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An Organization In Tripura Is Saving Indigenous Folktales By Narrating Them To Young Children

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Jorani Khorang believes that young children need to be included in initiatives aimed at language conservation

Veteran theatre artist Kishori Debbarma tells stories to children. It is recorded on video and uploaded to Youtube

In the Kokborok language of Tripura, a story is called "kerang koktwma/kothoma", where kerang means "tortoise" and koktwma means "incident/event/anecdote". Taken together, the words transport people to the realm of the surreal where all stories are told and stored by a tortoise instead of humans. It also means that anything can happen in our stories since it has already been removed from the real world. The folktales of Tripura explain how the sky was born, how rivers were formed, how monsters roamed the land, and how heroes and heroines fought them valiantly to end years of turmoil.

Unfortunately, these stories now live in the consciousness of the older generation who grew up in a less chaotic time. Unless this knowledge is passed on to the younger generation, there is always the danger that the stories will disappear. Keeping this in mind, an organization called Jorani Khorang (Voice of our times) has started an initiative where they are uploading folktales on Youtube so that it is stored as a resource.

The initiative is called 'Nanani khugo kerang kothoma' which means 'tales by grandma'. The series is an initiative to preserve and revive the vanishing culture of storytelling. The format is simple but innovative. A grandma, played by Kokborok theatre artist Kishori Debbarma, sits on a mat with a dozen children and interacts with them while telling a “Kerang koktwma”. This is an ongoing initiative that the organizers hope will bring back indigenous stories to young children.

Talking to Adivasi Lives Matter, the founder of Jorani Khorang, writer and activist Mr. Narendra Debbarma said, “Nowadays children are always busy with studies, they need to know about our tradition. The series is also a chance for children to have moral education through storytelling." There are so many folk tales of Tripura that can make anyone wonder. It enriches our culture and adds to our understanding of the world.

Jorani Khorang started as a magazine established in 2012 aimed at bringing positive changes in the society through different activities involving children and the youth so they grow up to become responsible adults. Over the years, they have brought out many editions on literature and social issues in Kokborok to strengthen the language. They also conduct regular essay and debate competitions for the youth and wish to organize activities in schools. It is worth mentioning that they also organize plays and skits on social issues that is telecast on television channels. Two of the plays are titled 'Uphil Nahardi Kisa' and 'Swkal Sabo' both written and directed by Mr. Debbarma. In all, he has written 19 plays since 1977 when he began his writing career.

Writer Narendra Debbarma founded Jorani Khorang in 2012

The NGO caught my attention after I read their magazine and attended a few of their meetings. Since I make YouTube videos on motivational topics like tackling difficulties and everything about life, I found a connection with the objectives of the organization.

In our conversation, the founder emphasized on the need for moral education in the society. He believes that many of the anti-social activities we witness in today's world is due to the distance between the youth and their culture. By introducing debates and discussions on relevant issues like language and superstition, he expects the next generation to develop a sense of responsibility.

This initiative of story-telling and literature comes at a time when indigenous communities around the world are on the brink of losing their languages. According to the UNESCO Atlas of Languages in Danger, there are 6,700 languages spoken in the world, 40 percent of which are in danger of disappearing. With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, to draw attention to this alarming reality. Here is hoping that such initiatives are picked up by other communities too.

This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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