"To ensure that the self doesn't shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends. They are our mirror; our memory; we ask nothing of them but that they polish the mirror from time to time so we can look at ourselves in it" (Milan Kundera)
In this talk, I explore and articulate certain conceptual and methodological problems in memory studies. My emphasis here is on remembering as a verb, rather than memory as a noun. I am not so concerned with “collective memory as a thing”, but on “distinct sets of mnemonic practices” (Olick and Robbins 1998, 112) and what these reveal of broader social process.
My concern today is with what, for lack of a better term, I’d call vernacular memory: memory “out of history” (Wolf 1982) as it were, and that often is disregarded and discarded, or wiped out through deliberate projects of consciousness-changing, e.g., in nation-building.
Reflecting on these issues, I’ve been encouraged to think more broadly about memory:
- how are memories made?
- What kinds of memories are ascendant or suppressed?
- What are the politics and cultures of remembering?
I will draw on fieldwork among Batek and Penan hunter-gatherers, with a glance towards Cambodia.
Dr Lye Tuck-Po is an environmental and visual anthropologist at Universiti Sains Malaysia and long-term (28 years) student of the Batek (Orang Asli) of Pahang. Currently she is working with them on ethnoprimatology and acoustic knowledge, primarily of gibbons. Her most recent publication was "Tracking with Batek Hunter-Gatherers of Malaysia" (2021). She is the author of the monograph Changing pathways: Forest degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia (2004). Her interests in memory stem from the conviction that alternative (vernacular) ways of knowing are often discounted or denied.