Social Science Baha

Oral History and its Social Context in Dullu, Western Nepal

28 October, 2007

Marie Lecomte-Tilouine
Oral History and its Social Context in Dullu, Western Nepal

While history has often been presented as a mere tool of domination in the context of Nepal, oral history in western Nepal appears to be much more complex. The main depositaries of this corpus of knowledge are the low-caste Hudke Damai, who sing epics and genealogies for their high-caste patrons. Their role is to please the Kshatriyas, but they are also viewed by the latter as the guardians of their history and identity.

The martial epics (bharat) of western Nepal are stories of violence, cunning and treachery, but they also reflect the relations between high-caste Kshatriyas and low-caste servicemen. The constant faith of the bard contrasts with the great diversity of behaviour of the Kshatriya. The bharat underline how the integrity, identity, and prestige of the Kshatriya lines are maintained by the bard and the other servicemen, rather than by their kinsmen or matrimonial allies. The family bard restores the hero’s lost identity by recognising his filiation through his physiology or psychology and makes it complete by restoring ancestral weapons and attire. However, the bards also play with the vulnerability of the patrons, who are never sure about who they are or how great they are. At the same time, the bards also portray themselves as miserable as a way to remind the Kshatriyas about how poor they remain in spite of their ancient loyal services.

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Marie Lecomte-Tilouine is a social anthropologist attached to the CNRS, Paris. She did her PhD between 1986 and 1991 on the Magars of central Nepal (see, Les dieux du pouvoir, Paris, CNRS 1993), then coordinated a collected volume on the royal Dasain celebrations (see, Célébrer le pouvoir, Paris, CNRS, 1996). She recently coordinated a programme on the Khas of western Nepal and Uttarkhand (see, Bards and Mediums in the Himalayan kingdoms, under press). She is now heading a project on conflict and violence in Nepal.