Every year, the Korean Embassy organises cultural events to introduce Korean culture to people in the Sultanate. Before the pandemic, these would be live events where people of both cultures were invited to experience the many festivities the two cultures had to showcase. With the shift into the online world and virtual events, “we wanted to do things a little differently. Give people a chance to share their countries cultures in a way that was enjoyable right from the safety of their homes. For the year 2021, the Korean Embassy is working to organise online events to introduce Korean and Omani cultures to peoples of both countries, under the theme of ‘Yesterday and Today of Korea and Oman’. The shadow play is a part of the programme.” Said Ms Jeongmin Kwon, Second Secretary.
The production presents the story of Halima, a young girl fighting the odds to finally get what she truly deserves. Halima and the Snake is a tale that has been passed down through generations, slowly getting lost without any physical existence other than tales told by the older generations to the new, teaching the morals to the growing generations.
Oman’s folk tales are part of a rich cultural heritage in which women played an integral role. Culture can be conceived as a set of beliefs, values and attitudes shared by society. Beliefs are, by definition, standards by which members of the community identify. The elements of culture reflect the values and virtues implied in culture and the social behaviour in favour of ethical foundations.
Children love stories. They fabricate interesting images in their minds when listening to a story. Teaching by storytelling, therefore, is one method of teaching values, ethics and citizenship. Teachers employ narration in any lesson presentation to enhance knowledge construction and knowledge processing.
Folktales in children’s literature are valued for sharing indigenous and local cultures, which can easily vanish amid urbanisation and globalisation. Traditionally a primary reason for publishing folktales stemmed from ethnographic, multicultural and nation-building studies. It was noted that folktales need to be preserved as historical artefacts for their importance in enduring and employing ethical, moral and social-cultural values, as well as cultural tolerance and accepting the “Other.”
“Intrigued by local folk tales and surprised by their absence in print. “Most of these stories, like the more globally known fables and fairytales, and regional tales have only survived through word of mouth. Completely absent from the world of print, these stories are slowly losing their ground and getting lost amongst modern-day cartoons and storybooks” says Debjani Debjani Bhardwaj.
Interested in finding parallels in the contemporary human condition in these epic stories. She re-searched the folklore of Oman and UAE in her Telling Tales exhibition funded by Tashkeel gallery in 2018 and showcased in Tashkeel gallery in 2018 and Stal Gallery in 2019. We see not only innocent, benevolent characters in these folktales; evil, jealous and sadistic minds too assert themselves in the stories. The stories are interesting because of their psychological and cultural undercurrents,” she added.
Although a folk tale is a verbal medium transmitted by the oral tradition of storytelling while art is a visual medium Debjani married the two and made exquisitely crafted papercut artwork interactive toys and detailed pen and ink drawings, light and shadows to make folktales more memorable and to encourage people to ask more questions, to explore more. She had designed and hand-cut the 7 different sets and has designed the 7 characters of the puppets. It was interesting for her to animate this folktale in the traditional technique of shadow puppetry. She was fascinated and inspired by the shadow puppet animation by Lotte Reiniger — a German artist, a world-famous pioneer and maker of animated films. Lotte’s work belongs to the tradition of the delicate, hand-cut silhouettes and lantern-lit shadow puppets which became fashionable in Western Europe in the 18th century both as portraiture and the “Ombres Chinoises.”
Along with the puppets, keeping with the verbal medium, the story of Halima was told by Sultan Qaboos University professor, Anna Fancett who wrote the screenplay. Besides being an academi-cian, she is a traditional storyteller who has told stories around the world including at international festivals, heritage sites, schools, universities, and private businesses. She was trained by the Grampi-an Association of Storytellers in Scotland and started telling stories professionally in 2005. She is now a member of the Society for Storytelling (England) and the Federation of Asian Storytellers. She loves the way that listening to stories opens a gate to the past.
A production no less, Debjani formed a team for the performance. Halima was played by Aoife Beniston, Stepmother by Mahboubeh Sadaat Ataee, an academic researcher. The Prince and the Snake were brought to life by Ghazaleh Beirami an art academician and Jessica Beniston and Mahmonir Sadat Ataee played the Mermaid and Father respectively.
Although the arts in the Sultanate have been always held in high esteem in the Sultanate, Why did they choose shadow puppets? Ms Kwon explained, “We wanted the events to allow us to exchange cultural experiences of both countries. Meanwhile, the embassy wanted to offer artists of both countries to collaborate. Due to Covid-19, inviting Korean artists didn’t work out and instead, we decided to involve artists in Oman in our programme. Under the theme of Yesterday and Today of Korea and Oman, the sub-theme was introducing folktales of Korea and Oman. Debjani’s shadow play was the perfect way to tell stories and she also had a collection of Omani folktales. We will also work with another Omani artist to tell the Korean side of the story, our national founding story with beautiful Arabic calligraphy”.