Khasi Folklore: An Introduction

Essay, 2010

4 Pages



Macdonald L. Ryntathiang


North Eastern Hill University,

Shillong, Meghalaya

F olklore is a term coined by William John Thoms[1] in the periodical ‘The Athenaeum’ in 1846 as he find the two terms commonly used in England ‘Popular Antiquities’ and ‘Popular Literature’ to be inappropriate. In proposing the word folklore, Thoms gave a collective name to “the manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, etc of the “olden time” and provided a linguistic basis for subsequently designating a distinctive field of study (folkloristics) and those who made the lore of the people” the focal point of their inquiries (folklorists). The word folklore denotes expressive forms, processes and behaviors (1) that we customarily learn, teach, and utilize or display during face-to-face interactions. (2) That we judge to be traditional (a) because they are based on known precedents or models and (b) because they serve as evidence of continuities and consistencies through time and space in human knowledge, thought, belief and feeling.

Folklore as an academic discipline a scholar, anyone from any field of study or a layman interested in folklore should have a clear understanding on the four functions of William Bascom[2]. Firstly, folklore enables human beings to escape in fantasy from repressions imposed upon [them] by society, whether these repressions be sexual or otherwise and whether they result from taboo on laughing at a person afflicted by yaws.’ Second functions, Bascom states is to validate culture, “justifying its rituals and institutions to those who perform and observe them” For instance myths[3] or Ki Purinam are told to justify, legitimize, and defend the status quo, usually as a reminder and reinforcer, sometimes in response to skeptics criticism or malcontents claims. Examples of folklore can also serve as “pedagogic devices” and as a means of educating people. Fables[4] and proverbs[5] teach and reinforce morals and values, while riddling[6] “sharpens the wits of young children. In the fourth place, “Bascom indicates, “folklore fulfills the important but often overlook functions of maintaining conformity to the accepted patterns of behavior.” Before William John Thoms coined the term folklore, numerous individuals had already taken upon themselves to begin to collect folklore. Thomas Crofton Croker (1798- 1854)[7], for instance focused in his Irish fieldwork on beliefs and stories about fairies and other supernatural beings. “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825)” is his popular narrative published based on the descriptions of local scenery and dialect of Ireland. John Watson Fanning (1779-1860)[8] was making some waves in the United States, which included a mass of “traditional lore” in his Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the olden time.Elias L önnrot (1802-84)[9], a physician is noteworthy in collecting folklore materials, whose efforts resulted in the creation of a folklore based literary epic that immediately became a source and symbol of Finnish identity, in both Finland and abroad. In 1835, Lönnrot published some of his material in two volumes ‘Kalevala taikka vanhoja karjalan runoja suomen Kansan muinaisista a joista’ (The Kalevala or old Karelian songs from the ancient times of the Finnish people) collected from people who repay him by singing poems after he had treated them from their sickness. This became known as the Old Kalevala and today the Kalevala epic still plays an important role on the identity and nationalism of the Finnish people. The most influential early work that predated Thoms 1846 coining of the word folklore was the Kinderund Huasmarchen (Children’s and household tales) by the Grimm brothers, Jakob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) which has famous stories as “The frog King”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping beauty”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Little red riding hood” and “the wolf and the seven kids.” Today, folklore study has broadened its perspective where many topics have come up. Urban folklore is one major topic, which gives significance on urban legends[10], jokes and stereotypes[11], Globalization[12], ethnic slurs[13], children’s folklore[14], latrinalia[15] and fake lore[16] are a few examples.


[1] William Thoms is a student of literature and his main interest is on tradition, legends, customs, superstitions, anecdotes etc. Thoms’ interest turned more and more to the collection and study of what was termed “popular mythology” or “popular superstitions”

[2] William Bascom is an African scholar through his writings and publications writes on Yoruba oral literature and urbanism. The Ife Bronzes fascinated him. His first book “Early Prose Romances” published at the age of 25.

[3] A story presented as having actually occurred in a previous age, explaining the cosmological and supernatural traditions of a people, their Gods, heroes, cultural traits, religious beliefs, etc.

[4] Stories having plants and animals as the characters performing various deeds which have moral lessons

[5] A proverb is a terse didactic statement that is current in tradition or, as an epigram says “the wisdom of many and the wit of one”. It ordinarily suggests a course of action or passes a judgment on a situation. A proverb may merely be also a statement of fact.

[6] They are mere word puzzles proposed by punsters at evening parties, riddles ranks with myths, fables, folktales as one of the earliest and most widespread types of formulated thought

[7] An Irish antiquary, devoted himself to the collection of ancient Irish poetry and folklore

[8] Assumed and implied not only that folklore was a survival from the past, but also that it was transmitted through time intergenerational and primarily through an oral tradition

[9] Elias Lönnrot constructed an epic he felt symbolized not only the historical development, but also the shared spiritual values and democratic and humanistic orientations of his people

[10] Tales range from the maniacal serial killer to the completely unexplained. Mostly comprised of scary ghost stories where many versions of these creepy stories get passed on from person to person

[11] Jokes are an ideational structure that is characterized by appropriate incongruity. Analyzing appropriate incongruity can lead to the formulation of a joke’s base meaning, but performance meanings are varied and should be formulated with reference to specific cultural, social and psychological environments

[12] Globalization refers to the worldwide phenomenon of technology, economic, political and cultural exchanges, brought about by modern communication, transportation and legal infrastructure as well as the political choice to consciously open cross border links in international trade and finance

[13] Jokes focuses mainly on the ineptness and stupidity of a particular group or ethnic minorities

[14] The psychological and social behavior of children as they make interactions with themselves and others for instance children’s games and plays whether on the playground or streets

[15] Writings on rest room walls

[16] Fake lore is inauthentic, manufactured folklore presented as if it were genuinely traditional. The term fake lore was coined in 1950 by American folklorist Richard M. Dorson in an article ‘American Mercury’ in which he attacked the popularization, commercialization and distortion of traditional materials passed off as authentic folklore

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Khasi Folklore: An Introduction
North-Eastern Hill University
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khasi, folklore, introduction
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Macdonald L. Ryntathiang (Author), 2010, Khasi Folklore: An Introduction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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