Endangered Archives

EAP901: Preservation of the Music and Dance Archive at the Music Museum of Nepal (NFMIM) - Phase 2

Mrs Sibongile Pradhan, Independent Researcher
2016 award - Major project
£40,960 for 12 months

Archival partner: Archive of the Music Museum of Nepal (NFMIM)

Project Overview

This project (a continuation of EAP736) aims to preserve the unique music and dance archive at the Music Museum of Nepal. This will be done by transferring the most endangered material to a digital format. The nationally and internationally significant archive is highly vulnerable because of damage to the existing format and because once destroyed it cannot be replaced. There is an urgency to digitise the material before it deteriorates further. The initial EAP application two years ago was for funding to try out the digitisation process on a restricted amount of priority material. The project has digitised material from the most endangered 250 mini DV tapes and 250 audio cassettes. About a sixth of the archive has been digitised already. The project will digitise and thereby preserve archive material from a further 370 vulnerable mini DV tapes and 370 vulnerable audio cassettes. Vulnerability is determined by the rarity and irreplaceability of the material and the degree of degradation of the tape and carrier.

The archive at the Museum contains more than 3000 hours of recorded songs, instrumental music, dance and sacred ceremonies from pre-modern times. It continues to expand as people hear about its archiving work and donate cassettes and reels from their own collections. Although the recordings were made over the last 30 years, they have captured artistic and cultural traditions that have continued for many hundreds of years and have not usually been documented in any form. The archive is unique in Nepal, and in the world. The instruments, music, songs and dances of the diverse ethnic groups of Nepal are unique in the world. A great many have been lost altogether in recent years. It has taken much work by the Museum Director and friends of the Museum over the last 21 years to identify and track down the key communities and individuals who still have the skills and knowledge. The archive at the Museum is currently the only way that present and future generations in Nepal, and international researchers, can access the playing of instruments that have all but died out, the melodies and lyrics of songs which are no longer sung, and dances and ceremonies which are rarely or no longer performed. Additionally, with the burning of Newari monastery libraries in the 1840s under Jung Bahadur Rana, the written record of music and dance culture in Nepal is very rare.

The archive itself represents a tiny proportion of the diverse music and dance culture of Nepal from pre- industrial times. Much of the greater archive in the hearts and minds of the elders has already been lost over the last two generations, with the majority of the younger generation having left their villages/communities. Many left to fight during the recent civil war; others have left to study, or through the necessity of seeking work. They rarely return, and a great many live abroad, and so the link has been severed. The Music Museum is the only institution in Nepal actively compiling an archive of song, instrument and dance recordings. The archive content consists of recordings of songs, instruments, dance and secret and sacred ceremonies that date back to pre-modern times. It has been passed on from Guru to pupil down the generations almost unchanged. Most of the recorded material dates from the Malla and Shah Periods (ie 1200 – 1840 AD), and some from the Vedic Period (1500 - 500BC) and Budhakhal Period (500BC – 500AD). The material has been highly valued in to modern times, but is now being lost. The majority of Nepal’s population is rural and even now lives in pre-industrial conditions, dependent on non-mechanised agricultural practices which have changed little for hundreds of years. Widespread literacy has only been an option during the last two generations, prior to which Nepal was an almost totally oral culture. The work of the Museum over the last 21 years represents the first time in Nepal’s history that these fragments of the rich and diverse cultural heritage could be recorded on audio cassette or film.

There is great urgency to transfer the archive into a secure digital format; a format that can be preserved, shared and disseminated more easily. Much of the content no longer exists in contemporary society. The material is in analogue form, which is in danger of deterioration, as the museum has not the resources to adequately store and protect it from dust and extreme temperatures. Many of the recordings are of people who are no longer alive, and many of them took their skills and knowledge to the grave because they were unable to pass on the traditions. If the archive is damaged it is not replaceable, and the music and dance cultural heritage of many diverse ethnic groups of Nepal will be lost.

Project Outcome