‘Baakhan Nyane Waa’: Local Heritage Documentation for the Future
Baakhan in Nepal Bhasa means stories. The phrase most commonly used by the older generation is “aa la baakhan ye jula ka”, which translates as, ‘all of these have become stories now!’. Once elders in Newa society told stories during family gatherings and during interactions in public spaces. However, changes in the use of public spaces and the increase of media consumption led to a recent decline in storytelling and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge has been broken.
‘Baakhan Nyane Waa’ emerged in the aftermath of the 2015 Gorkha earthquake, addressing this lack of heritage knowledge transfer. Forming as a multidisciplinary informal group of heritage enthusiasts, members included architects such as Alina Tamrakar, Binita Magaiya and Shristina Shrestha, engineers such as Aswain Bir Singh Tamrakar, Rija Joshi, Raj Bikram Maharjan, Prajwol Shakya and multimedia experts Shailesh Rajbhandari and IT consultant Rajeev Bajracharya.
Storytelling lay at the center of the group’s interest who organised events around thematic blocks (Festivals, Places, Karunamaya Series, Yenya Series). Public storytelling sessions were organised in the public spaces of chowks, nani, courtyards of baha and bahis, daboos, that once served the purpose of collective learning. After a year in which interviews with elders in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Patan, Panauti and Banepa were conducted, the group entered the UNESCO ICHCAP competition in 2019 and won the Participatory Prize. With this stamp of approval, a growing online audience and a children’s book publication and the successful collaboration with ward offices and local clubs the group registered as an NGO.
This paper is based on a content analysis of Baakhan Nyane Waa’s 32 storytelling sessions. It further combines interviews with members of Baakhan Nyane Waa as well as interviews with selected elders on their experience of storytelling for wider audiences. It critically evaluates how an informal friendship group centered on a common interest in heritage reformed as an NGO. This study concludes that storytelling can be a rewarding intergenerational urban experience. The multidisciplinary approach on which the group was founded resulted in skills sharing and enhancement as well and a varied project output. The codification of fluid oral history into recorded documented text has been identified as potentially problematic. However the group advocates that with a growing body of documented material variance and individual narrative style will be reintroduced to mediated storytelling. Access to documented content and its output has been limited to Nepal Bhasa and Nepali speakers. The project legacy is temporarily safe on the designated youtube channel and the project’s facebook page. Decisions over long term storage of data is pending as is the decision over output generation in other languages.
Keywords: Oral history, story telling, Baakhan Nyane Waa, public space