Distinguished Fellow
Asian Confluence

In historiographical tradition, Oral History is regarded as a method of using oral narratives of social, political and other phenomena. Such narratives emanate from the testimony of living witnesses. Often based on personal experiences of an event, oral history may aid its formal construction. It is true of both pre-literate and literate societies. Besides its folk or popular dimension, oral history has another important dimension, that is, orality. This paper deals with a few problematics of oral history especially in terms of ‘primary orality’, which characterize verbal expression in pre-literate societies. The task of the historian is to extract meaning from such narratives. It is, of course, difficult. Because there are possibilities that these narratives may have psychological, ethical and knowledge dimensions. This paper would emphasize a few cases related to the pre-literate societies of India’s northeastern region where historical records from pre-modern times are scant. However, it would be shown as to how some of these oral traditions based on certain beliefs operated (and still operates) in the collective memory of the concerned communities. In the process, it would also be endeavoured to cite a few instances of formalization of the apparently ‘informal’ through ‘secondary orality’ as in the case of movies and through literature and historiography. However, instances from literate societies are also noted.