Save Our Oral Tradition – Ngutoli Y. Swu, HOD History

What are we doing with the culture we have? This is a question that looms over us as we are being fast absorbed by the 21st century and its modernised life. We celebrate Ahuna, Sekrenyi, Ngada, Tokhu Emung, etc. We have an Arts and Culture Department, State Museum and more. But are they really enough to preserve our culture? Our Head of Department of History believes we can do more.

Save Our Oral Tradition

Radcliffe Brown, an English social Anthropologist in 1949 stated that “(culture is) the process by which in a given group or social class, languages, beliefs, ideas, aesthetic taste, knowledge, skills and usages of many kinds are handed on (tradition means handing on) from one person to another and from one generation to another”.

This clearly rings true when it comes to the oral tradition of the Nagas. Our rich cultural heritage and tradition is based on our oral tradition. The question is “what is oral tradition?” In simple terms, oral traditions are cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another through song or speech. They may take the form of folktales, folksongs, proverbs, myths, etc. Nagas in general, in spite of being made up of different tribes, take pride in the rich heritage and tradition. But globalization has affected the way we respond to it.
We need to realize that collecting and preserving our oral tradition is the way to understanding our past, leaving a treasure for our future generation. Since time immemorial, our oral tradition has been transmitted through folk stories, songs, customary laws, rituals, etc. In the olden days, the Morungs were the venues where such transmissions took place. Young people after attaining puberty would live together in the Morungs (separate for boys and girls). It was the most important educational system for the young people where Naga culture and customs were learnt through folk music, folk tales, dance, wood carvings, etc.
Today, globalization and the advancement of technology have overshadowed our oral tradition, especially amongst the young people. If this trend continues, oral traditions are in danger of extinction. History has shown that most primitive societies relied on oral tradition and accordingly efforts were made to preserve and document it. In western societies, the use of oral material goes back to the times of Greek historians like Herodotus and Thucydides. We, Nagas too, need to give greater importance to the value of oral tradition.

How We Can Help
Many researchers have brought out books and research papers on some aspects of our oral tradition and culture. The tribal hohos and the literary boards are also putting in efforts in this field. But the task of preservation of our oral tradition requires mass involvement of all individuals from every strata of our society.  For this, indigenous strategies along with the electronic media can be utilized in recording and preservation. 

Indigenous strategies that can be employed are the formation of artistes association in every village, promoting the importance of tribal festivals, etc. Among these, language forms the most important basis for preserving our oral tradition and heritage because they carry the link between the people and their history. Therefore, more than anything else, as much as we encourage and stress on the importance of learning and speaking good English among the young people, equal importance should also be given to our indigenous tribal languages. The first step we can take is starting in schools and colleges. Instead of offering Alternative English as a paper option, why not make the indigenous tribal language a compulsory paper. This means that whatever field of study the students may choose at a later stage, they would still have the basic knowledge about our oral tradition and learn to value it. 
An excellent initiative started by the Maharshi Sandipani Rashtriya Veda Vidya Pratishthan, Ujjain in their effort to preserve the Vedic oral tradition in its original form, is the provision of incentives through one of its scheme. According to this scheme, a Swadhyayi Teacher possessing mastery of at least one Shakha of one of the Vedas is selected and is required to give coaching for a period of upto 6 years to 10 selected students. During the duration of this course, the Teacher is paid Rs. 5000 per month and the students are paid a scholarship of Rs. 500 per month. In this way, the Vedic tradition remains alive even today after thousands of years. 
The State Government should also take initiative in promoting more research of our oral tradition by providing more scholarships to the Researchers in this field through the Universities and also provide incentives to publish their research papers. This will create awareness as well as interest in our oral tradition. More libraries and museums should be set up. This way our oral tradition can come alive and young people can have a hands on experience through the workshops and seminars that can be conducted by such departments. University can also be encouraged to introduce papers on oral traditions and history. In Colleges, students can be assigned project works on our oral traditions like folk tales, folk dances, etc. The student bodies of every village can become ambassadors for the preservation of oral traditions and take initiative in protecting the monuments, monoliths and places connected with our oral traditions. 
The Schools and Colleges should also start conducting inter school and inter collegiate competitions on folk song singing, dramatization of folk tales, debates on customary laws,  and also highlight one or two traditional games during the Sports’ week. Awareness programmes, seminars and workshops can be conducted where in the expert artistes and elders of the community can enlighten the young people and records of such events can be preserved in the form of audio, video and even published as journals. 
We still have a long way to go if we want to compare ourselves with countries like the US, UK, Australia and Canada where the universities offer degree programmes and classes aimed at educating the oral historians on key issues relating to the preservation of oral traditions. Once the seeds of awareness take root, in due time, our oral tradition can stand on solid foundation and remain intact for the future generations. But the first step needs to be taken today. In the future we would surely not want to be categorised as the people described by Marcus Gravey when he said, “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin or culture is like a tree without roots”.
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:”


  1. if we could have 'Amar Chitra Katha' style comic books to illustrate Naga folk stories , I am sure Naga children would love reading them! There are so many talented artists and writers in Nagaland. Please try.


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