Lecture by Prof Lucy Zehol, Department of Anthropology, NEHU: Visual Research in North East
Film Screening at the Wancho Animation Workshop, The Stitches Speak (Tanko Bole Chhe) 2010 by Nina Sabnani
Language Documentation and Translation in North East India by Prof Stephen Morey followed by discussion (online)
Ayan Chaudhury and Choimai Pansa
Story discussion by participants at the Wancho Animation Workshop
Looking at video footage filmed in Longkai village, Longding District
Pascal Mario Pathaw at the Wancho Animation Workshop, NEHU
Dr Verrier Elwin’s photography collection, Shillong, Meghalaya
The next phase of The Stories of Our Ancestors was to invite some media students and professionals to join the project to interpret The Wancho Story of The Gourd for the format of animated film. The ethical questions of adapting indigenous oral narrative for the medium of animation are at the forefront of the research. As we navigate the tensions and compromises of representing marginalized narratives using a dominant medium and language, can we be faithful to the story, the context and the intended purpose of traditional storytelling and artistic practice? At the same time we must take into account the audio-visual language, the technological tools and the expectations of audiences that are accustomed to the dominant presentation and narrative structure of animated film.
The Wancho Animation Workshop, supported by North-Eastern Council (NEC) was held from 16-30 March 2021, in Shillong at Department of Anthropology, North-Eastern Hill University. The eight Wanchos participants that had come from Kamhua Noknu and Nyinu villages were joined by students and graduates of animation and communication design; some young media and design professionals based in North East India and two teaching faculty from Shrishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru.
 National Institute of Design, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh; Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata; Shrishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru.
The daily programme for the workshop included lectures by Professors from various Departments at the University, as well as online presentations by experts who were unable to attend in person. The willingness to enter into multi-disciplinary fields of research to study the folklore traditions introduced multiple levels of interpretation to the story adaptation.
The insights of the discipline of Anthropology about the commonalities and diversities of the cultural groups that are residing in North East India have stimulated us to avoid simplified approaches to folklore and culture. Anthropological literature and photography further elicit the social structures and power relations that have persisted since the colonial period of history. The workshop reminded us that ours is a dominant overarching view, and at the periphery it is not just one view but multiple. A reflective practice aids recognition of the influence of one’s own culture on the interpretations.
 At the Department of Environmental Science, North-Eastern Hill University
A valuable insight that emerged from the workshop was that by integrating disciplines, local informants and knowledge, the expanded range of perspectives enriches the reading of the text. Xavier Mao, Professor of Philosophy at North-Eastern Hill University, discussed the symbolism and metaphor of indigenous folklore, and he explained that it is by the process of deconstructing the symbols, that the wisdom that is embedded within the narrative becomes relevant and meaningful. Similarly, Wancho festivities that celebrate the key points of the agricultural cycle are linked to the accumulated knowledge of the topography, soil and climate, upon which the farmer depends for his livelihood. Devesh Walia’s presentation about the geological composition of the soil and rocks of the Wancho landscape introduced another reading of the geographical features inscribed in stories that define indigenous Wancho connections to the earth. By shifting between emic and etic views, at first listening to the accounts of traditional knowledge, and then examining the isolated elements in detail; by integrating the complementary strengths of science and art for research, interpretation and creative action, this was instructive for synthesizing a holistic panorama of Wancho cultural life to connect us to the cosmology of the stories.
The lectures that took place at the Wancho Animation Workshop 2021
17 March 2021
|Visual Research in North East||Prof Lucy Zehol
Department of Anthropology, NEHU
|18 March 2021
11:15 am – 12:30pm
Language Documentation and Translation in North East India
|Prof Stephen Morey
LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia
|19 March 2021
1:30pm – 3:30pm
|Wancho Art Culture and Knowledge||Jatwang Wangsa, Head Teacher
Kamhua Noknu Goverment Middle School
|19 March 2021
3:50pm – 5:00pm
|Anthropology of North East India||Dr Valentina Pakyntein
Department of Anthropology, NEHU
|20 March 2021
1:30 pm – 2:30pm
|Geological Stories from the Soil and Rocks of Arunachal Pradesh||Prof Devesh Walia
Department of Geology, NEHU
|23 March 2021
1.30pm – 2.30pm
|The Philosophical outlook of tribal societies as shown in their folklore||Prof Xavier Mao
Department of Philosophy, NEHU
|25 March 2021
3:45pm – 5:00pm
Indigenous narratives, languages and learning material
|Leslie Mackenzie, Director
West Highland Animation, Scotland
Wancho Art Culture and Knowledge, by Jatwang Wangsa
Visit to the Verrier Elwin Memorial Museum, Department of Anthropology, NEHU
17 March 20201, 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Dr Verrier Elwin (1902-1964) was born in England and during his lifetime he was one of the best known anthropologists in India.
For three decades Elwin lived with and studied indigenous communities in Central India. His approach had been to settle down amongst the people he studied and to share their life as far as an outsider could.
Visit to Ashok Elwin’s house (son of Dr Verrier Elwin, Shillong Meghalaya
India’s first Prime Minister listened to Verrier Elwin’s recommendations for the welfare of the tribal people living in the remote hills and forests of India. Elwin was appointed as Advisor on Tribal Affairs to the Governor of Assam, based in Shillong for the last ten years of his life. He went on to become the first British person to gain Indian citizenship in 1954 and in 1961 he was awarded the Padma Bhushan for his lifelong work and contribution to the welfare of the tribals of India.
“A tribal bias means that we recognize and honour their way of doing things, not because it is old or picturesque but because it is theirs. It means that we must talk their language, and not only the language that is expressed in words but the deeper language of the heart. “
(The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin 1964:245)
Each day of the workshop began with a film screening session of animated films by independent artists and film-makers to inspire the group with ideas and design approaches for the production. The films included some that had either been directed by indigenous film-makers or had been produced as collaborative ventures with indigenous people from Canada, Africa, Australia, Native America, Estonia and the Arctic. From this collection, Dust Echoes (2007) was an example of the attractive contemporary presentation of some traditional Aboriginal dreamtime stories from Australia: each film in the series showcased a different visual style combining hand-drawn artwork and computer generated imagery that had been developed by independent studios in collaboration with indigenous storytellers. In contrast, the Maggot Feeder (2012), a dark and surreal film by Estonian film-maker Pritt Tender that is based on a Chukchi folktale from Siberia, was a clear departure from the softness, curves and big saucer eyes associated with cuteness that feature in many commercial productions.
The workshop would introduce the students to research, media production and the animation film-making process. It was therefore logical for them to experiment by creating animated sequences with reference to the script and storyboard, to determine the appropriate techniques to use.
Experimentation in animation is an area of practice that covers abstract animation, innovative approaches to narrative and the experimental use of materials and techniques. This type of animation is personal, subjective and original, and for artists like Oskar Fischinger, Norman McLaren and James Whitney, who pioneered abstract animation to explore rhythm and movement, animation was an art medium to express themselves. The emotional and spiritual relationship between the artist and the work stimulates viewers to develop emotional, philosophical and spiritual connections with the artist.
The use of stop-motion transfers texture to the output, and it can accommodate local materials such as clay, bamboo, beads and textiles in the creation of the image. In the workshop, the Wancho team tried their hand at manipulating beads to create animated designs (as they had seen in Bead Game (1977) by Ishu Patel), and cutout artwork (which features in the films by Lotte Reiniger, Michel Ocelot and Yuri Norstein).
By this technique, they began to grasp the sense of timing.
Who is the intended audience for the animated film The Wancho Story of the Gourd?
It was generally decided in the workshop that local audiences would appreciate the film because of its representation of Wancho culture. If it were of a good technical standard, it would also appeal to viewers beyond the community. “It has a potential to put north east on a global platform to make it accessible to non north-easterners” (Abhishek, Wancho Animation Workshop 2021), and “It is going to be one of those spearheads into the Wancho community” (Sanjoyana, Wancho Animation Workshop 2021).
The workshop became a way to encourage cultural and political communication by Wancho people. It had introduced Wancho culture and narrative traditions at a prominent institute of higher education in the region as the topic for discussion. The Wancho participants took pride in the interest shown towards their stories, rituals, customs and artistic practices.
The participation by animators has functioned to accomplish some practical targets of the animation production. Their participation also provided cultural exposure and work experience to the animators as part of the objective of this research to raise awareness of the value of indigenous culture with non-indigenous people.