Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives
Digital Archive of Cultural Heritage
The Digital Archive of Cultural Heritage is the result of a cooperation agreement (2019) signed by the Cultural Heritage Studies Program (CHS Program) at Central European University (CEU) and the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (Blinken OSA) at CEU. As of December 2020, it contains 40 audio and video recordings made by the faculty, students and former students of the CHS Program in different geographical locations connected to various aspects of intangible cultural heritage.
Songs, tales, music, rituals and orally transmitted sacred texts are traditionally treated as important aspects of intangible heritage. Religious teachings of non-bookish religions, oral history, or orally transmitted memories of a community or a family, even the recollections of a person’s life are considered equally important parts of intangible heritage. All these are extremely vulnerable to change in a world which is rapidly transforming due to globalization and technical modernization. This collection of audio and visual materials not only constitutes a body of valuable information on various cultures for researchers, but it is also a cultural repository for the diaspora or younger members of the host communities, who may desire to rediscover their own cultural heritage.
Documentation of three research projects is now available in this collection.
In 2017 and 2018, the Analizing Kyrgyz Narratives (AKYN) Research Group at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Bishkek made six recordings of performances of an episode from the Kyrgyz-language Manas epos. Three of these are performances of manaschi Talantaaaly Bakchiev (1971-) recorded on October 31, December 12 and December 22, 2017, while the remaining three are performances by manaschi Doolot Sydykov (1983-), recorded on February 16, February 22, and March 1, 2018, respectively. The general aim of the project was to collect and study the current status of Manas performances in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, while variants of the same narrative episode were recorded to study methods of construction of contemporary performers. The coordinator of the project was former CEU Medieval Studies PhD student and Assistant Professor at AUCA, James Plumtree.
CEU visiting faculty member and CEU Medieval Studies PhD alumna Eszter Spät undertook several field research trips to the Yezidi communities (an ethno-religious, Kurdish-speaking minority) of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and of the Sinjar Region along the Iraqi-Syrian border. Between 2002 and 2017, she made audio and video recordings touching on various aspects of Yezidi culture, including ritual performances, songs and tales. In addition to formal interviews, Spät has also recorded spontaneous conversations with Yezidis, which all testify to the richness of the culture of this ethno-religious community. The first six items made public in this collection are recordings of Yezidi laments. Laments (xerîbî /gheribi, dîrok) are songs of pain, loss and separation which are sung for and about the dead. Laments are an exclusively female genre, consequently they have received much less attention than sacred texts or secular songs. Laments used to be an important part of Yezidi oral tradition. They were sung at wakes (tazî), during ritual visits to the graves of the deceased
and even at private social gatherings to relieve stress and pain in times of crisis. The genre has been declining in many parts of Kurdistan in the past few decades, with less and less women able to sing xerîbîs. However, it is still an integral part of Sinjari Yezidi culture, where no funeral can take place without women singing laments. If no one in the family is proficient at singing xerîbî, then a semi-professional singer will be invited. The vitality of this genre in Sinjar is reflected in the new laments composed and sung by Sinjari women, which detail the sufferings of Yezidis at the hands of ISIS.
Stanzin Namgail is a native of Zangla village in the Zanskar Valley of the Indian Himalayas (also known as Western Tibet). Isolated from the rest of the world by high mountain ranges, this region retained its unique local culture well into the second half of the twentieth century. In the past few decades, however, the construction of roads linking the region to the outside word, the arrival of tourism and the socio-economic transformation driven by various aspects of modernization have led to a swift decline of traditional Zanskari culture, including its rich oral tradition. In the summer of 2018, Stanzin Namgail, who is a CEU Cultural Heritage Studies MA alumnus, conducted oral history interviews and recorded tales, songs and other elements of endangered oral tradition. It is from among these that we now present about two dozen audio recordings.
The Digital Archive of Cultural Heritage is an ongoing project. New content will be added as items are transferred to Blinken OSA by the faculty, students and former students of the Cultural Heritage Studies Program at CEU