Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Presenting the Absence: A Contrapuntal Reading of the Maita in Nepali Tij Songs

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Presenting the Absence: A Contrapuntal Reading of the Maita in Nepali Tij Songs

Article excerpt


One of the fundamental concerns of academics regarding folklore research, especially in South Asia, has been that it has seldom moved beyond the preliminary stages of collection and classification. According to Alan Dundes, the noted American folklorist:

   ... there is relatively little interpretation of folklore. Much
   more energy has been devoted to question of classification than
   analysis ... But collection and classification are not a substitute
   for analysis ... But for whatever reason, folklorists typically
   stop their intellectual work with the presentation and
   identification of data ... The problem is that the fundamental
   question of meaning is never raised or discussed at all. (4)

This paper therefore seeks not only to document but also to critically read what has been collected, published, documented, and archived on women's Tij songs so that Nepali folklore scholarship moves beyond the stage of collection, labeling and classification to that of theoretical framing and cultural analysis.

Even where there has been some attempt in existing scholarship at the interpretation of available folk cultural artifacts, the epistemology that underpins a large part of such interpretation raises some uncomfortable fundamental questions. In a 'Third World' dependent upon western theoretical and epistemological systems for its critical vocabulary, the academic dealing with the subaltern subject must speak in Euro-American idiom and voice if she wishes to be heard 'at the centre'. If she does not do so, she has not spoken at all.

The infatuation of western feminism with the 'silenced native subaltern woman' is not politically and ideologically neutral, but situated in the complex location of western feminists visa-vis the cultures of the other. The task of the postcolonial feminist academic in this context is to 'bring to voice'--to facilitate the recording and dissemination of the cultural production of women--so that there are texts that can then be worked with, as it were. The evolving tradition of women's songs that I deal with in my work is a phenomenon that predates the emergence of feminism in the twentieth century west. While such cultural production may not use a vocabulary that feminists would instantly recognize as one of resistance, the academic, with his/her bilingual and bicultural training in the cultures of both the Nepali women's communities and the western academy can then provide a gloss on the subaltern archive in the critical language dominant in the academy. It is with this aim in mind, that I read the dominant patriarchal representation of Nepali women problematically and subversively in order to chart out a longer alternative 'her-story' of resistance in the genre of songs.

Understanding Tij: Contexts and Concepts

The Tij in Nepal celebrates female agency as well as more quotidian aspects of women's lives. Most importantly, Tij is associated with songs, dancing and singing. In the eastern part of Nepal, the song that accompanies the celebration of Tij is known as Sangini; in other parts of Nepal, it is simply called Tije git.

Ajayabhadra Khanal states that in the social history of Nepal, especially in the hilly region, Tij songs have played the most central role in the emancipation of women. (5) In the politically charged writing of leading Nepali editorial columns, Tij becomes Nepali women and vice versa. It becomes an event that spans the lives of all Nepali women, not only the Hindu ones, thus linking the festival with the nation-building project. In the GorkhapatraDaily, the editor writes that:

   The ambience of the entire country has been carnivalized by the
   festivity ushered in by the Haritalika Tij. Unforgettable is the
   ever-swelling confluence of literature, music and art collectively
   created by women participating in Tij. It must be the uniqueness of
   Tij that it is not confined amongst Hindu women alone. … 
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