Hand In Hand For Heritage Safeguarding (III)

Prem Khatry


The earlier two visits made to Halesi by this scribe and the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) officials including the Head and team of the Culture Section of the ministry had set a fine tuning in the Kirati Rai community for the MoCTCA- UNESCO collaboration for ICH inventorying in the district of Khotang. So when the programme was formally inaugurated, the 25 odd participants were ready to spend five days in the packed seminar hall of the erstwhile Halesi VDC (now Halesi-Tuwachung Municipality).

The workshop team led by Bhim Nepal, the former archaeological officer and Chief of Archives at the Department of Archaeology (DOA) had prepared and distributed the week-long schedule to the participants.  They were all highly motivated and ready to go with it as planned. The main feature of this workshop was that for the first time there were no expatriate experts to run the workshop. For all concerned, it was an opportunity and challenge at the same time.

The first session was on general introduction to the subject areas and the earlier efforts of the government and affiliated institutions to prepare the inventory of ICH across the country based on the 2003 Paris Convention.  This scribe was entrusted with the task of reviewing the ICH inventory carried out by the government and other institutions such as the Nepal Academy about a decade ago. His presentation was meant to prepare the setting so the participants could grasp the essence, relevance and significance of the work to be done in the Kirati country this season.

In his presentation,  Bharat Mani Subedi, Joint Secretary and Chief of the Culture Division, focused on the need to build capacity of the government, affiliated institutions and the private sector in the task of inventorying and safeguarding cultures of the people. He outlined several challenges in the field of ICH documentation, such as – sustainable ICH management, lack of adequate budget for the task, impact of globalisation on native cultures and lack of commitment of the communities and especially the new generation in owning their culture and function as the trusted 'culture carrying' vehicle of the  phenomena.   “A complete inventorying is a difficult task at this time” he said. “Yet the government is committed to complete the task at any cost.” He also outlined the need to encourage local production for the sake of sustainable development of pilgrimage and other forms tourism and improvement on the economic condition of the local people.

Major themes

In order to offer the organisers' team and other guests their cultural flavour, the local Kirati Rai cultural groups staged the 'Sakela' dance. The dance was staged in a short notice, but it fulfilled the basic ritual aspects such as the senior guides in the inner part of the circle, a ritual tree and the number of drums and dancers. The silis (dance themes and styles) were followed systematically so they were understandable even though they followed symbolic gestures.  Even small boys and girls did their steps in a very professional and trained manner. The guests were also gestured and invited to join the circle, and they did it.  For the participants doing inventorying it was a class and fun at the same time.

Kirati-Rai Mundum was another major theme for the inventorying of ICH. After hard effort the Kirati Rai scholars have now started to research on this theme now and some texts are already in the market in Kathmandu. Mundum is the heart, artery and breathe of traditional Kirati culture. The highly complicated and all-pervading oral body of knowledge is high up in the agenda of the Kirati cultural revitalisation movement now. Jaya Kumar Rai, Bhogi Raj Chamling, Dr Taramani Rai, and Dr Bhakta Rai are a few top names from the region where the movement seems to be busy at work. These scholars have been making all-out effort to document the Mundum with regional and linguistic variations. One of the senior oral historians, Jit Raj Rai, 78, attended the week-long seminar and contributed his store of knowledge on regular basis. Everybody in the workshop agreed he is the store of oral history or Mundum, shamanism and Chamling lifecycle rites. He is a living legend in his own right.

In earlier times, handmade, simple but efficient wooden handloom was the source of self-dependence in textile  production, prestige, family income and important tool of trade. Kirati women grew up learning the skill that not only fulfilled the need in the family and community but also hit the local markets for cash income.  The loom and the skill became obsolete once the machine made intrusion in the local markets. Now, the Kirati youths of Halesi-Durchhim area have started to install the loom all over again with a new face and fittings to produce 'khadi' a coarse cotton fabric for multiple uses. They seem enthusiastic about their new project of having at least two dozen such looms in the area by this year. The participants were lucky to have hands-on inventorying work in the skill and production sector using the loom in the Halesi-Durchhim area.

In this connection the group was also taken to the Tuachung Hill, about five km above Halesi along the Diktel road. The hill is a Kirati pilgrimage where the legend of Hechha Kuppa and his 2 sisters is still alive. The sisters had initiated the art of weaving ushering on the age of cotton clothes to cover the body earlier covered by nature. The hill has a site where the stone prototypes of Kirati looms are situated.

“This is where the khadi production started and spread”, said a proud Kampsher Rai while explaining the natural looking iconography of the ladies and the loom. Soon, there will stand three bronze statues on this hilltop to honor Hehhakuppa and his two sisters to mark the origin of Kirati civilisation they initiated. Now that the new municipality has been named after this hill, this will go as a Kirati pilgrimage in the times to come.

Finally, the MoCTCA-UNESCO workshop laid the foundation of a inventorying chain that will reach all the cultural areas in all the seven provinces and Nepali enumerators and experts will work together to fulfill the important task of safeguarding the ICH and facilitate the government to prepare the final national inventory and safeguarding plans as the  UNESCO member nation. 'This workshop,' Taman Rai, one leading participant remarked, 'has taught us loudly that we are Kiratis, we will and we must remain so.'  (Concluded)





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