News and Events
Safeguarding vanishing cultures27 August 2009
Some of the world’s most endangered songs, chants and poems are being documented thanks to a new project launched at the University of Cambridge.
Affiliated to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the World Oral Literature Project has been set up to document and make accessible endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record.
For many communities around the world, the transmission of oral literature - through ritual texts, folk tales, word games and historical narratives - lies at the heart of cultural practice. As vehicles for the transmission of unique cultural knowledge, local languages encode oral traditions that become threatened when elders die and livelihoods are disrupted.
Project leader Dr Mark Turin said: "Through our supplemental grants programme and by building a network for cooperation and collaboration, we hope to support a community of committed scholars and indigenous researchers."
The first phase of the project provides small grants to researchers working on indigenous cultures that are under threat to document oral literature by making use of new digital media. The project will also host training workshops for grant recipients to establish best practices for collecting and disseminating endangered narrative traditions.
Since January, eight grants have been handed out to researchers. One project has recorded 17 hours of ceremonial chanting among the 1,890 people who speak the Barasana language in the Vaupes region of Colombia. Another group of researchers has been documenting the oral texts of the shamans of the Thangmi community in Nepal and India (pictured), while the vocal repertoire of Tashi Tsering, the last royal singer of the kingdom of Lo Monthang in Mustang, Nepal, has also been documented.
The project aspires to become a permanent centre for the appreciation and preservation of oral literature, and to collaborate with local communities working to document their own oral traditions.