In the North East region of India the pressure of a modern way of life threatens to overwhelm the indigenous modes of knowledge transmission, so that stories that have been passed down from generation to generation through oral retellings are no longer remembered. On the other hand, young people are drawn to multimedia and animation which is accessible to them on mobile communication devices. The Stories of Our Ancestors is a stimulating research and community media project that has been supported by the North Eastern Council (NEC), in Shillong, Meghalaya. The objective is to record, document and translate a collection of the oral narratives from two indigenous communities of North East India: the Wancho in Arunachal Pradesh, and the Tangkhul in Manipur, and then to work with members of the community to adapt one selected story from each group into a short animated film.
This brings us to the Wancho Animation Workshop that is taking place from 16-30 March 2021, at the Department of Anthropology at North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, Meghalaya. At a pivotal phase of the project, the workshop will invite collaboration with a group of young Wancho participants from Arunachal Pradesh, a group of students of animation and a few media professionals, to decide how exactly to adapt one of the traditional Wancho folktales for the medium of animation. The chosen story for the film script is The Wancho Story of the Gourd:an unusual talethat was recently recorded in Kamhua Noknu village in Longding District, Arunachal Pradesh.
It had been two elders of the village, late Ngamchai Wangsa and his lifelong friend Wanjay Losu, who first recounted the story to us: it was a fascinating mythical tale that begins at an undefined primordial time of creation, and offers an imaginative and entirely unconventional idea of how the first Chief of the village came into existence.
Wancho stories are at the foundation of identity and the wellbeing of the community. The oral traditions impart the sense of belonging and promote a protective relationship between humankind and the natural environment. The young Wanchos will learn how to translate their story for viewers of their own community to contribute towards sustaining their traditions, and for audiences further afield to make their indigenous cultural traditions better known. The intersection with the discipline of anthropology promises to enrich the media practice and the overall film production by illuminating the important Wancho cultural values and practices that are embedded in the story. On the other hand, the production of animation is a meticulous technical procedure, and for students coming from National Institute of Design (Andhra Pradesh), Shrishti Manipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology (Bangalore) and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (Kolkata) this is where they have roles to play. For them, the Workshop promises to be an introduction to the art, design and craft of the North East, and it is the opportunity for them to use their digital skills to bring sound and visuals together in the storytelling adaptation, and to bring life to the inanimate. By this innovative process of collaboration with the community, it is expected that the diverse team will contribute their specific skills to create an engaging and highly original animated film that showcases a little known cultural enclave of the vast North East region.
The daily programme for the Wancho Animation Workshop includes presentations by researchers and media professionals; film screenings of films made by independent film producers and indigenous film-makers from across the world to inspire the team, and practical sessions using a variety of animation techniques. Tara Douglas is coordinating the programme with Prof Lucy Zehol, Dean of Human and Environmental Sciences. Tara’s doctoral research at Bournemouth University (UK, 2016) produced a series of animated films based on the narrative traditions of North East and Central India, Tales of the Tribes (2017). The Stories of Our Ancestors develops the model of organised workshops for research and media production to empower local scholarship, artistic practice and media creation.
For more information contact:
Dr Tara Douglas, Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Department of Anthropology
North-Eastern Hill University