If you're interested in George Town / Penang local histories or how to do community oral history, head on over to the Cherita: Living on Chulia Street 1945-1970 blog, a "project blog set up to document on-going processes, thoughts and reflection during an 8-month oral history documentation project (December 2012 – August 2013) organized by George Town World Heritage Inc." The project coordinator is Kuah Li Feng. I'm on the project advisory committee. From what I've seen so far, they're doing an excellent job of capturing the "sense of place" of Chulia Street. As always, though, they need more "bodies"... finding skilled and dedicated oral historians is in itself a full-time job.
I hope they'll be able to compile these notes and reflections into a full-blown oral history methods manual, one based on actual field experience and tailored to the vagaries of doing research in George Town, Penang.
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
I'm only on the first rough draft, but here goes:
This on my first trip to Taman Negara, 1988: One afternoon my friends and I rushed to reach an observation hide before the rains hit. The winds were already blowing hard. I took the rear and was the last to jump across a muddy creek. I looked back; there, where I stood a moment past, was a newly fallen tree. That night in the hide, we took turns to keep watch for animals. Friends asleep; the forest all round; I alone keeping watch. By then the storm had passed. One after another the animals and insects struck up their chorus. I had never heard the cadences of the forest before. I have listened to them many times since. But I was never to hear them in that way again. Recently (2013), back with Batek for my umpteenth visit, I felt a sudden twinge of longing. The Batek have become so familiar to me—and I to them—that my perceptions are no longer as sharp. Nor am I much perturbed or surprised by anything I see, hear, or experience now! That was when it struck me how long I had known them and that now would be a good time to pull my insights together. With every visit since 1996, I’ve had brief glimpses of life moving on with the Batek (Lye 2004:166–168)—a little bit of knowledge at a time. I realize that I got to know them pretty well in the early days and that subsequent events have confirmed rather than challenged those initial understandings. This gives my early writings, especially my doctoral dissertation, a confirmatory as well as historical value.
Something deeper is at issue. As Connerton (1989:2) writes, we always have a problem “extracting our past from our present.” The problem for a long-term ethnographer like myself is that the present exerts a too-powerful influence on recollections of the past. Interests change. Memories fade. In recent years mine have become ever more selective. Whether I want to or not, there is a natural tendency to forget or revise history in light of present-day goings-on. Going back to my original fieldnotes and the first written-up products from them, I discover much that I had forgotten. It is for that reason that I present this study, to put the past on record, as a basis for understanding the complexities of the present.
If you've read this far, I would love to hear from you!