Remembrance, Reflection, Reconciliation and Renewal: The Bodding Symposium 2015 – Norway

Courtesy © 2016 Tone Bleie (by email, 21 September 2016)

Tone Bleie (PhD)
Professor Public Planning and Cultural Understanding
Dept. of Sociology, Political Sciences and Local Planning
University of Tromsø – the Arctic University
N-9037 Tromsø, Norway

Head International Research Group on Reintegration (IRGR)
Member The International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC)
Head The Scandinavian-Santal Heritage Initiative (SSInherit)

Background information and announcements

Remembrance, Reflection, Reconciliation and Renewal – The Bodding Symposium 2015

By Tone Bleie | To read the full document, click here: Remembrance, Reflection, Reconciliation and Renewal – The Bodding Symposium 2015 >>
This conference report realizes a pledge the co-organizers of the Bodding Symposium 2015 made as part of our initial official conference announcement. […]
The two co-organizers are the University of Oslo by the Museum of Cultural History and the University of Tromsø – Norway’s Arctic University, the by the Scandinavian Santal Heritage Initiative (SSInherit) and Tromsø Museum. The partner institutions incudes in addition to the two co-organizing universities, the National Library of Norway and the Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust and Museum of Santal Culture at Bishnubati. […]
p. 3
Dr. Baski introduced his community Bishnubati, a Santal village southwest of Kolkata in which the villagers have been engaged in socio-economic development work for 25 years. Baski said; “I have since yesterday felt a great sense of excitement especially among the attending Santals about this historic opportunity to discover more of our own roots”. He continued by noting there are several vital questions he hope the symposium will address, including, how the deep knowledge Rev. Bodding had about Santal culture can be made meaningful for Santals and others today.” […]
pp. 4-6
Dikka Storm, an authority on the cultural history of the indigenous Sami and museum curator, unraveled in front of a fascinated crowd of social scientists, cultural and social workers, museum specialists, theologians, and missionaries the historical encounters between pietistic missionaries and shamanistic nomads in Denmark-Norway in the early eighteenth century. Drawing on historical materials (missionary reports, diaries, maps, church records, marriage and birth registries) and contemporary sources, Storm painted a layered story of a powerful state-sponsored mission which effectively pushed back the frontier of the Danish-Norwegian state’s influence and border control. Hers was an intriguing analysis of a high-church mission, directed from the capital Copenhagen and the bishopric of Trondheim (in central Norway). Storm highlighted how generations of travelling missionaries worked closely with local clergy among an ethnically diverse population. These events unfolded about 150 years prior to the arrival of Scandinavian missionaries in Santal Parganas. The interval notwithstanding, we could not avoid noticing certain startling similarities: the alliance between missionary and schoolmasters; the importance of native languages in evangelization; and the shamanistic drum as the most central object and medium of sacred knowledge and branded as a tool of “the devil” both in Norway and British India. Such views rationalized systematic destruction on both continents. […]
Leif Pareli, Curator at Norsk Folkemuseum and currently heading a repatriation project (The Bååstede Project) contextualized the current project by a stark portrayal of the encounter between the missionaries sent out by the authorities of Denmark-Norway and the Noaiti (shamanistic practitioners). […]
He noted that the Bååstede (meaning “return”) ongoing repatriation effort might last for several more years. He said conclusively: “Is first and foremost a recognition of the desire of the Sami people to exercise control of their own cultural heritage. On an emotional level, it is meant to contribute to the healing of wounds of the past.” […]
Sanjeeb Drong, leader of Bangladesh Adibasi Forum […] addressed the relative importance of the legacies of different missions for the current situation of different groups of Adibasis. Drong is a prominent national civil society leader. Himself a Garo, advocate, and journalist, he has closely observed the livelihood, educational, and degree of self-government of Bangladesh’s nearly 50 indigenous communities for decades. […]
Drong ended by calling for a strengthening of the Indo-Bangladeshi partnership of Adivasis and a stronger emphasis on minority rights in Norwegian-Bangladeshi bilateral cooperation. Here the future policy framework should give a greater role both to civil society and academic institutions in reviving the Scandinavian-Santal legacy. […]
Trygve Bruås Nesse, a political scientist and former member of the Normisjon staff, presented a synthetic paper on rural democracy and the political economy in West Bengal and Jharkhand. […]
His findings documented how the primitive accumulation of capital in West Bengal and Jharkhand is realized, which he linked to specific democratic deficits and lack of political transparency. The political situation is not altogether bleak, however: “I also find some signs of expanded democratic participation, especially in the case from West Bengal, where formerly excluded peasant and indigenous groups has been able to put perceived collective issues on the political agenda. My findings suggest that, contrary to pure economic perspectives of primitive accumulation; that local political institutions are relevant for key aspects of how primitive accumulation functions and affect peasant communities”. […]
Lawrence Besra, of World Vision Bangladesh […] spoke of Bodding as ethnographer. Besra provided a sweeping overview of the colonial legacy of disruption and exploitation of Santals during the British colonial period (1757-1947). Bodding was an early user of modern fieldwork methods in Santal Parganas and elsewhere and always work in close collaboration with Santal teachers (gurus), Besra said. He credited Bodding with having unpacked the unique governance system of the Santals in his widely read publications. They were also a standard reference for the colonial authorities, who gave Rev. Bodding an elevated status (as Lars Skrefsrud before him) as an intermediary between the Santal society and the Britishers. […]
Besra shared frankly how internal dissent over the choice between Bengali or Roman script in pre-primary mother tongue education, excluded Santali from the recently launched government scheme aimed at providing education in six mother tongues. Concluding, Besra reminded the audience of the extreme marginalization of the Santal community in electoral politics of Bangladesh. [..]
p. 6
In the session’s final paper, Oddvar Holmedal and Jacob Smørdal presented Normisjon’s current program among the Santals of Assam, Jharkhand, and North-Western Bangladesh. […]
It triggered an engaged debate on why this destructive industry thrives and whether it would be possible to form a public alliance that can effectively convince the government of Jharkhand to contain it and close it down. […]
Harald Tambs-Lyche (Prof. Emeritus University of Picardie-Jules Verne, Amines) captivated the audience with a rich, nuanced, and provocative narrative of Bodding’s seriously underappreciated feats as a mission administrator between 1910 and 1923. He actually democratized the mission’s organization, while wrangling with Anglo-Indian trust law, Tambs-Lyche argued. […]
p. 7
Timotheas Hembrom, a retired professor of Bishop’s College in Kolkata and ordained Presbyterian, is one such rare, profiled theologian. His symposium paper raises a pertinent, strikingly under-researched issue: the distinctly conservative theological turn the Mission took during the Bodding era, his own contribution to this turn and its arguably grave consequences for the Santals’ beholden support to the Lutheran Mission. […]
The influential booklet Kukli Puti (The Book of Questions and Answers) and Bodding’s two bible translations, suggest in Hembrom’s analysis a striking shift from a consistent use of traditional epithets and names for the Santals’ chief deity to Bengali epithets. Bodding committed a category mistake by equating Maran Buru Bonga with the Christian Devil/Satan, resulting in a gross misrepresentation of Santal cosmology. […]
Marine Carrin, a French anthropologist affiliated with LISST Centre d’Anthropologie Sociale and a leading international authority on the Santals, launched this session. She presented an incisive and consequential analysis of how Bodding approached his nearly life-long work on the monumental Santal Dictionary. By way of introducing the analysis, Carrin underlined the Dictionary’s critical importance to the very establishment of linguistic specializations of Mundari languages at Ranchi University and other academic institutions in India. […]
“Certainly, the dictionary has stimulated the creativity of Santal authors and the emergence of Santal intellectuals who feel it important to keep in touch with the subtleties of their language (Carrin 2013). Even for illiterate Santals, the dictionary “as an object of knowledge” is impressive, and I remember how Santals who could not read roman script urged me to explain to them some of its definitions. More importantly, the dictionary stands in Santal imaginary as a companion and as the witness of a culture which is still around, though many deplore the loss and the memocide produced by the colonization of the mind.” […]
In Carrin’s assessment, Bodding passes her rigorous scholarly test. “Certainty Bodding succeeds in re-enchanting Santal words. The definitions of the dictionary, which are necessarily concise and never dry, since we feel that Bodding is always listening, with an inner ear, to the emotions which pervade the language.”
The Symposium upholds the overriding importance of developing a culture of cooperation and mutual recognition of each other’s past and current roles in sustaining and renewing public memory of the Santal-Scandinavian legacy, and avoid letting the script issue create major and enduring divisions, distorting the grander collective purpose. We urge all parties to seek constructive solutions, to share responsibilities, provide support, and to nurture a spirit of inclusion. […]
pp. 8-9
Santosh Soren’s (rtd. Librarian, Roskilde University in Denmark) fascinating paper probed an often- mentioned, but rarely thoroughly investigated issue: the degree to which Bodding’s vast intellectual legacy from his years in India was critically indebted to native gurus, storytellers, craftsmen, and others that are rarely acknowledged, but whom we know were in Rev. Bodding’s service officially as domestic workers or members of the project staff. Soren’s analysis revealed that beyond the non-descript colonial category of “helper,” native contributors to Santal Dictionary were highly respected and knowledgeable, most of them self-taught before being trained by Bodding for their different jobs. [..]
“Some collected stories, others wrote them down or did both; some were asked to give him as many words as they knew, others were requested to give meaning and explanation of words in every possible way so that the semantic accuracy could be attained; and some sat for hours or days with him to find Santal equivalents of Greek, Aramaic or English words and to construct a reliable sentence which could be understood by general people. It needed co-operation, patience and a long waiting time.” […]
p. 9
Several scholars at the symposium highlighted the extraordinary importance of Bodding’s five-volume dictionary of nearly 3,500 pages and 26,000 words. As organizers, we were excited to receive a paper addressing a very specific and neglected research question: the degree to which Bodding’s early twentieth- century scholarship stood the rigorous test of modern linguistics, working comparatively on the North Munda languages, including Santali, Mundari, Ho, Birhor, Turi, Asuri and Korwa.
Several scholars at the symposium highlighted the extraordinary importance of Bodding’s five-volume dictionary of nearly 3,500 pages and 26,000 words. As organizers, we were excited to receive a paper addressing a very specific and neglected research question: the degree to which Bodding’s early twentieth- century scholarship stood the rigorous test of modern linguistics, working comparatively on the North Munda languages, including Santali, Mundari, Ho, Birhor, Turi, Asuri and Korwa.
Professor Toshiki Osada, a Japanese linguist and specialist on Munda languages who has worked on Santal phonology since he was a Master’s student in the early 1980s, shared how he had been pleasantly surprised to know about the availability of a reprinted version of Bodding’s dictionary by Oslo University Press after a visit to Benagaria Mission in 1981. […]
Given that two of the four partner institutions hosting the symposium are custodians of artifacts and manuscripts, it goes without saying that we welcomed contributions that could cast light on Bodding’s lifelong work as a collector. They could include scholarly forays into Bodding’s wider intellectual milieu in British India and Scandinavia, and formative literary ideas about folklore in Bodding’s generation and the next generation, whose formal education concurred with the late Bodding. But their intellectual grooming and blooming as folklorists and ethnographers continued after the Second World War. Ass. Professor Peter B. Andersen’s (University of Copenhagen) paper comparing “two generations of Scandinavian collectors”, was therefore much appreciated.
Early in his presentation, Andersen made an important contextualization of Bodding’s scientific approach to his lifelong collection of Santal folktales. Bodding was inspired by Asbjørnsen and Moe’s collection of Norwegian folktales and the German Grimm brothers’ of German tales. He therefor pursued a typological approach and wrote primarily to a folklorist readership. Bodding collected many autobiographical statements that contained useful folklore. However, Anderson argued, Bodding’s editorial approach to such immensely valuable material was to promote love for the missionary cause. The ultimate aim was evangelization. […]”
pp. 10-11
Ruby Hembrom, founder and director of Adivaani, took as her main theme Bodding’s approach to the Santals’ treasure chest of religious and other popular stories, published in the three volume Santal Folk Tales, a Santali and English bi-lingual edition. Hembrom clarified the use of term “the Bodding paradox,” arguing the following: “Thus while Bodding documented our stories as an ethnographer, he showcases a detachment from the real worth or essence of them. Christianity alienated us from our traditional stories. The most impressive and popular work in the Roman Santali is the Bible. The folklore were produced for another people. The bearers and tellers of the stories became objects. The ones facilitating the production of the literature weren’t the ones enjoying it. Who Bodding really documented for is not relevant. Reclaiming our stories and knowledge for the Santal living culture is far more determinant. Reclaiming them in a way we can engage with them, revise them, build on them, should be the ground to a new era for the Bodding manuscripts collection. Maybe then a new generation of storytellers will start disseminating them again.” Hembrom’s lines of argument are of great importance given the symposium’s aim, i.e. to contribute to a post-colonial era conceived not solely as collaboration (however important that may also be) in terms of access to published and archived manuscripts and objects, but of a profound textual critique, new interpretations, and evidence, based on textual and oral productions in which Adivasi writers and scholars truly lead. Ending her stimulating and consequential paper, Hembrom said: “Let the manuscripts sleeping in enclosed boxes and shelves awake; them the lead letters of the press come alive too, let the edifices talk. This is a heritage walk we need to take together and cross together. Bodding’s stories are mine too: they are stories of my identify after all. Thet serve as deep links to my ancestors and my land. In tangible inheritance lies individual and communal memory.” […]
Ruby Hembrom called for “a heritage walk we need to take together.” Santosh Soren provided nuanced and extraordinary powerful portraits of two generations of Bodding’s “helpers,” in reality a diverse group of incredibly accomplished collaborators. Both presentations added to a powerful meta-narrative which helped refine the agenda of the two next sessions.
These two sessions sought to address new opportunities for collaboration between scholars, writers, educators, publishers, museums, and current custodians of the Santals’ oral heritage, partly resulting from the ongoing digitization of the vast manuscript collection and the completed digitization of the ethnographic collection. These new opportunities were debated in the context of important developments affecting public memory of this particular enlightenment tradition: cultural rights, divisive language, and educational policies, recent trends in research and publishing in South Asia and Scandinavia. The National Library of Norway (NLN), the current custodian of the manuscript collection, cordially hosted the first of these two back-to-back sessions, and in honor of the distinguished participants, the Library had mounted exhibition of rare handwritten manuscripts in the conference hall.
Johanne Ostad from the Dept. of Research and Outreach at NLN […] introduced the approach to digitizing private collections, observing that not only manuscripts, pictures, and letters stored electronically: she astonished the audience when she informed them that specimens that are more unusual are at times preserved, like for example a dry leaf from 1866! Ostad […] showcased the invaluable Santalia Catalogue written by another symposium participant, Santosh Soren. […]
p. 11-12
Shilpi Hembrom, Asst. Professor Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Management, at Central University of Jharkhand in Ranchi spoke next on Bodding’s legacy and collaboration. Her principal focus was on the prospects of future collaborative research.15 “Rev. Paul Olaf Bodding while staying in The Santal Parganas, has explored in depth the Santal way of living, dusk to dawn; right from birth to death, how men, women and their children are leading their life in joy and sorrow or during normal course of routine affairs. In fact, what we know about Santals today is totally extracted from the work, study, and collections of Rev. Bodding. Accordingly, he may be regarded, as the most renowned ethnographer as far as the tribal people like Santals of the Santal Parganas region are concerned”, Hembrom said, introducing her paper.
She reminded the audience that the Scandinavian missionaries had arrived in Santal Parganas at a decisive historical moment. This was less than a decade after Santal Hul (1855-56), when the Santals had been massacred and crushed by the well-equipped British army and local collaborators. […]
In the introduction, Hembrom paid tribute to several knowledgeable men and woman, such as medicine men, village chiefs, and other influential persons whom Rev. Bodding befriended. Among them, Hembrom chose to mention Sagram Murmu, Durga Tudu, Mohan Hembrom, Bhuju Murmu, Kanhu Marndi, Somae Murmu, Kandna Soren, Hari Besra, S. Hasdak’, Sugri Haram, Dhunu Murmu and Sona Murmu, all trusted collaborators.
Introducing Bodding’s major contributions to Indian anthropology as an ethnographer (his vast linguistic legacy notwithstanding), Hembrom highlighted the three-volume Santal Medicine and Connected Folklore and his services of several years to the Anthropological Survey of India. […]
Treatments for oral cancer would be a potentially very promising area, she argued. Community/industry partnership could be developed in order to ensure equitable and just partnerships where patents for and royalties from new ethno-medicines were legally ensured and proceeds shared and reinvested. […]
“The Scandinavian – Santal legacy is deep rooted in the Santals of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere around the world calls for an inclusive approach for further research and cooperation,” Joy Raj Eric Tudu said […]
“Where have we failed as a community? Who is responsible for the ‘disconnect’ with our heritage materials?”
p. 13
Professor Tone Bleie, symposium co-organizer and founder of The Scandinavian-Santal Heritage Initiative was the first to present a paper at the concluding session. Here she unraveled the extraordinary and largely unknown century-long history of the Santal Bodding Collection. Drawing on new archival and ethnographic evidence, originally gathered for her forthcoming monograph on the Scandinavian-Santal enlightenment heritage,17 Bleie’s paper shifted between historical and contemporary perspectives. She presented a contextualized narrative, informed by ethnography, political history, museum history, and human rights law. Introducing her principal topic, Bleie asked the audience a question she admitted was rhetorical, but not outlandish: “What if ‘we’ did not have on our lands any national museum with master collections? Since this is a reality for the Santals, I discuss if and how they memorize their distant cultural treasures and subsequently how this dispersed nation name and comprehend it. I will touch upon why a trust-based custodianship still exists (even if it is eroding) at a time dominated by rights-based discussion of custodianship. […]”
The importance of this collection has to be seen against the backdrop of basic demographic realities: Santal is a nation of somewhere between 6 and 7 million people. That is larger than Norway with its 5.1 million and Denmark with 5.6 million, as of 2014. No national or regional museum in India, Bangladesh, or Nepal harbors such a collection of material and immaterial culture – whether measured by comprehensiveness or quality. The Santal Bodding Collection, whose designated name she argued is important, is indeed unparalleled worldwide. Reflecting on how “a museum” may be most appropriately defined, Bleie suggested that a meaningful definition of the Santal Bodding Collection could be: “a storehouse of ancestral tales and imperishable things.” This definition makes good sense in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, and is also comprehensible in Scandinavia, Bleie argued. She placed the account of the Bodding Collection’s trajectory in the context of late-nineteenth-century Norwegian nationalism and the cultural history of museums with ethnographic collections. They have arguably in recent decades pursued a selective post-colonial critique, for reasons of Norway’s colonial past and selective late-nineteenth-century nationalist narratives. Only Saami demands for their own museums and a say in their management, together with the repatriation of cultural artifacts are slowly being seriously addressed (cf. Leif Pareli’s paper). The rethinking of management of these collections in a North–South and rights-based perspective is now possible, aided by international agreements, the ICOM code, digital technology, and the interest of original and current custodians in cooperation. Bleie said, “I am reasonable optimistic that the several months long process of planning and arranging this symposium jointly will bring tangible commitment and institutional resources.” Ending her talk, she proposed a number of realistic and innovative options for future collaboration with the Santals and their neighbors from whom the collections derive (cf. Annex). […]

Annex 1: Background, Definitions and Recommendations 
By Tone Bleie | To read the full document, click here: Annex 1: Background, Definitions and Recommendations >>

INTRODUCTION
p. 1
The Scandinavian-Santal heritage: past, present, and future The Scandinavian-Santal enlightenment legacy was a composite religious and spiritual mass movement, framed and formed by a particular European colonial order, Norwegian cultural nationalism, low-church evangelism, and the Santals’ will to resist foreigners’ intrusion and land grabs by way of script, education, legal literacy and mobilizing Scandinavian intermediaries as advocates. The movement morphed into a Lutheran Trans-Atlantic missionary society. When Paul Olav Bodding on behalf of the Mission (under shifting names1) donated his vast collection of manuscripts, ethnographic, and pre-historic objects to the University of Oslo,2 both the mission leadership and the Santals saw the custodianship as a new building block in an enduring trust-based relationship between the Santal nation and these Northern lands and institutions. […]
p. 2
Remembrance: Is not simply about recalling famed and forgotten persons, places, deeds, and stories of the past. Remembrance cannot be realized simply by physical or virtual access to large archives or to Bodding’s published classics, mostly long out of print. Remembrance invokes complex emotions such as mourning, fulfillment, anger and pride. Memory is inherently biased and selective. In order to become self- reflexive, memory critically depends upon avenues for public and private reflection of different kinds, such as the arena the Bodding Symposium 2015 was able to offer. Reflection: The Symposium became a venue for people whose professional and personal histories intertwined with the Scandinavian-Santal legacy in vastly different ways. Combining a variety of arenas and modes of facilitation, the Symposium kindled an incipient collective process in which new ideas and propositions emerged and established dogmas, and views and truths claims were critically debated and reconsidered. Many participants underlined the necessity to sustain and extend this reflective and reflexive process. Several participants proposed approaches and concrete means by which the process could be sustained and deepened. […]
p. 3
Reconciliation: The Symposium initiative caught momentum, motivated by the Scandinavian-Santal’s Heritage Initiative’s recognition of the dire need to rebuild trust and cooperation around heritage management, research and advocacy between Scandinavian and South Asian constituencies. The participants at the Symposium reaffirmed that it is absolutely high time. Santal participants spoke persuasively about a range of critical issues which they underlined have to be addressed in the short and intermediate run. They vented grievances but also hope that this new dialogue on equitable cooperation (including co-management of the Bodding Collection) would lead to reconciliation and help mend relations overtime. The Scandinavia-Santal rapprochement must strive to build neutral ground and alliance partners in order to contribute to conflict mediation addressing decades’ long bitter social and legal rifts between the successor churches in India and Bangladesh.
Museum: The Symposium advanced a primary definition of museum as “a storehouse of ancestral tales and imperishable things.” This cross-cultural definition encapsulates two crucial yet interdependent dimensions of the Santal Bodding Collection. Firstly, the notion “ancestral tales” evokes and makes visible the Bodding Collection as immaterial heritage. “Tales” refers to not only the vast manuscript collection of published and unpublished stories, but also the ethnographic records that in intricate detail convey “the social life” of objects. Secondly, the Collection is embedded in a highly specialized technical conservation regime that has made much of it “imperishable.” The delegations from India and Bangladesh marveled at the excellent condition of much of the ethnographic collection, including exemplars of biodegradable century-old leaf cups, fishing nets of natural fibers, and wooden weaponry. As the conference proceedings highlighted, the ancestral tales will remain muted (in stores and archives), unless their voices can be read, invoked, listened to, debated, re/interpreted and replenished with new versions and entirely novel stories. Therefore, custodian access and future co-management initiatives were the topics of two sessions, stirring much debate. This primary definition is proposed complemented by another cross-culturally mediated concept, “the outdoor museum. This concept encapsulates the Scandinavian concept of the open-air museum (friluftsmuseum) and the South Asian notion of out-door fair (mela). […]
p. 4
RECOMMENDATIONS
Academic institutions in Scandinavia and South Asia The co-organizers of the Bodding Symposium 2015, MCH at the University of Oslo and the University of Tromsø are urged to follow up their stated plans for formalized cooperation with partly identified South Asian academic institutions and civil society organizations that are committed to heritage management and promotion of cultural and developmental rights of the Santals and related Adibasi groups. […]
p. 8
Rights-based development oriented civil society organizations The Bangladeshi Adibasi Forum is urged to take a national lead role in an early phase, mustering support for the establishment of a “Virtual Plain Adivasi Cultural Museum.” […]
p. 9
The Government of Norway is urged, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to support heritage initiatives, which visibilize and safeguard the Scandinavian-Santal legacy. Such initiatives should range from establishment of cultural centers and virtual museums to heritage management, including restoration of the most important historic station stations. The latter constitute a neglected Indo- Scandinavian social history and architectural heritage gems, currently facing multiple threats in today’s India and Bangladesh.

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