Report on “Transnational Custodianship of Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century”: Workshop at the University of Copenhagen (October 2018) – Denmark

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Transnational Custodianship of Cultural Heritage in the 21stCentury
8th– 11thOctober 2018, University of Copenhagen
By Boro Baski

Banam © Boro Baski | eBooks:
Banam | Museum of Santal Culture >>

The workshop addressed various issues related to promoting and preserving the knowledge of cultural heritage, particularly of the marginalized and the Adivasi communities. The first two days of the workshop gave us an overview of how the small communities in various parts of the world are working to preserve their cultural heritage. This sometimes happens in a very adverse socio-cultural and political situation like the Inuit Communities in Greenland and the Uyghur in China. The presentation of ‘Treasure hunt….’ by the scholars from Copenhagen University, too, gave us an insight into the problems researchers face to collect and preserve the cultural heritage in an alien land. It is heartening to know how mainstream institutions like the National Library of Norway, the National Museum of Denmark and Danmission take special care in preserving the common legacy of Scandinavian-Santal cultural heritage.

The discussion in the last two days of the workshop was focussed on the Bodding Collection of Santal Cultural Heritage. Since I had attended the Bodding Symposium 2015 in Oslo I found this workshop to be a big step forward in disseminating Bodding’s work among the Santal communities and beyond.

By inviting Mr. Sibu Soren, Secretary, Bakjulu Adibasi Welfare Society, and myself from the Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust who primarily represent the village-based non-Christian Santal community, the organizers of the workshop took a visionary approach. They want to be inclusive by bringing all Santals together irrespective of their differences in script, religion and educational background. This inclusiveness is the Santals’ inherent quality. They use it in subtle ways living within the multi-cultural society of India. Santals partake in all the festivals and celebrations of their adjoining communities, like in Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja, Id-ul-Zuha, and eat their food, wear their dresses, speak their languages, yet they remain strongly rooted in their own tradition and culture.

Although I understand the limitations dictated by time and environment of the workshop, I do feel we could have given more space to discussions on the pertinent issue of how to bring unity among the different groups of Santals. We, the educated Santals, could play a big role in diffusing these differences, but sadly we did not do so yet. P.O. Bodding’s work on the positive aspect of Santal’s tradition and culture could lead us into the right direction. Bodding’s work needs to be disseminated among all Santals for which all grass-root organizations could be involved in equal measure. In this connection, the idea of making Benagaria a heritage site would be a big step forward. The workshop has been a great experience for me in understanding the deeper meaning of preserving cultural heritage in general and of the Santals in particular.

PS Having talked about the differences on religion and script among Santals, I hereby give a link of my recently published article on this issue in a Bengali daily ‘Anandabazar Patrika’, along with its English translation:

One Language, Many Scripts by Boro Baski, translated from Bengali into English by Asha Baski (PDF, 2 pages, 66 KB) | To read or download this article, click here >>

Source: courtesy Dr. Boro Baski (email 28 October 2018)

Dr. Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal. The NGO is supported by the German NGO Freundeskreis Ghosaldanga und Bishnubati. He was the first person from his village to go to college as well as the first to earn a PhD (in social work) at Viswa-Bharati. This university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore to foster integrated rural development with respect for cultural diversity. The cooperation he inspired helps local communities to improve agriculture, economical and environmental conditions locally, besides facilitating education and health care based on modern science.

He authored Santali translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s Vidyasagar-Charit and Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders), published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi in 2020.

Other posts contributed by Boro Baski >>

Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust
Registration under Trust Registration Act 1982
P.O. Sattore, Dist. Birbhum
West Bengal-731 236

For inquiries on Santal cultural and educational programs, please contact:
Mob. 094323 57160 or

“Transnational Custodianship of Cultural Heritage in the 21st Century” organised by the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 8-10 2018.

The second event (Workshop) focused on P.O. Bodding’s Santal legacy. 

Prof Peter Andersen, of the Dept of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, University of Copenhagen, was the Chief Convener while Prof Tone Bleie, of the University of Tromse, Norway, was also present as Co-Convener. This was Part Two of the Bodding Symposium held by Prof Tone Bleie in Norway in November 2016.

Four Santal scholars and writers were present from India at this Seminar-cum-Workshop: Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Boro Baski, Sibu Saren and Sunder Manoj Hembrom. The Santal film-maker, Divya Hansda, was also present. The Bengali scholar working on Santali culture, Sudipto Mukhopadhyay, was also present. A fifth Santal, Christopher Soren, was present as Coordinator for the Northern Evangelical Lutherhan Church (NELC), Dumka, Jharkhand, which is the Church where P.O. Bodding had worked as a missionary-ethnographer for about 50 years of his life. Oddver Holmedal of Normisjon and Jorgen Nergaard Pedersen of DanMission were also present.

Dr. Ivy Hansdak presented a paper on ‘Cultural Heritage in the Classroom: Teaching L.O. Skrefsrud’s “The Ancestor’s Story” and P.O. Bodding’s “The Money-Lender and His Debtor” ‘. This was based on her work on the Experts Committee of a newly-introduced MA Elective English Course titled “Writings from the Margins” at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi.

In brief, this Course brought together selected narratives from Dalit and Tribal discourse. In her capacity as Expert, she prepared the study materials for Santal creation myth and Santal folktale (L.O. Skrefsrud version and a folktale documented by P.O. Bodding), besides tribal autobiography (CK. Janu’s Mother Forest) and Santal poetry (Nirmala Putul‘s “If You Were In My Place” and Marsal Hembram’s “Then I must Pick Up the Bow”). The paper presented by Ivy Hansdak was on the creation myth and the folktale.

Source: Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 14 October 2018)

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