Hierarchical Transformation and Song Circulation: Documenting the Garlu Folksongs of Lo Monthang, Nepal

Blumenthal, Katharine Anne, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Dobrin, Lise, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

In Lo Monthang, Nepal, a project currently underway to document a set of folk songs called Garlu (mGar gLu) reflects a surprising dynamic of preservation work: in addition to documenting as a means to preserve culture, documentation can also be a driver of social change. For at least three centuries, an occupational lineage of musicians in Lo Monthang has carried on the tradition of ritually offering Garlu songs. By means of the project to document the Garlu songs, this era is coming to a close through a dramatic social transformation. The musical trade is being nullified and the caste of music makers is being dissolved. My analysis of the Garlu documentation project points to the ways in which communities can actively use tradition to structure and restructure their society, as well as how documentation and preservation projects ostensibly aimed at capturing the past and ensuring the transmission of valued aspects of cultural life can be manipulated in the service of social ends. The context points toward an ethic too rarely appreciated by researchers who conduct linguistic and cultural documentation, that having an ethnographic understanding of a documentation project's context is critical in order to appreciate the way such projects not only respond to social change, but can themselves play a role in creating or enabling significant social change in a community.

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MA (Master of Arts)
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