Documentation of folk heritage in Arab sources
By Dr. Mustafa Jad
Scientific circles face challenges when attempting to document the components of Arab folklore and Arab folk culture, so the documentation process is not yet complete.
Archives of folklore are not yet available to Arab citizens, so they still cannot learn about their history, culture and folk identity. We are calling for unified efforts to document the culture and heritage of the region.
Arab sources are diverse and rich. The documentation project should represent the literary legacy of Arabs and Muslims and include all written material about the arts, sciences, and folk heritage, which has not always been well-recorded.
There are a number of objectives related to the method of documenting folklore in Arab sources. These objectives include tracking the history of Arab folklore, and the extent to which this folklore has spread. This will help us to monitor Arab folklore practices that still exist today.
A theoretical analysis will compare past and current documentation efforts. It will also identify which elements of Arab folklore no longer exist.
We would like to make it clear that we are not in the process of documenting and publishing every single Arab source separately as in previous attempts. We are working to document, collect and categorise materials under specific headings. For example, under the main topics ‘optimism’ or ‘pessimism’, we will document all the relevant material in the sources in chronological order. For example, we will learn what Ibn Qutaybah, Al Massoudi, Al Dumairi, and Ibn al-Ather wrote about optimism. Each of these topics represents a specific historical and geographic stage. So we will be able to identify the Arab culture associated with this topic in the different eras of Arab history.
There is an urgent need to unify all the efforts that have been made to document our folk heritage in Arab sources. The huge number of sources makes documentation a complex task that requires a collective, institutional effort, but we still lack an institutional framework.
Previous attempts to document Arab folk heritage have been based on individual efforts in different places. So far, these efforts have not been brought together in a unified project. We need a plan to create a database of folk heritage, to publish it in all the countries of the Arab world, and to document folklore that still exists today. In this way, we can preserve both heritage and literature.
Perhaps, this proposed corpus of Arab folklore could take the form of a scientific database of all information related to folk culture; this could include millions of pieces of information. This will take an extraordinary effort, which will involve identifying sources and their bibliographic information, and then distributing the source material to researchers so they can extract, document and classify the data. Then we will need to create a database and enter the heritage data, the field data, and photographs and audio and video recordings.
We believe that this is a good opportunity to document folk heritage in Arab sources, because we now have the potential, the necessary techniques, and trained and qualified Arab staff.