Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance Project

Cymraeg

Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues

This interdisciplinary project in creative arts investigates the shared cultural history of the people of Wales and the Khasi people of Northeast India. This shared history spans a 170 years, from the arrival of the Welsh missionaries in the Khasi Hills in the 1840s, to the removal of all foreign missionaries from India in 1967, and beyond, resulting in a complex body of intercultural material. The project uses creative arts practice, namely performance and film, to construct a ‘cultural dialogue’ between Welsh and Indian scholar-practitioners, one that investigates and responds to our historical relationship.

Duration: October 2015 – September 2019
Funding: The Leverhulme Trust
Research team: Lisa Lewis (Principal Investigator, USW), Aparna Sharma (Co-Investigator, UCLA), Helen Davies (Senior Research Assistant, USW)
Website: http://www.welshkhasidialogues.co.uk/

Stone circle related to the Khasi indigenous belief system, outside the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, Meghalaya. Photograph: Dr Aparna Sharma.

Research context:

The Welsh-Khasi intercultural relationship is rooted in the missionary contact established in the mid-nineteenth century by the Welsh Presbyterian mission in the Khasi Hills, and the cultural processes that are a consequence of this interaction. Until the mission movement in this region ended in 1969 its representatives undertook extensive cultural production based on exchange with the local community, leaving behind a rich and complex body of literature and performance. Such materials include letters, hymns and folksongs, religious writing, diaries, magazines, travel writing and films, photography, and poetry, most of it scattered between official and unofficial archives in northeast India and Wales. This background provides the context for the construction of a series of ‘cultural dialogues’ conducted through creative arts practice, that provide spaces to investigate and respond to a series of research objectives.

Nongsawlia-Sohra Presbyterian Church, Meghalaya. Photograph: Dr Aparna Sharma

Research questions:

The main objective of this project is to investigate how shared cultural histories have shaped identities in the modern world. A key consideration is the situating of the Welsh-Khasi contact within a postcolonial context, recognizing its inherent cultural dynamics, and highlighting the way in which intercultural contact may complicate the understanding of colonial histories.

The expression of the Welsh-Khasi intercultural relationship was channeled through particular avenues and media, such as religious belief and practices, female experience and expression, literary and visual traditions and oral histories. The research follows closely the questions raised by these avenues and media, e.g. by looking at the way in which cultural exchange has been filtered through religious beliefs and practices or women’s cultural expression. The project will also examine broader issues such as how the peripheral situation of both Welsh and Khasi peoples (in relation to broader categories such as the British Empire and the Indian nation) has affected the nature of intercultural exchange, and how intercultural contact complicates the understanding of colonial history and impacts on postcolonial identities.

Research methods:

Grounded in the field of performance studies, the project offers a framework to examine the Welsh-Khasi intercultural relationship, folding together historical materials with commentary, enabling different voices to converse. The researchers are Welsh and Indian scholar-practitioners from performance studies, ethnography and filmmaking. Phase one of the project involves conducting archival research at institutions in India and Wales, as well as ethnographic fieldwork among people associated with the Khasi mission. Phase two consists of the production of performance and film work that highlights how the Welsh-Khasi contact shapes contemporary cultural identities in Wales and Northeast India.

Outcomes:

As well as a range of performance and film works, anticipated outcomes include conference papers and scholarly publications in a range of journals.

For further information about the project, please contact Professor Lisa Lewis (lisa.lewis@decymru.ac.uk) and Dr Helen Davies (helen.davies1@decymru.ac.uk) .


The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 the Trust has provided grants and scholarships for research and education. Today, it is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £80m a year. For more information about the Trust, please visit www.leverhulme.ac.uk .