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Folkloristan – Preserving Heritage through Storytelling, Komal Salman

Folkloristan is a digital platform dedicated to an enthralling series of magical adventures and epic romances with legendary royals, folk heroes, and ghost hunters, accompanying jinns and fairies across the veil into the otherworld.

Founded by Komal Salman, this collection of Pakistani folklore has been curated with utmost care, transcribed and translated with great detail to attention, and illustrated with love before it reaches our screens. Pakistan's first, and only multi-lingual storytelling blog, Komal is on a mission to preserve Pakistan's cultural heritage; one story at a time.

We talk to Komal about preserving heritage through storytelling, the connect on between Pakistani folk stories and Muslim culture and how stories can help us to develop the future Islamic art.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m 23, a Pakistani, and I’ve just finished my undergrad in Mass Communications recently as a media production major. However, history happens to be the love of my life, so sometimes I do feel like I should have been a historian instead of a creative professional? Besides being the founder of Folkloristan, one other thing I have and continue to do is maintain my blog on Medium; these are two things I am immensely proud of. I also happen to be an indie author and an NFT artist.

Why did you create Folkloristan?

To preserve and digitise Pakistani heritage, one story at a time!

As for how I founded Folkloristan, it is a rather interesting story. I was working on a research paper on folklore for one of my courses during my degree when we were under lockdown. During my research I came across a name, Yanagita Kunio. He is the man accredited for starting the movement to collect folk tales in Japan and leading the effort for over five decades. His methods inspired me to take to Twitter and collect Pakistani folktales. I wanted to make use of the excessive free time I had on my hands. I collected just over a 100 tales. Unfortunately, the publishing scene in Pakistan is pretty bad, and most foreign publishers and literary agents weren’t interested in my work. The manuscript stayed with me for a couple of months until I joined the Digital Media Wing, now defunct, a project inaugurated by the former government as an intern for their 2021 cohort. In the spur of a moment, I thought maybe a website would be a better idea than a book. I pitched the idea to them, and my mentors, particularly Miss Maria Taimur and Sir Imran Ghazali, as well as team mates, helped me bring Folkloristan to life with all the support I needed. I also owe a special mention to my uncle, who offered to pay for the website!

How can storytelling preserve heritage?

I believe storytelling is more than just tradition itself. The stories we tell include the people we look up too, the values we wish to inculcate in our children, and the socio-cultural norms we wish to endorse or shun. It keeps our heroes alive, it knits together the scent of our grandma’s, the places we associate as home, and a world of imagination all together. On the face of it, storytelling does not look like much. But oral literature is so much more, it includes proverbs, lessons, poetry, vernacular, musical instruments, knowledge, traditions, customs and culture alive.

Are Pakistani folk stories connected to Muslim culture?

Yes! Pakistani folklore is overwhelmingly full of overt and covert references to Islam. Many norms, like hospitality, are both an essential part of Pakistani culture as well as Islam, are focused on in lore. Kindness to children, obedience to adults, speaking the truth, being careful of what has been entrusted to you are some lessons Pakistani folklore often mentions. There is a tale I collected and transcribed for Folkloristan recently, it’s called “Your Kingdom for my Chaddar” – it is about a tribe which loses its newly won kingdom over a boy pulling a chaddar (veil) off a girl’s head. I penned a blog a while ago on Islamic influences on one of Pakistan’s seven most iconic romances, about a Sindhi princess and a Baloch Prince, Sassi Punnhun. Yusuf Zuleikha is a tale every Pakistani child has heard atleast once in their lives. Hazrat Suleman (A) features in several stories. Besides this, we have many supernatural creatures in Pakistani lore, which are also a part of Islamic beliefs, like the Shaitaan, the Farishtey, and the Jinns. We also have other supernatural creatures we believe in, who have their origins in culture, but have been linked to these creatures – e.g. Al, a female demon in Baloch and Brahui lore is believed to be the daughter of Shaitaan; she preys on women in labour and on new mothers.

As Pakistan is a relatively new country, how do you address this in terms of preserving heritage in relation to identity forming?

I believe one can either embrace diversity, or brush it under the rug. The latter, is facism and tyranny. Thus, I believe it is absolutely quintessential for a country like Pakistan to preserve its cultural heritage. The beauty of Pakistan lies in the very fact that it brought together so many people, from so many backgrounds, together, under one banner, Islam, for one cause, safety and a land they can call home. Thus, in my opinion, from the very day the foundations for this new nation were laid, a sense of unity whilst embracing diversity is at the core of Pakistani identity.

What can storytelling tell us about the cultural diversity of Pakistan?

The storytelling tradition in Pakistan not only takes one on a journey from the ways of the seafarers, to the people of the desert, to the tribes of the mountains. Storytelling alone preserves the multitude of languages Pakistan has. We are a country of 22 million people with over seventy languages! Each language, naturally, has its own treasure trove of traditional wisdom, and speakers have varied traditions which are portrayed in the tales. Thus, I believe storytelling traditions are extremely important as both, a window into culture, and something which must be preserved as a testament to the beautiful diversity which exists.

How do you source your stories?

I use social media and personal contacts – in Pakistan, everyone you know either belongs to a village, or knows someone who has close ties back to their home town or their village of birth. One good thing about Pakistani’s is that they will go out of their way to facilitate you if they like what you are doing. Besides, we do love telling stories. Storytellers narrate their stories and send voicenotes my way. If it’s one of my first languages, I translate them myself. If it isn’t, I ask for translations. Many a times, I feel like asking the storyteller to translate would sort of take away from the essence of the story, as their Urdu or English may or may not be that strong. I have a small team of friends, who work with me voluntarily on occasion; I ask them to translate the stories for me. As a rule, I keep the original recordings for research purposes. I have lost a few of them, as some of my data got corrupted unfortunately, but otherwise, this is my standard process.

Is storytelling still a part of Pakistani culture?

Pakistan’s population is still primarily rural, thus, yes. In urban areas, not so much. A part of why I wanted to start documenting stories is that as a kid born and bred in a metropolitan, I realized that urbanization is killing certain parts of our culture, the first and foremost being storytelling. As a late 90’s kid, I often wonder if my generation was the last generation to experience storytelling as an activity with our grandparents.

How can folk stories help us to develop the future Islamic art, culture and heritage?

Art and culture, in any given day and age, does not come from thin air. No society exists in isolation. We adapt, we evolve, that is the way of this world. Those who do not adapt and evolve head towards extinction, even in the animal kingdom. What is important, is that we know our heritage. We should know where we come from, so we do not lose our identity in a globalized world where the next wars are those of narrative. To know our heritage, we must record it. Islamic art has fused beautifully with local styles and culture across the world, I believe it just needs to be found, and documented.

History is written by the winners, and kept alive by the powerful; but heritage and folklore are kept alive by those who embrace it as their own. This difference is what lies as the crux of why it is so important.

As I have found a way with Folkloristan to bring Pakistani folklore to your mobile screens, we must continuously find ways to bring Islamic art, culture and heritage to people’s cell phones and laptops, and whatever technology we may find in future.

I also think that folktale tradition in itself is an area where Muslim countries can come together and trace their shared heritage. The Al, the demon I mentioned earlier, is also found in Afghan, Iranian and Turkish lore! The tale of Alladin, from 1001 Nights, is said to have come from what is now Pakistan. The tale of Leila Majnun, or music tracks entitled “Laila/Leila/Leyla” have been recorded from Pakistan to Morocco. These are just a few examples of how fluid folklore is in nature. Thus, I strongly believe that there is immense potential for Muslim countries to come together to research oral literature, including poetry, music, lore, and traditional knowledge. If not at a government level, for governments in Muslim countries are not faring too well, I strongly urge individuals working in relevant fields to work on it!

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The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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