A Treasure-trove: a review of Oral Stories of the Totos.

Review by 
Sutanuka Ghosh Roy


Title: Oral Stories of the Totos
Author:  Ketaki Datta
Page: 134
ISBN: 978-93-5548-046-0 (Paperback)
Edition: (2021)
Price: ₹ 150 INR
Published by Sahitya Akademi
Reviewed by: Dr. Sutanuka Ghosh Roy.

  

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
      The history of literature dates back to the earliest human society. Right from the beginning people created stories primarily to entertain themselves, also to educate others, and for other purposes. Much before the introduction of the writing system, such stories were transmitted orally from generation to generation. Oral Stories of the Totos compiled and edited by Ketaki Dutta has been recently published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi India. The present volume dwells on the evolution of the Oral Tradition of the Stories of the Totos and places them on the literary map of the world. A special reference has been made to their way of living, their sociological position, and the evolution of the tales that run in their clan. Further, Datta has placed these stories in comparison with similar tales of other tribes in the home and the world. This has catapulted the simple tales of this indigenous tribe to a universal plane. She has skillfully traced the trajectory of similarity or dissimilarity by way of comparing the narratives. Moreover, the book gives the readers an overview of the Toto folklore positing it on the map of the storytellers around the globe.

     Even after seventy-five years of Indian Independence, the Totos remain in the margin. Their stories remain largely unheard. They regale themselves by weaving their own stories and die unsung. This effort of Datta to make the world know of the tales of the Toto tribe is no doubt a commendable one. She has also added a few photographs clicked during her visit to Totopara. The oral stories of the tribes are a vast repository of knowledge and they are to be treasured. The privileged literate populace is equipped with all the amenities to cash in on, but these tribal the so-called weaker sections of the society are yet to find a foothold in the mainstream society. Largely ignorant of their rights they lack the basic amenities of life. However, they are proud of their culture which is reflected in their oral stories---myths, legends, and folktales. Datta writes “oral stories reflect their ways of living”. The book mentions the contribution of Dhaniram Toto, a prolific writer, and poet, a winner of the Adivasi Manab Kalyan Samiti Award who has helped Datta immensely to cull the tales she had been keen on including in this volume.

      Dhaniram is instrumental in getting the Toto language “carve a niche in the list of recognized languages of the tribes of India. These oral stories which are documented in this volume thus have a rich legacy of the culture of an endangered tribe too”. The book comprises Toto Folk Tales, in the translated version as well in the Toto language. There are fifteen tribal folktales in this volume. In the Toto folklore, there is an abundance of wild animals, like monkeys, tigers, boars, etc. The animals are either stupid or clever what is important is their behavior as narrated by the narrator largely reflects the attitudes of the tribal populace by and large. The tale of The Monkey and the Wild Fowl for example is a pointer to their behavioural pattern though narrated through the wild-animal representatives. Datta rightfully draws our attention to the fact that “the power-structure in tribes can also be understood from these tales as well as their varying emotion-intelligence graphs. However, cutting across all inequalities, there is homogeneity in these stories, pointing to the origin of man!”

    The Totos believe in the spirit, their tales are fraught with imaginary elements laced with a fairy-tale-like appeal just like any other folktale from any other part of the world. These tales speak of the suppressed desires of the tribal folk who try to ape the civil society through their wish-fulfillment in their stories like Pumpkin-shaped Mauriya, Mauriya in the Land of Ghosts, Mauriya in the Snare of the Queen of Dices. The Totos love to live in a world of fantasy, they love and respect their culture and these stories are a cementing factor—they bind them as a unit. An interesting element of these oral stories is that they can be retold by a new narrator. The oral transmission gets pepped up each time hence these tales offer a fresh perspective and can never be boring. However oral transmission has its shortcomings too. Hence it is important to document them properly. Datta has completed a mammoth task by compiling and editing these near-lost tales. The volume thus adds to the oeuvre of oral stories of the world.  


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