Every Picture Tells a Story: Visual Alternatives to Oral Tradition in Ponam Society
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Those concerned with recording the history, the culture, and the tradition of village societies seek the sources of their information in the spoken word. Historians, folklorists, and anthropologists have sat down with their informants, pencil and paper in hand, and have urged them to talk. After all, these are the people and societies without history, the people and societies that do not produce written accounts that might contain the answers to the questions posed by investigators. These researchers have benefited from a change that has been taking place in western scholarship, unevenly in different disciplines, over the past quarter-century: the revaluation of the sources of tradition and local knowledge, a revaluation that elevates oral sources and oral traditions in relation to their written counterparts. In our own field, anthropology, evidence of this change is found in the growing interest in ethnohistory and ethnopoetics, part of a general turn toward more cultural concerns. This shift shows an increasing awareness that oral studies have a logic and validity of their own, that they are not merely inferior cousins to the study of written sources. Indeed, some scholars who espouse this viewpoint have theorized that the emergence of writing was not an unalloyed good, a leap out of the darkness (e.g. Goody 1977; Ong 1971). Instead, it comes to take on elements of a fall, as the spread of writing is associated with the growth of an oppressive state.
Oral Tradition, 5/2-3 (1990): 354-375.
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