PAPER SESSION 2 – TUESDAY 24/8, 5–7pm (UTC +8)
P2.2 – Folklore and the Forgotten
Lynn Wong (Singapore) Singapore’s Forgotten Seven Sisters’ Festival
The Seven Sisters’ Festival, also known as Qixi, Qiqiaojie or the Chinese Valentine’s Day, takes place on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, with celebrations starting from the 6th day evening. It was once an important traditional Chinese festival celebrated in Singapore up till the 1960s, comparable to other festivals such as the Chinese New Year.
This festival has its origins in the mythical love story between a cowherd and a weaving lady who was one of the seven fairy sisters, though there are different variations of the legend. Religious worship of the seven fairy sisters, generally by unmarried female devotees, was one of the key features of the celebration.
The annual Seven Sisters’ Festival used to be a much-anticipated elaborate affair especially in the Cantonese-populated Chinatown areas. Worship altars filled with offerings and the display of exquisite handicrafts would attract throngs of curious visitors till late into the night.
However, within a span of a generation, this time-honoured festival has since disappeared.
With little known material trace of this festival except for scant photographic and newspaper documentation as well as a small collection of oral history interviews, prior attempts at reconstructing the festival have been limited. This is coupled with the fact that many of the past oral history interviews conducted were not with stakeholders directly involved in the festival, but mere onlookers.
The current research fills this dearth in knowledge by amassing the social memories of stakeholders involved in different aspects of the Seven Sisters’ Festival, such as social practices, rituals, traditional craftsmanship, food heritage, and performing arts. In examining the factors that contributed to the disappearance of this once important traditional festival, the research provides important lessons for how Singapore can safeguard (and possibly revive) its intangible cultural heritage.
Lynn Wong is an independent heritage consultant. Her research interests include the Chinese diaspora as well as disappearing cultures in Singapore. She is the inaugural Outstanding Youth Award recipient conferred by the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations in recognition of her dedication and innovative efforts to revive clan associations. More information of her works at lynnwong.online.
Keywords: Chinese Valentine’s Day; disappearing festival; festival; intangible cultural heritage; oral history; Seven Sisters’ Festival; social memories
Matti Bakor War (India) Spoken Word and Stories: Folk Narratives and their Continuing Relevance in Present-Day Khasi Society
Stories have played a pivotal role in shaping the worldview and consciousness of individuals and communities by and large. For the Khasi community, their worldview has primarily shaped by the oral narratives which have been passed down from generation to generation, and which remain relevant despite the interventions of a new faith, the introduction of the Khasi script and fast-paced globalisation bringing about a shift in societal dynamics. The written script still has to contend with the spoken word.
Khasi tales and narratives have a dominant influence upon the customs and way of life of the Khasi community. Right from when the Khasi man lost the script bestowed upon him by God, fables, parables and other oratory devices have served as a means of imparting wisdom upon the community. Each recounted tale carries weight and relevance and often has multi-dimensional facets to the lessons it imparts to the willing listener. Thus, we have a milieu of stories to derive lessons from, be it the tragic tale of a man being unable to provide for his close friend to the legend of how greed reared its ugly head again after being nearly vanquished and many more. The Khasi knowledge system and the oral narratives it harbours have shown resilience in being an essential source of wisdom and guidance for its people. This paper seeks to present to the reader a glimpse into the Khasi worldview through such oral repositories and how they mould a community in a way that makes it distinguishable from the multitude of other communities it thrives alongside.
Matti Bakor War is a research scholar currently pursuing her PhD in the Centre for English Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. She is studying folk literature and cultural studies and hopes to excel in her field of interest in the future.
Keywords: community; culture; ethics; orality; worldview</ul>
Wang Shuqin Sandy (Singapore) History, Orality, and the Construction of the German Girl Shrine Legend
The German Girl Shrine legend is a legend narrative that explains the origin of a shrine at Pulau Ubin (an offshore-island of Singapore) dedicated to an anonymous German girl, who has presumably met her demise during her escape from British internment of enemy subjects in Singapore during WWI. This legend narrative was constructed primarily from oral history accounts, and it was transmitted through word-of-mouth and repeated narration from the local residents of the island. With increased interest in the shrine’s history in the early 2000s, however, there was also a proliferation of written accounts based on the pool of oral accounts. As with other contemporary legend narratives, this legend narrative of the origin of the German Girl Shrine was also subjected to distortion through transmission, be it written or oral. Many who promogulated the legend narrative have also erroneously presented it as the history of the shrine, often interweaving actual historical events with the legend narrative. Over time, the legend narrative became conflated with, and was presented as the irrefutable history of the shrine. In this context, this paper examines how the German Girl Shrine legend narrative came to be presented and perceived as the historical truth over time, and how this phenomenon in turn shaped the structure of the legend narrative. How the legend narrative became conflated with the history of the shrine also illustrates some fundamental insights on the Singapore public’s approach to history, reflecting their understanding of what are “history” and “legend”. By comparing the legend narrative with a critically reconstructed history of the shrine (using a range of print and oral sources available), this paper also highlights the incongruencies between the legend narrative and the historical origin of the shrine, and through doing so, addresses broader methodological issues on the (mis)use of oral accounts.
Wang Shuqin Sandy graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 2016 and a Master of Arts in History in 2020. Her research areas include the history of Singapore, civil-military relations in garrison towns, and the history of decolonisation in Singapore and Malaya.
Keywords: legend narrative; orality; Singapore history
Honjem Konyak (India) Oral Narratives and Archaeology: A Case Study of the Ancestral Sites of Chohzu Village in Nagaland
Nagaland, comprising of about sixteen different ethnic communities is a small state in the north-eastern part of India. Archaeologically, the entire northeast has often been remarked as a “terra incognita” region. However, recent interdisciplinary approaches have not only tended to shift away from earlier held assumptions, but have also presented possibilities to tap into the rich oral repertoire, accentuated largely by the absence of “written” or “tangible” material evidence. As such, the paper is an attempt to look into oral narratives with regard to origin and migration of the descendants of today’s Choknyu village.
Honjem Konyak is currently a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His ongoing PhD thesis is on the material culture study of the Konyak ‘Baan’ (a social and educational institution, often loosely defined simply as “men’s hall” or “dormitory”). His area of interest includes studies in oral history, archaeology, material culture, linguistic and anthropology. Overall, he is interested in an interdisciplinary approach studies.
Keywords: ancestral sites; archaeology; interdisciplinary; oral narratives