From oral to written literature

Vishü Rita Krocha

Remember the time you sat down with your grandparents by the traditional kitchen hearth, listening to fascinating legends and tales? Many of us grew up with our beloved elders regaling tales from the past, the way it had been orally passed down to them. And for some of us, these storytelling sessions still remain imprinted in memory.

I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandparents in the village, who also made sure that there were enough stories to keep me engrossed every Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I remember how my grandfather would come and pick us up from Kohima, and we would travel in an NST bus till Pfütsero and then walk all the way to the village. Today, this activity seems like an impossible task but as children, my siblings and I found this very exciting and in the days that followed, we would accompany our grandparents to the fields, helping them in transplanting paddy.

Looking back now on all the activities that kept us engaged during our summer breaks, it’s the storytelling session that I remember and cherish the most. It’s one of the best childhood memories that I would still think of and wish that children today would also be able to experience that somehow. 

Maybe I had not realised then, but I think it was during this period of time in my life that I discovered my love for stories. Years later, when my grandmother came to live with us in Kohima, also having realised by then the need to document our stories, I would often ask her to tell me stories that I might have missed in my younger days.

There was this particular folktale about a boy and a girl named Sacho and Dürüle, who took care of their family’s cattle and met at the grazing site everyday. There is a certain portion in the story where Sacho and Dürüle start to sing and I still remember how grandmother would break into a song herself while narrating this part of the story. The way grandmother sang the lovers’ songs in between was most beautiful! She lived to be 104 and much of the credit for the many heart-warming stories of our roots and tradition that I know of today, also goes to her.

We all know that we have this legacy of storytelling where many of our folktales, folksongs and stories of our rich culture and tradition have been passed down, from generations to generations. Our forefathers tilled the land in picturesque terrace fields, overlooking pristine mountains and faraway blue skies. They “hi-hoyed” while working in the fields, in groups or alone; when they sowed paddy on terrace fields; when they harvested them or carried them home in beautifully woven baskets; when they celebrated their numerous festivals or even mourned the death of a loved one.

This is essentially where I think some of us have also inherited the gift of writing, whether it is poetry, songs, or storytelling that comes in different forms; which have also been now redefined by a new breed of storytellers. Our Naga traditional homes and villages are still bursting with stories and the need to document them has never been more pertinent than now.

The good news is that there is a surge of new generation of writers, who are creating their own stories with inspiration drawn from lived experiences surrounding them either physically or virtually. Going through writings especially by children of this generation, you also realise what a big role technology has played in their formation as writers. While anything that drives you to write must not be undervalued, we must also pursue ‘real stories’ from our land because ultimately, the latter would carry us beyond our boundaries.

Given the resources of our times, it would be one of our greatest tragedies if we fail to document the tangible stories that our elders possess. Today, villages across the state have fewer and fewer elderly, which again points to how crucial it is to sit down with them and record their elderly wisdom and stories.  

In any case, if we are to create a vibrant community of literature in Nagaland even as the culture of oral storytelling slowly fades, we must document and preserve these stories because writers are the ultimate keepers of our precious history and culture. 

This is a guest editorial by Vishü Rita Krocha. She is the Publisher of PenThrill Publication and a senior journalist based in Kohima.