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The study of folklore plays a significant role in comprehending the nature of humanity. This can be attributed to the creation of stories, festivals and other artistic genres by members of the community in a bid to celebrate the humankind over the years. Most scholars have attempted to define the term ‘folklore’. It is without doubt that the precise definition of the term has not been established. However, the definition has been simplified by expounding on the two compounds of ‘folk’ and ‘lore’.
The phrase ‘folk’ entails a cluster of people in a community who seem to share a common interest such as religion, language or any other linking factor. The linking factor is said to generate a collective identity which is premised upon prominent social factors. The word ‘lore’ therefore describes the creative expressions derived from the linking factors. However, it has been argued that the approach to define folklore as a human populace with shared collective identity can only be applied theoretically and not practically.
This is because it is not an easy task to recognize a common linking factor. In addition to creating a further understanding of folklore, it is noteworthy that the American folklorists concentrated more on the notion of ‘lore’ and less on ‘folk’. They inclined towards the study of relations of the societal members more than the members themselves.
The term folklore therefore poses certain challenges in coming up with a specific definition. However, it is arguable that the term folklore has unanimously been accepted as including ‘humanity’ and ‘common identity’. This essay will therefore expound on the concept of folklore and the various genres that govern the concept.
The Concept Of Folklore
The inception of ‘folklore’ is traced back to the 18th century whereby the Germans undertook a serious study of forms. The study was greatly influenced by the huge presence of romance and the spirit of patriotism at the time. The romantics were not happy with the high rate of civilization leading to man being cut off from his sensations of enjoying arts and poetry.
This led to the romantics collecting a number of folksongs in a bid of restoring their natural sensations. This means that the inception of folklore was therefore traced back to the primitive nature. It has however been debated over the years that the identity that helps to create a correlation between the structure of folklore and the past cannot be ascertained as a matter of fact but by its definition.
It is essential to note that though there seem not to be a specific common definition of the term ‘folklore’, it is apparent that all definitions encompass four fundamental concepts. The first concept is the agreement that folklore is tradition-based. It is not disputable that folklore engages in tradition-based conceptions of a cultural group with an interest of reflecting a common identity.
The other concept is the fact that folklore relates to culture. The wide variety of definitions given identifies the correlation between folklore and culture. The other notable concept identifies folklore as being trans-generational which introduces the last concept of acknowledging the fact that folklore is actually shared by a group of individuals in a community. It is therefore not in doubt that there is a certain scale of understanding that revolves around the generation definition and comprehension of the term ‘folklore’.
However, the applicability of the fundamental concepts has been sensitized.
Certain arguments have been raised on the usage of the term ‘folklore’ as bearing a pessimistic implication of association. This is due to the fact that the term seems to encourage the formation of the less advanced population in reference to terms such as ‘common people’. This has led to such groups shying away from using the term ‘folklore’.
A good example is the adoption of the term ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO in reference to ‘folklore’. The expression adopted by UNESCO was as a result of its involvement in learning the cultures of other people. The new term ‘intangible cultural heritage’ was meant to include and safeguard the culture of people living in the third world countries and other traditions.
The intangible cultural heritage upholds the importance of safeguarding the traditions, performing arts, rituals and other cultural practices. It also recognizes the facts and abilities that the society distinguish as being part of its own cultural legacy. It is vital to note that in defining the term ‘intangible cultural heritage’, UNESCO has been keen on using the key term ‘safeguarding’ instead of ‘preserving’.
This, they argue, is to promote continuous evolvement of traditions over time rather than centering on static traditions that were practiced ages ago as it is the norm with folklorists.
The genres of folklore have been divided into two categories; verbal folklore and musical folklore. The verbal folklore is a genre that entails narrative stories that have been passed from one generation to another. The musical folklore narrates a story in a musical form.
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According to Oring, narration entails the process of transforming experience into an oral account (1986). He further contends that folk narratives can be distinguished due to their predominant nature. First, he argues that folk narratives tend to subsist in manifold versions.
This mean that no single narration can be said to be an authoritative version over the others as each is recreated with each narration. Secondly, a folk narrative can only exist if it creates a correlation between the past and the future. Lastly, a folk narrative includes the reflection of both character and the society. A folk narrative is therefore premised on the circumstances surrounding the character narrating the story.
Folk narratives are also said to fall into three major categories. The first narrative category is the myth. The folklorists argue that most communities consider myths to be not only sacred but also truthful (Christ, 2002). They are premised on traditions and cultures that hold strong symbolic meanings.
The narrator and the listeners believe in myths and hold them to be both truthful and sacred. They involve a story of an event that happened in the past although some folklorists argue that some of the myths are as a result of occurrence of actual events. The Mi’kmag creation story is a good example of a myth.
This myth gives a clear description of how all things in life came to be created. It should be noted that this particular myth exists in various versions though each narration retain the essential element of the story. The story has been passed from one generation to another. This is evident as the current version is narrated by one of Mi’kmag’s elders, Stephen Augustine, who learnt the story from his grandmother. This myth has ensured the survival of culture and spiritualism of the Mi’kmag people over the years.
The legends also fall under the category of folk narratives. Legends are centered on distinct episodes which are relayed as astounding, mysterious or even embarrassing. Folklorists have been faced with a burden of distinguishing between myths and legends (Bennett and Smith, 1993).
Both genres include some elements of truth. Legends are usually semi-true narrations of either epic characters or implausible places that are symbolic to sacred beliefs of the culture in which they come from. Legends are distinct from myths in one way or another. While myths narrate events that occurred a long time ago, legends give narrations that have occurred either in the present or historical past.
Also, myths are religiously based while most legends are not naturally religious. Though legends are based on stories about real characters or places, they twist the truth in one way or another. The legends of the Micmacs are good examples.
As opposed to myths, tales are not perceived as sacred or truthful but rather as fictions or fantasies (O’Loughlin and Kennett, 1991). A folktale attempts to give an explanation of events that have been said to happen over the years. Such stories are passed down from generations and possess a significant lesson.
Folktale stories ensure that the protagonists succeed over the antagonists and live happily ever after. In folktales, the good characters are always rewarded while the mean characters are reasonably punished. It is also arguable that although folktales story line changes over time, the core substance of the tale remain. For example, the Cinderella story is a good example of a folktale. Cinderella, who was placed under custody of her mean stepmother and stepsisters, overcame the meanness of her stepmother by marrying the prince.
The personal experience genres are narratives given in the first person by characters as recall to events that happened to them. An example of a personal experience is by the author of this paper recalling how he was born. It was raining heavily and the mother had to be helped to deliver the author by the author’s aunts hence the inception of his name which means ‘blessing’.
The jokes on the other hand deal with serious issue in the society and are relayed in a comical nature. They are told as a means to diffuse the complexity of the matter at hand. A good example is the ‘Challenger jokes’ that came into being immediately after the shuttle Challenger explosion.
Vernacular songs, folksongs and music are some of the musical genres of folklores. The musical genres express the stories in a musical manner and are important to explain certain events. They are also used for motivational purposes. Good examples are the work songs that were sung by the African-American prisoners while toiling under the sun.
The work songs, which have become important in the present culture, give a detailed narration of what the prisoners were going through while in the prisons. ‘Hound dog’ by Elvis Presley is another good example of a musical folklore that has received a wide reception.
The folklore has adopted to study the human behavior that concern itself with ‘craft’. This gives a general aspect of defining the traditional art, and how some of the cultural objects have come into existence. The material culture is therefore a very important study as it tends to fill in the gaps that had prior been neglected by the folklorists.
The study, which has been undertaken by the American folklorists, focus on the designs, usage and meaning of the cultural objects and also how they came into existence. Both the folklorists and the art galleries owners have attempted to come up with a clear definition of ‘folk’ to suit its applicability on material culture. It is not without doubt that the gallery owners have shown reluctance on using the term ‘folk’ to explain their works.
They tend to rely on certain words such as ‘naïve’ or ‘individualistic’ to describe any cultural material. Though material culture is viewed as another field of folklore study, it becomes of importance as it gives clear explanations as to the reason of making the objects as they are. Some arguments have been posed regarding the difference between folk art and crafts (Bronner, 2004).
One of the most outstanding arguments is the fact that crafts seek to answer the daily requirements of the society while the folk art focuses on the emotions and beliefs. However, material culture has been integrated to the folklore study and the same has formed a significant aspect of giving an explanation of how objects came to be and their purposes.
It is evident that folklore is a very important study. This is because it brings to view the important cultural aspects of the society. It is through the study of folklore that individuals get to learn important aspects of their traditions that seem to create a meaning and purpose of their present lives.
An individual is able to get grip of his history hence having a clear sense of the happenings around him. This is very important as set out in the UNESCO’s terminology whereby the cultural practices are safeguarded. More so, the introduction of material culture shows an evolving cultural practices.
Bennett, G., and Smith, P. (1993). Contemporary legend: a folklore bibliography. New York: Garland Publishers.
Bronner, S. (2004). Grasping Things: Folk Material Culture and Mass Society in America. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky.
Christ, H. (2002). Myths and Folklore. London: Amso School Publications Incorporated.
O’Loughlin, J., and Kennett, D. (1991). Folk Tales: A Short Anthropology. Australia: Era Publications.
Oring, E. (1986). Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an introduction. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.