Embarking on a collaborative process: “The tapestry” of a common Scandinavian-Santal heritage spanning 150-years – Norway

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Tone Bleie is Professor of Public Planning and Cultural Understanding at the University of Tromsø, in Northern-Norway. […]

The Bodding Symposium is one of the current initiatives under this umbrella initiative. Another is an ongoing book project, which aims at rewriting the history of the Scandinavian-Santal pastoral enlightenment legacy – making the book readable and available for audiences in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. Her email address is: tone.bleie@uit.no

Introduction: asking difficult questions

Can you imagine that the largest and most valuable collection of your saga manuscripts, Viking ships and other iconic remains from the Viking era – not to speak of your most exquisite collection of folk culture were owned by a foreign museum? […]

The reactions provoked, suggests that public memory in Norway about our own long country’s colonial past has faded.

The answers vary tremendously when asking Santals from Northern territories of Santal Parganas, West Bengal and Bangladesh: what is your most valuable collection of literary heritage including ancestral tales, master crafted jewelry, implements and instruments and so forth?  Some respond saying; “What we have is what we still share in our storytelling traditions and through our ceremonials”.  Often they add, “Earlier Santal women and men were adorned in such beautiful jewelry, but all is gone now”.  Others will quickly make reference to the Bishnubati Museum or to HorkorenMare Hapramko reak’ Katha by guru Kolean, put into book form by Kairab Sahib. Quite many people, affiliated with the Lutheran churches and their sister organizations answer altogether in a different way:

“Our treasures are kept in Norway since Bodding sahib’s time when he dispatched them over the great oceans.  Hence previous jewelry and master crafted implements came to Norway where according to our elders all is kept very well. This happened in our grandparents’ time”. 

This last response brings to light a fascinating narrative “thread” in “the tapestry” of a  common Scandinavian-Santal heritage spanning 150-years.  This is one of the golden threads I have searched for and which I am about to write a chapter on –  in my forthcoming book on the history of the Scandinavian-Santal historical legacy. The story of the Santal Bodding Collection has left me amazed, at times speechless, angry and deeply moved.  How did it all began back in the 1890s? Why did it gradually become an incredibly lengthy collaborative effort involving Bodding and his closest Santal teachers and collaborators?  And what has over a full century really happened with the museum collection of allegedly prehistoric stone blades (Cheter Dhiri or firestones), the huge manuscript and the ethnographic collections? Have promises been heeded or violated –  and why?

Paul Olav Bodding ,source-Wikimedia Commons

This intriguing story of how Santal brethren and sisters entrusted Bodding Sahib (on behalf of the Santal Mission) to bring their invaluable spiritual and material heritage to a cultural history museum in distant Oslo[3],  is again actualized by the 150-year Anniversary of Bodding’s birth (1865-2015) this year.

This Anniversary will surely be commemorated by various secular and religious organizations in India and Bangladesh.  In Norway, the Anniversary will be demarcated in Bodding’s home town Gjøvik and notably at the upcoming Bodding Symposium in early November 2015.

This symposium entitled Paul Olav Bodding and the Making of Scandinavian-Santal legacy will be held in Oslo, the very same week that it is 150-years since Bodding was borne on November 2nd 1865 into a Christian family.  The family had recently settled in Gjøvik and opened a bookstore and small modern printing press there.  We may say that his class background as well as his family’s involvement in the Haugean influenced Lutheran low-church movement came to strongly influence the adult Bodding’s worldview and life path – which brought him as a young missionary to India and the lands of the Santals and their neighbours.

The symposium is organized by my own university, the University of Tromsø (UiT) and the  University of Oslo (UiO).  UiO owns and manages the ethnographic and prehistoric sub-collections. Another partner, the National Library of Norway, is the custodian of the vast manuscript collection.

Most recent collaborators are the Bishnubati Museum for Santal Culture in West Bengal and Vardobaiki Museum (and Saami Center) located in Northern Norway.  Bishnubati MSC and the Norwegian partners wish to embark on a collaborative process – open to new interest groups – that may lay the foundation for development of a management platform for the Santal Bodding collections. Virtual repatriation is becoming a real short-term possibility as new parts of the collections are becoming digitalized.  The Vardobaiki Museum is one of six indigenous museums (managed under the Saami Parliament) that partakes in the ongoing Baastede-process of physical repatriation from the Museum of Cultural History to Saami Museums. Bringing under one umbrella two large bureaucratic public heritage institutions with two indigenous local museums (one in India and the other in Norway) is innovative, very exciting and challenging.

The Museum of Cultural History under University of Oslo has been the custodian of the Santal Bodding Collection for more than a century, under shifting conditions of display, storage, conservation and understanding of its role as owner and custodian. Few decades ago, the valuable manuscript collection got transferred from the University Library to the National Library of Norway. […]

The Symposium will have as prime focus the scholar Bodding and his contemporaries – including his Santal gurus and collaborators – but also exploring the intricate connections between the missionary Bodding and the eminent linguist, ethnographer and collector. […]

This pastoral enlightenment effort, became gradually  embraced and rooted in the soil and minds of many Northern Santals.  But far from all.  Many resisted and rejected the Santal Mission’s influence for a whole set of political, religious and social reasons. This memorial framework of the symposium also intends to cast new light on new aspects of the historical Bodding’s personality, including   his strikingly reconciliatory ideals and practice. This remarkable legacy of reconciliation is perhaps less a source of veneration among his Santal brethren and sisters.  But it is worthy public attention and collective reflection.  Succeeding in 1910 Kaibab/Skrefsrud as Secretary of the Santal Mission – Bodding was tasked to lead a dramatic and very painful transition from a native Santal Church to Trans-Atlantic Mission, led by so-called “home-boards”.  Rev. Bodding became those years object of mounting criticism. […]

The dilemmas he faced were real and painful, causing him much humiliation, sorrow and sacrifice.

Returning to the Bodding Symposium; it is hoped to become a landmark event in the sense that it is solely devoted to the Scandinavian-Santal legacy – notably from a secular academic platform open to scholars and heritage professionals from Norway, other European countries, India and Bangladesh, in addition to writers, development workers and workers from the successor missions and the Lutheran church.  It is a dream coming true for this author and my colleagues that we can receive friends and colleagues from India and Bangladesh etc. at this historic venue next to the Museum of Cultural History – taking stock of “our” joint ancestral legacy. The venue will provide a unique opportunity to not simply pay homage, but to dare examining this legacy from different academic and policy-based viewpoints, informed by critical post-colonial “eyes” and minority rights.  The forum will hopefully kick-start a much needed joint debate if and possibly how one envision this legacy revived and rejuvenated in our own life time – reexamining the ancestral past and looking towards the future. […]

Local museums built-up by local residents may be integral to local or indigenous history and memory and managed locally allowing and proceeds coming back to the community.  Outdoor sites include as for example local monuments commemorating events or singular persons, or sacred groves, other abodes of deities such as churches and temples, memorial grounds (including burial grounds) and ancient heritage landscapes. […]

We like to hear from Santal intellectuals, including literates, academics, development workers, and teachers – what is your situation?  Were there weaknesses in the repatriation process itself?  If so – what can be learned for the future?  Is the reels only a source for those writing in Latin script – or Ol-chiki script make use of the reels as well? What are they particularly interested in?  These are just few of the questions we hope to see debated in the Symposium.

web_hent_bilde (1)

Armband from Santal Parganas

Currently, the era of digital media including internet, opens up possibilities for digital repatriation.  With the digitalization of the ethnographic part of the collection completed and digitalization of selected sections of the manuscript collection underway – several “hot potatoes” have dropped in our laps.  Now a student or professor in Dumka or Ranchi can access the website of the Museum of Cultural History and search for artifacts in the Santal-Bodding ethnographic collection. […]

The whole definition of a museum as a physically localized treasure house (see the discussion above) might need to be rethought.  The Santal Bodding collection of mostly well preserved wooden ploughs, hunting equipment and fishing nets etc. can now be viewed “virtually” on photos displayed on computer screens by interested online users in India, Bangladesh and elsewhere. […]

Should the museum translate entries with the involvement of Santal experts coming to Norway or sitting at their work stations in Dumka or Godda? What uses can a Santal community make – if you like to maintain your own local museum making of this data technology and the online availability of the collection? How to use new opportunities to research and learn about the old techniques, material use and esthetics on exquisitely crafted implements, instruments and jewelry now to be viewed on a screen? How do Santals of the traditional faith feel about religious objects been screened online? These are just some of the important questions we hope to see intensely debated at the Bodding Symposium in Oslo.

Coming up prior to the Bodding Symposium

The conference was announced early this year on the website of the Museum of Cultural History.[10]  We are about to develop the full conference program to be posted in August on this website. We also welcome submissions of display materials such as reports, books (both fiction and non-fictions) and documentaries about the environmental and human rights situation in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Bangladesh and Nepal.  In order to increase participation and invite viewpoints from South Asian constituencies to the conference’s key sessions, we plan in the early autumn to arrange a few e-conferences on social media. Please be on the alert and sign up if you are willing to participate in these events. […]

*immaterial heritage-It is made up by the-uses, representations, expressions, knowledge and techniques –together with the instruments, objects, devices and cultural spaces that are inherent to it- that the communities, groups and in some cases individuals acknowledge as an integrating part of their cultural heritage. source

Source: The Santal Bodding Collection: Debating the story of a national treasure – its custodianship and future management | livelystories.com
Address: http://livelystories.com/2015/07/15/santal-bodding-collection-debating-story-national-treasure-custodianship-future-management/
Date Visited: Wed Aug 05 2015 16:56:40 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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