Academic journal article Western Folklore

In Search of Southeast Asian Folklorists

Academic journal article Western Folklore

In Search of Southeast Asian Folklorists

Article excerpt

This work traces the direct and indirect influences that Alan Dundes has had on several scholars of Southeast Asian origin, mainly James Danandjaja, Mellie Lopez, and others who were students of Alan Dundes or greatly influenced by him. It can be said of Dundes that he belonged to an elite group of charismatic folklorists who were exceptional visionaries with the power to "render the discipline palpable in their presence" (Zeitlin 2000:14). In case, his students were charged to carry out the mission to disseminate folkloristics far and wide. This article explores the realization of a portion of the plan that Dr. Alan Dundes had, to train folklorists for every country in the world so that native scholars would be able to analyze their own cultures. Along with his objective of coming up with his own theory of folklore, he frequently reiterated this goal to me during my studies with him. As for me, I would be trained to be a scholar specifically for folklore related to the Philippines. In this work, I illustrate the contributions of former students to Southeast Asian folkloristas, and argue that in a very real way, the plan of their beloved professor did take root and that it continues to flourish for this region.'

Before detailing the works of these Southeast Asian folklorists, however, I will provide a short reflexive account of how I came to the field of folklore, to situate myself and illustrate the impetus behind this work itself. 1, too, was student, a former "greenhorn," as he delighted in describing me whenever he told the story of the first time I called him up to ask about folklore. In 1995, when I was evaluating graduate programs, I called the University of California Berkeley Folklore Program with a list of questions to ask in order to find a good graduate program. I found myself talking to an unidentified male, who I later learned was Alan Dundes. I may have had an inkling of what folklore was but I had no idea who he was. Sometime during that call, I demanded to know who he was by asking, "Just how many works did you publish anyway?" I thought he was joking when he mumbled, "I don't know, about a hundred or so articles." I asked him to repeat it and to spell out his name. Afterwards, I went to the library to look up his works. When book after book and article after article popped up in the search engine, I was mortified at my ignorance and promptly vowed to rectify it by reading The Study of Folklore (Dundes 1965), which he had recommended. By the time I finished, I made my decision to study folklore at Berkeley. I wanted to learn why people do what they do, and studying with Alan Dundes enabled me to do just that and more. I also was exposed to his particular brand of meticulous, fearless scholarship, and he encouraged me to examine for my Master's Thesis the Southeast Asian cultural practice of eating fertilized duck eggs and to analyze the psychological implications of what made it an aphrodisiac for Filipino men. It was not an easy task for someone who was raised in a conservative household where talk about sex was virtually non-existent. In the end, I was speaking about sex and aphrodisiacs in conferences and also writing about it for academic journals.

One of the key goals Alan Dundes emphasized during my training with him, which he underscored not just to me but also to numerous other students before and since, was the importance of knowing international scholars and their scholarship. This meant that ideally, one had to know English, French and German. He was always proud of the student who could speak German. Dundes also strove for international folklorists to come to Berkeley to teach. In my two years in the graduate program, I took classes from Haya BarItzhak and from Ibrahim Muhawi, learning about Jewish Folklore and Palestinian Arab narratives, respectively. Dundes also lectured throughout the world. His love for international scholarship can be seen especially in International Folkloristics (1999) and in the four-volume Folklore: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies (2005), in which he gathered 86 essays of international scope and historical significance and facilitated ease of access for many hard-to-find articles. …

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