. According to the jury members of the festival, the potential of the film lies in its multi-layered deconstruction of an old tribal myth through a uniquely contemporary and irreverent treatment.

BIONOTE: Dr. Ananya Barua is currently employed as Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy, Hindu College, New Delhi. She may be contacted at the email ID: barua.ananya@gail.com

Source: Report for the ICSSR-sponsored Two-Day National Conference Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative organised by The Department of English & Outreach Programme Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, 27-28 February 2017)

Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 4 October 2017)

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A school that successfully incorporates “the forests and the Adivasi way of life”: Vidyodaya at Gudalur – Tamil Nadu

The forest in Shanthi Teacher’s classroom

Priti David, Ruralindiaonline.org May 23, 2018 | To read the full story or view a slideshow, click here >>


During library class, students from the Paniyan, Betta Kurumba, Kattunayakan and Mullu Kurumba tribes can read books about their local traditions

The forest enters the classroom at Vidyodaya School, Gudalur, when ‘Shanthi Teacher’ starts the mathematics session. Adivasi children, mostly nine-year-olds in this class, scurry outside, climbing trees and scouring the forest floor for long sticks. Later, they will mark these into metre lengths and measure the walls of their homes. Lessons on simple measurement begin this way.

Much of the curriculum at this school in Gudalur taluk of Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district incorporates the forests and the Adivasi way of life. Morning assembly has tribal songs and dances. Afternoons are spent learning tribal crafts. Regular ‘nature’ walks in the forest, sometimes led by one of the parents, teach the students about plants, pathways, observation and the importance of silence.

A Vidyodaya textbook called The Food Book has exercises that draw on the hunting, fishing, culture and cultivation traditions of local tribes. In library class, a student can pick up Kilina Penga (Sister of the Parrots), a book of short stories of the Paniyan tribe, curated by the school. Parents often visit, sometimes as guest lecturers on tribal customs. “We want to ensure that schooling nurtures Adivasi culture and does not alienate tribal children from their parents,” says Rama Sastry, former principal and main architect of the school’s inclusive curriculum. Having Adivasi teachers, sympathetic and committed to these aims, helps. As Janaki Karpagam, a senior teacher and Paniyan Adivasi herself, puts it: “If our culture is taught in schools, there is no shame and children will never forget.” […]

“The tribals had been led to believe that they were ‘uneducatable’, but when they saw the few tribal children in our school flourishing, they were convinced that it was the system and not the children at fault,” says B. Ramdas, managing trustee of the Viswa Bharathi Vidyodaya Trust, which manages the school. He ran the school with his wife Rama, the principal, in their home.

Shanthi, a first-generation learner, with her mother, Karupri. Right: After school, brothers Murali and Arjun walk home to Gundital, Sreemadurai

Now Shanthi Kunjan, 42, a Paniyan Adivasi, heads this free primary school in the Nilgiris district. Both teachers and students are Adivasis, mostly Paniyan. The rest are Betta Kurumba, Kattunayakan and Mullu Kurumba. The Census of India 2011 counts 10,134 Paniyans, only 48.3 per cent of them literate. That’s 10 per cent lower than the average for all Scheduled Tribes, and way below the national literacy rate of 72.99 per cent.

With a BA in History, Shanthi defies the statistics of her tribe. […]

Shanthi joined Vidyodya 15 years ago and is proud of the fact that today all young Paniyan children in her neighbourhood attend one of the over 100 schools registered in Gudalur taluk. But areas like Muchikundu, where she lived before an elephant tore down her house, are quite remote and enrolment is still a challenge. “I want to reduce dropout rates by talking to parents,” she says. […]

Source: The forest in Shanthi Teacher’s classroom
URL: https://ruralindiaonline.org/articles/the-forest-in-shanthi-teachers-classroom
Date accessed: 8 June 2018

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Audio | Who should be telling Indigenous stories? – Canada

Read the full post >>

The books, Who Took My Sister? by Shannon Webb-Campbell and In Case I Go by Angie Abdou, have both sparked conversations of who should be telling Indigenous stories, and when to ask for permission. […]

Often, before authors write about Indigenous culture, community or share personal stories, they consult and collaborate with those they are writing about.

The complexities of publishing Indigenous stories is a hot topic in the publishing world, but what happens when a newly released book is criticized for its content? Emma Rodgers from Second Story Press discusses what publishers can do to avoid having to pull a book from shelves. […]

Source: Longread: Consultation, permission and Indigenous protocol
URL: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/longread-consultation-permission-and-indigenous-protocol-1.4616581
Date accessed: 22 April 2018


Posted in Adverse inclusion, Audio resources - external, Commentary, Customs, Education and literacy, Literature - fiction, Literature and bibliographies, Media portrayal, Misconceptions, Modernity, Quotes, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Storytelling | Comments Off on Audio | Who should be telling Indigenous stories? – Canada

Tip | How to address misconceptions on tribal customs and culture in the classroom?

Boro Baski

Tribals do not exploit other people’s labour for the sake of their own avarice, nor do they destroy nature to build monuments to the human ego.Ivy Hansdak in her Inaugural Speech for the National Conference “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative”

The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them. – Boro Baski in his article “Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi school in West Bengal”

For us it’s not so much about having a room of one’s own, as a roof over our head [but] affirmation and agency – Ruby Hembrom at the Jaipur literature festival

It is almost impossible to characterize all of India’s tribals in a single ethnographic or historic framework. – Ganesh Devy in his Introduction to Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature

It is wrong and does not help the tribal cause either to reduce the image of the Indian tribal society to that of destitute remnants, on the verge of dying out. – Voices from the Periphery, a multidisciplinary book on “reversing the gaze”

Adivasi people have an alternative world view, which has rarely been acknowledged or recognized. Their existence was never based on accumulation or consumerism. […] All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started. – Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Gandhi believed that giving more importance, value and relevance to practical skills, and applying traditional knowledge to solving day-to-day problems were essential for the development of rural India. – Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, which helps rural communities becomes self-sufficient

Enabling people to learn from each other opens up the possibility of creating learning organisations – where people are learning from each other every day at every level. […] It seems like going back to the way things were done in the past – learning by telling stories, learning by hearing how other people did things. – Scene magazine

As India’s tribal communities are among the most diverse anywhere in the world, teachers and students will benefit from the success stories told by indigenous educators like Dr. Boro Baski and Dr. Ivy Hansdak or publisher Ruby Hembrom: from them we may learn more about new opportunities just as the need for a better understanding of “cultural heritage” while rectifying past mistakes just as present-day misconceptions:

  • customs like the maintenance of sacred groves that benefit modern society: medicinal plants preserved in “biodiversity hotspots” for scientific research (ethnobotany, food security in the face of global warming)
  • aspirations of tribal youth within and beyond their own communities
  • constitutional rights and efforts to avoid “adverse inclusion”
  • modern history: how Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore envisioned rural development
  • colonial policies: stigmatisation and discrimination (“criminal tribes”) yet to be overcome in educational and other institutions
  • linguistic heritage and the value of endangered languages
  • proper nutrition and education for young children and women
  • rapid changes affect entire communities (modernity)
  • mass media (dignified portrayal of tribal communities)

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Audio | On the need to think harder about the living relatives of indigenous people and not simply treat their human remains as “artifacts”.

Listen to the full interviews from 19:00 on BBC RADIO 4, 3 May 2018 >>

The speed of discovery is mesmerizing […]

Who owns ancient DNA? A recent article in the journal Science argues that we need to think harder about the living relatives of indigenous people and not simply treat their human remains as “artifacts”.

URL: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0lzkm
Date accessed: 7 June 2018

23:15 Transcriptions of excerpts from an interviews with two of the authors (Science 27 Apr 2018 ), one of them referring to her own background as an indigenous person:

“We have to understand that that there are some communities for whom these genetics results have some very serious implications, both culturally or medically. And privacy concerns are paramount for those communities. And this is something you have to be respectful of if you are going to be doing ‘engaged research’. And we see it in many cases that simply have data stored on a private server and for researchers who have a wish to work with it they simply agree not to publish the raw results, the raw data. Most of my work with communities often looks at just historical or evolutionary questions but we leave medical research out of the picture.” […]

“I think that one of the hardest things is that scientists should respect the decisions that a community comes up with and if in the end a community believes that scientific analysis of their ancestors is not appropriate one of the hardest things that scientists would have to face is to do the honorable thing and respect the decisions of a community. [It] engenders trust and potentially build stronger relationships. It also could lead to different types of scientific analysis […]

Who owns ancient DNA? (science.sciencemag.org)

Advancing the ethics of paleogenomics
Jessica Bardill, Alyssa C. Bader, Nanibaa’ A. Garrison, Deborah A. Bolnick, Jennifer A. Raff, Alexa Walker, Ripan S. Malhi, the Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics (SING) Consortium
All affiliations and members of the SING Consortium are listed in the supplementary materials.
Email: jessica.bardill@concordia.ca; malhi@illinois.edu
Science 27 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 384-385
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq1131


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