4 2 2016

Verrier Elwin as the presenter of the Tales of the Tribes films

Tara Purnima Douglas


Scholars of the indigenous folklore traditions of India invariably encounter the work of Dr Verrier Elwin, who documented a vast number of folktales from across Central and Northeast India. Now Elwin’s published volumes have provided source material for the Tales of the Tribes collection of films. Elwin’s work as advisor to the Government of India was influential for establishing the policies for the integration of the tribal areas of North-East Frontier Agency, present day Arunachal Pradesh and his philosophy was that development must take the strengths of the tribal cultures into account. Now that popular mass media entertainment reaches the more isolated areas, this has also seen the decline of traditional storytelling. Elwin (1960: 259) wrote that: ‘I am not one of those who would keep tribal art “as it is” and would discourage change and development. Our approach to everything in life must be creative and dynamic’. This has inspired the experimentation with the medium of animation as a tool to sustain indigenous narratives and as a way to communicate tribal cultures to wider audiences in the Tales of the Tribes project. Little is known about Verrier Elwin’s contribution to the knowledge about tribal cultures in India outside the discipline of Indian anthropology. A graphic representation of Elwin as the Master-of-Ceremonies for the animation programme provides a cross-cultural link to introduce the films in the Tales of the Tribes collection, and he also invites young audiences to choose their favourite story. This paper reviews Elwin’s approach to the tribal cultures of India to illuminate his role as the presenter of the Tales of the Tribes films. 

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