This summer, Prof. Mark Bender of DEALL attended several academic conferences and fieldwork events in China, Lithuania, and Mongolia. In June, Bender traveled to Ziyun County in Guizhou province, China. to participate in a two-day fieldwork event on the King of Yalu epic tradition. He met with local leader Gu Xinwei, local researcher Yang Zijiang, and Prof. Yu Weiren of Guizhou University to witness a series of ten rituals related to the King of Yalu epic. The epic was only recently “discovered” among the Miao (Hmong) ethnic group in Guizhou. The epic is recited at funerals while a priest known as a donglang escorts the soul of the deceased across the landscape of southern China to return to the sky to join the ancestors. On the second day of the fieldwork event Bender witnessed the recital of part of the epic at a funeral held in a small rural homestead. Bender was the first foreign researcher invited to Ziyun to witness the local tradition.
June 25-30, Bender attended the International Society of Folk Narrative research meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania. The conference is one of the largest groups in the world studying folk narrative. Bender’s paper, “Denizens of the Sky, Earth, and Waters” concerned aspects of the epic the Book of Origins from the Yi ethnic group in southwest China and was one of several papers dealing with folk narrative in China. Participants came from many places in Europe, including the Baltic states, which have seen a surge in folklore studies in recent years. Vilnius is at the crossroads of many important events in European history and has a number of excellent museums, countless cathedrals, and a nearby castle. The Midsummer festival was being held in the region and Bender attended the festival in Riga, Latvia, as well as the huge Latvian outdoor folk museum, which offered many examples for comparing folk culture in Europe and East Asia.
In August 5-8 Bender attended the Central Asian Symposium Festival-II in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. The conference attracted epic scholars from Mongolia, Russian Federation (Russia, Buryatia, Yakutia, Kalmykia, and Tuva), and China who presented on a vast range of topics dealing with epic traditions of the Turko-Mongols peoples of Central Asia. Bender, the only American participant, presented a paper entitled, “Landscape and Life-forms in Cosmographic Epics from Southwest China.” After the presentation of the papers, the group took a two day fieldtrip to a remote valley outside the city where Bender stayed the night in a traditional felt ger (yurt) and sampled meat and vegetables cooked with hot stones. After the conference in Mongolia, Bender returned to China and travelled with epic scholars from the Ethnic Literature division of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, to Chifeng, Inner Mongolia for a conference entitled, Epic Geser/Gesar and Beyond.” The theme was on epic traditions in China and Mongolia that deal with the ancient Tibetan hero Gesar, and the similar Mongol here, Geser Khan. Bender presented a paper on his earlier fieldwork experiences in Ziyun county Guizhou on the King of Yalu epic tradition. Participants were drawn from China, Mongolia, Nigeria, Japan, Turkey, Russia – and one from the US. The conference fieldtrip included attending a traditional archery match, horse-racing event and a trip to a Buddhist temple at a sacred mountain on the steppe.