Sunday, April 22, 2012

"We've Eaten off the Same Plate...We Shared a Bed!"

On Thursday Dr. Alles came in to talk. Dr. Alles is Dr. Esa's old friend, and also the funniest teacher I have ever encountered in my life. He came to give a lecture on Indian Fairy Tales, “Myths and Legends of the Ādivāsīs in India," and ended up providing us with more laughs than we have had all semester.

Dr. Alles was very relaxed, clearly enjoying the class. He was also incredible knowledgeable as far as Adivasis tales, because he has been to India and joined the locals in their traditions. His lecture included lessons in decapitation, all night dance parties, planting trees in cow dung, making houses entirely of gold, finding a location for a gold smithy, distilling liquor, drawing on living room walls, riding motorcycles through cornfields, rerouting live electric wires, and, of course, smoking opium.

One major difference I noticed is that these people not only tell their fairy tales, but they live them. Because their fairy tales involve the Gods, they continue to honor the Gods with ceremonies. The one ceremony which Dr. Alles has taken part in multiple times, involved paintings to honor the gods and the symbolic planting of trees, as well as an all night party to celebrate.

Dr. Alles, in his travels, has been able to experience some incredible things. He has partaken in ceremonies. He has distilled and drank liquor. He has smoked opium (but not gotten high). From his lecture I came to understand that Adivasi folk tale tradition is as much about the experience than anything else. Unlike the West, these stories are meant for people of all ages, and everyone joins in the ceremonies. There is no moral for young children to act a certain way. (OK, maybe there are some morals. But that's not the main component of these stories.) Instead these stories are partly origin stories (why a hill is shaped a certain way, etc), and partly necessary to maintain a culture.

India is a very diverse area. The sub-continent is filled with people from many different areas, whose origins stretch as far apart as Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In order to have their own culture, the Adivasi must keep telling stories and living them through their ceremonies. In order to continue to exist as a people, and not get lost in the 21st century brouhaha, they have to find a way to strengthen and make necessary the community. And they have chosen to do so with their fairy tales, their ceremonies, and their liquor.

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