Preserving Culture Of Minorities (II)


Prem Khatry


The authorities from Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) and the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN) were present on both the occasions – the inaugural and the closing. For them the Godavari retreat-cum-workshop was a special event for them as well. Chandra Bahadur Gurung, vice chairman of NEFIN said, in his speech, that he had not seen or experienced the kind of attendance of a large number of ethnic minority leaders and participants before in his term in the office.

What went inside the venue during the workshop? The writer will make effort to summarise the programme in a nutshell. The three-day workshop was prepared to make it last long in the memory of the participants. It aimed to : a) instill the value of the culture of all the participants so they can evaluate their own strength, make necessary adjustment with the changing wave of time, b) offer them some quick tips to make them able to preserve their intangible cultural heritage, c) help them make plan for preservation d) Bring the concerned ministry and the ethnic minorities in one place and facilitate the interaction, and e) present specially tailored lectures/presentations from the National Planning Commission, three national experts and the Chief of the Culture Division of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) about the status of ICH in Nepal and the way forward.


Mother tongues

Participants were worried that their mother tongues as the most powerful vehicle of culture were now facing crisis of survival. The number of speakers is dwindling due to several reasons such as migration, modern school system and a very unclear policy of the government. These factors are collectively taking toll on them. They all felt that the government must do something to preserve the languages in crisis. Raj Kumar Bote from Chitwan and Sonam Yangdi from Mugu, among several others, were very much concerned that their languages might fully disappear in the near future.

Language loss is not always the phenomenon of small population or remoteness. The Pahari language of Godavari area with several thousand speakers faces crisis. Gauri Shanker Pahari of Badikhel, Godavari felt the private school system is discouraging children from speaking their mother language because their overall performance at school will be lower if they don’t focus on English. The question is: Are the so-called boarding or English school authorised to ignore importance of mother and national languages? A child can learn five or six languages at a time at the tender age. Here we have a situation where the focus is on only one language – English.  This means, later in life they might also learn that there is only one holy text written in English and only one God, the Saviour, and only one holy place on earth. The rest are wrongly admired and cherished by the ‘pagans.’ The fast changing demographic status of Nepal explains this.

In order to promote our languages, our cultures and our values through education, the government needs to do a lot. Similarly, responsibility to do so rests on the shoulder of all ethnic communities and their leaders and stakeholders. Often times it appears we make more compromises, or we sell or exchange our value system for imported intangible goods like faiths, values and other accessories in the propaganda kit.

The participants were concerned that the new generation was also making either compromises or just emulating the values and mores from a host of other faith systems and ignoring their own. This is one example of culture loss. Thus far, the main custodian of culture has been the MoCTCA. With the new structure with provincial and local government in place, responsibility of providing support, enacting laws, making plans and implementing them will rest on the local governments also. In this system, more focused efforts can be made in this direction.

Two experts, Bhim Nepal, former officer at the Department of Archaeology and Chief of Archives and Dr Bhakta Rai Chief of Pragyik Anusandhan Kendra (Academic Research Center) ran several sessions on the importance of intangible heritage and ways to implement the UNESCO provision as the State Party to the 2003 ICH Convention.  The participants strongly felt that the sessions were of greater interest for them. They expressed that it was for the first time that they heard many things about the 2003 convention at length and felt highly encouraged to preserve their culture. When the UNESCO or MoCTCA team reaches them any time later, they would be at hand to cooperate with them fully.


Legal tools

Finally, the participants in the TOT (training of trainers) style training workshop represented the ethnic minority communities from Ilam in the east to Mugu, Dang, Dolpa in the west and Solu in the north to Jhapa and other districts in the south. After spending three active and business like days in the retreat they strongly felt the need to take such training style workshops to the provincial and local levels in order to educate more local leaders on ICH and make ICH inventorying and safeguarding process successful. There is also an urgent need to promulgate necessary legal tools to govern and manage the related issues.



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