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The Fifth ‘Folklore and Anthropology in Conversation’ Seminar.
Celebrating five years of conversation on ideas of mutual interest to both disciplines.


Date: Thursday 24 October 2019
Time: 10.00am to 5.00pm
Venue: Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London W1T 5BT

There is no conference fee, and refreshments will be provided on the day, but tickets must be booked. To book tickets please go to https://anthandfolkloreafrica.eventbrite.co.uk

10:00 – 10:15   Welcome (Tea and coffee available)

10:15 – 11:00   Keynote Address
Emeritus Professor Ruth Finnegan
‘Studying Africa and Literature: Interactions of Folklore and Anthropology’

11:00 – 11:40   Paper 1
Professor Raymond Apthorpe  
‘What is Folklore? What is Ethnography? What is Anthropology? Thoughts Following This Year’s Nsenga People’s tuwimba at Chief Ndake’s Village, Petauke District, Eastern Zambia’

11:40 – 12:20   Paper 2
Ruixuan Li
‘A Mother’s Concerns in a Cradle Song:  An Examination of Somali Lullabies from the Perspective of Lyric Poetry’

12:20 – 1:20  Lunch

1:20 – 2:00    Paper 3
Muskan Dhandhi
‘Constructing a Cultural Bridge between Africa and Haryana:  Analysing Performativity, Humour and Didacticism in Children’s Folklore’

2:00 – 2:40  Paper 4
Emeritus Professor Karin Barber
‘Street Culture in Early Yoruba Newspapers’

2:40 – 3:20  Paper 5
Emeritus Professor James H. Grayson  
‘The Rabbit, the Monkey and the Water Monster:  How a Buddhist Tale Spread from India to East Asia and Africa’

3:20 – 3:50  Tea and Coffee

3:50 – 3:30  Paper 6
Olatunde Joseph Adebayo
‘Tortoise Figure:  Between Folklore, Materiality and Contemporary Culture‘

3:30 – 4:10   Paper 7
Dr David Shankland
‘Westermarck, Anthropology and Folklore: or How the Relationship Could Have Gone’

4:10 – 5:00    General Discussion


Olatunde Joseph Adebayo
‘Tortoise Figure: Between Folklore, Materiality and Contemporary Culture‘
The functions of folklore cannot be overemphasized in any culture.  But, human culture is not exclusively of his making as non-humans have always played an immeasurable role.  The tortoise is longest lived vertebrate and is a phenomenon in many genres of narratives to the mainstream popular culture and the new media. Tortoise with agential capacity, integrates, interacts between traditional and modern expressions. The paper argues in this regard, every culture appropriates and challenges traditional notion of history, territory, and identity, recognize the complex process of transculturation that have characterized modernity. It analyses, literally a dozen of tortoise-centric Yoruba sayings among others “all figures ascribable equal the tortoise”. Since humans live with cultural materials and imaginary resources in a unique ways to serve various purposes, beyond anthropomorphism, the paper considered a material figure, the legendary African male giant tortoise, aged 332, called Alagba in southwestern Nigeria.  The cultural symbol with all ‘reasons’ attributed to him.

Raymond Apthorpe.  
‘What is Folklore? What is Ethnography? What is Anthropology? Thoughts Following This Year’s Nsenga People’s Tuwimba at Chief Ndake’s Village, Petauke District, Eastern Zambia’
The annual Tuwimba Festival held by the Nsenga people of eastern Zambia is rooted in the story that one year when there a severe drought, a chief led the Nsenga people into the deep bush to a large tree before which the people prayed to the spirits and made offerings. Before the tribe returned to their homes, rain began to fall.   The paper is a reflection on the nature of the academic disciplines of folklore, ethnography and anthropology in light of the actual experiences at Tuwimba Festival in 2019.

Karin Barber
Street culture in early Yoruba newspapers
The buoyant Yoruba language press of 1920s Lagos, Nigeria, was owned and produced by entrepreneurs who were, to varying degrees, members of the small educated elite that dominated cultural, social and political life. Their official line was a Christian didacticism through which they hoped to enlighten the lower classes – the barely literate and the illiterate to whom the content of the papers would be transmitted orally by those who could read. But the moralising was shot through with an altogether more ribald, relaxed and cynical view of the world, encapsulated in popular songs, slang, sayings and anecdotes drawn from the Lagos street. The newspapers, as assemblages of diverse materials, could accommodate and juxtapose apparently incompatible perspectives. This tendency is seen at its most developed, and effective, in the famous serial narrative Itan Igbesi Aiye Emi Segilola (The Life Story of Me, Segilola, 1929-30), later republished as a book and now seen as the fountainhead of the Yoruba literary tradition. In this presentation I investigate the nature of the socio-political moment in colonial history that made such contradictions compelling.

Muskan Dhandhi
‘Constructing a Cultural Bridge between Africa and Haryana: Analysing Performativity, Humour and Didacticism in Children’s Folklore’
This paper aims to contextualise humour, didacticism and performativity in Haryanvi and African children’s folklore. It will draw a contrast yet depict many similarities between the African continent and Haryana state in Northern India and their respective cultures.  Children’s folklore across Africa and Haryana have several folk texts which create humour with animal and mock characters, delivering a didactic element in the narrative of the text. The performance of the narrator and the cultural positioning of the listener (child) also varies from one cultural backdrop to another, thereby situating the text in direct relation to its culture. In such scenarios, how will children’s folklore bridge the gap between two culturally diverse nations?  The paper will enable the audience and the reader to connect both postcolonial countries with their own children’s folklore through a comparative study, which will analyse the folk texts through a cultural analysis and will also read humour, didacticism and the theoretical framework of Performativity.

Ruth Finnegan
‘Studying Africa and Literature:   Interactions of Folklore and Anthropology’
Are the two disciplines the same in this study? Well, yes and no. They anticipate each other, catch up, diverge, leap frog, run parallel , even at times, depending where you are and what language you use, coalesce. In this presentation, I sketch a brief overview of their varying but  at times overlapping approaches to such topics such as origins, survivals, dispersion, formulae, tradition, terminology,  and more recently orality and the long interactions of text and performance.  The talk will end with some speculations about what directions future study might take.

James H. Grayson.  
‘The Rabbit, the Monkey and the Water Monster:  How a Buddhist Tale Spread from India to East Asia and Africa’
Comparative and historic research is an important aspect of folklore research tracing the spread of folktales and narrative motifs from one culture to another.  In an earlier paper, I have traced the spread of an Indian folktale which was adopted by early Buddhist preachers to explain an aspect of Buddhist teaching and how this spread into East Asia becoming transformed and localised.  While the dramatic structure of the narrative remained the same, the background elements of character and physical setting become localised. This talk will discuss the spread of this same tale eastwards into eastern and central Africa and will reflect on how this type of folktale became localised in very different geographic and culture setting from its place and culture of origin.

Ruixuan Li
 ‘A Mother’s Concerns in a Cradle Song:  An Examination of Somali Lullabies from the Perspective of Lyric Poetry’
The lullaby is a special form of musical and verbal act that is found around the world.   While lullabies fulfil the function of lulling children to sleep, cross-culturally, the lexical contents of the songs and their function can seem to be at odds. Somali lullabies give voice to the hopes as well as the troubles of the mother, despite the fact that the young listener is incapable of understanding them. While singing to the specific addressee, the mother is usually addressing someone else.  This person could be a husband, a brother, a mother-in-law, a co-wife, or men in general.  My approach is to look at the poetic texts from a lyric perspective and explore how Somali women bring into play the rhetorical and semantic resource which are unique to Somali culture. Through a close reading of the texts in Somali lullabies, in this paper, I shall explore how the language of the lullabies reflects the concept of poetic address, which is a crucial element that western lyric theorists have conceptualized from poetry in European languages and that is salient in Somali lullabies. I shall also look into how the lullabies embody the identity of the Somali women and the potential social functions of the genre.


Raymond Apthorpe is the Honorary Secretary of the Royal Anthropological Institute who has been involved in reflective accounts of international aid studies, international humanitarian assistance and its institutions and practices.  He has worked for, and with, a variety of intergovernmental, governmental, and non-governmental bodies in the world of aid.  For the past five years he has served as a trustee of the RAI.

Karin Barber is Emeritus Professor of African Cultural Anthropology at the University of Birmingham and Centennial Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  Her research focuses on Yoruba oral literature, popular theatre and print culture, and she has also done comparative work on popular culture and textual production across Africa. Among her books are I Could Speak Until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the Past in a Yoruba Town (1991), The Generation of Plays: Yoruba Popular Life in Theatre (2000), The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics (2007), Print Culture and the First Yoruba Novel (2012) and A History of African Popular Culture (2018).

Muskan Dhandhi received the MA in English from Ambedkar University, Delhi in 2018 with a dissertation ‘Translating Haryanvi Folktales: Process and Poetics’. She is very passionate about Haryanvi folklore and translation. Her general research areas are Cultural Studies, and Folklore and Translation. She is working currently on her research proposal and translating several Haryanvi folk dramas. Ms Dhandhis has presented research papers at international conferences organised by the American Folklore Society, and other societies. She has published research papers in prestigious publications such as Kalakalp of the Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, an institution of the Indian Ministry of Culture. She is a poet whose poetry has been published in DU-Vidha, a creative-writing, bi-lingual journal of Delhi University, and a folk artist having performed several Haryanvi folk dances.

Ruth Finnegan OBE is a holder of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Rivers Memorial Medal, Fellow of the British Academy, Honorary Fellow of Somerville College Oxford, and International Fellow of the American Folklore Society. Born in 1933, she was brought up in Derry, Northern Ireland, supplemented by several magical years in Donegal, and educated at the little Ballymore First School in County Donegal; Londonderry High School; The Mount (Quaker) School York;  and the University of Oxford (Classics [Literae humaniores] and a doctorate in Anthropology). She conducted fieldwork amongst the Limba in northern Sierra Leone, and did university teaching in Africa and the pioneering Open University. She spent the rest of her career at the OU apart from three years at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, and conducting more field work.  Among her many publications (several of them prize-winning) are Oral Literature in Africa; Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance and Social Context; The Hidden Musicians: Music-making in an English Town; and a novel, Black Inked Pearl.  Her most recent projects are as joint editor of Hearing Others’ Voices, a new, anthropologically inspired, trans-cultural and trans-disciplinary series for young adults https://www.balestier.com/category/hearing-others-voices/ and intensive preproduction work on a screenplay to be filmed in 2020.

James H. Grayson is Emeritus Professor of Modern Korean Studies in the School of East Asian Studies at The University of Sheffield, and Vice President of The Folklore Society.  He has researched extensively on the religions and narrative folklore of Korea, China, Japan, Okinawa, Mongolia, and Manchuria.  He is the author of Myths and Legends from Korea: A Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials (2000). 

David Shankland is the Director of the Royal Anthropological Institute and a social anthropologist interested in the social anthropology and history of modern Turkey, especially the relationship between religion, politics, and economics.  He studied social anthropology initially at the University of Edinburgh, and did his PhD at Cambridge University where he studied under Ernest Gellner. 

Location : Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
United Kingdom