Ritual as a means of self-consciousness

Marinae Mkrtchyan

I have presented my project on rituals in the electronic pedagogical journal Dpir where I have  described the first steps of its implementation. Everyone has the right to get the national legacy, and no one has the right to decide whether to give that legacy or not to give. And it is up to every person how to act afterwards. I have heard this idea from Arthur Shahnazaryan, truly, who can make a decision whether to update our old rituals or not? Speaking in modern language terms it is a violation of human rights. But now without having their own ideas many transform the folklore so much that it becomes unrecognizable by mixing it with cultural modes of other nations.

Rituals have been part of our national values. There is such a need to restore and give new life to them. But one doesn't know what to begin with, who to turn to for help. Who will show the way in which the nation went but lost both itself and the culture creating environment? How to restore them so that today's man will be able not to artificially repeat or reproduce them but to perform his own meeting the natural demands. Folk songs and dances are no longer being created; Someone will at best rummage and scoop out someone’s notes of a song or dance which have not been performed yet. Or someone will accidentally discover someone who still remembers some of nation’s forgotten songs or dances. They are doing thankful work; at least in the sense of keeping and presenting what we have. And then, shall we stop on what we have and not create anything? If no new folklore is being created as there is no its bearer and environment, if there is no that sort of Armenian, what is all this for? These are the questions that have always been torturing me.

With so much love do I remember the part of my childhood when my brother and I went to my paternal grandparents' house in the village of Harich. All the year round I was looking forward to going to the village. What an environment it was! We woke up early in the morning to hold the sheep's head firm so that my granny could milk it. It was not easy for us wake up so early, but we didn't complain about it: we were still very young but we realized that we had no other alternative. We picked up grass for the lambs, looked after the chickens lest they would get lost or might be caught by the cat. We also fetched water from the spring, got down to the gorge jumping like goats and singing children՛ game songs got into the river pools to swim. When my granny was baking bread I annoyed her by asking her for some dough to shape a loath which my granny put on the stove. I was looking forward to our national holiday Vardevor as it was my most favorite and longed for day of the year. Our new clothes and shoes were prepared beforehand and put in my granny’s sideboard.  We used to get up early, got dressed and our granny used to give us some money to buy sweets for us. The village hosted guests from different places, and it became livelier. People were enjoying themselves, and it seemed they became happier and younger; in other words they doted on this day. My grandpa slaughtered a sheep, my granny baked bread, and she didn't forget to give out the freshly baked warm bread to our neibours and passers-by. The sacrificed meet was cooked on open fire in a big boiler. It was a nice holiday with games, dances, songs, pouring water on each other, jokes, telling interesting stories, recollections, performing pieces of national folklore. That was a real national legacy of unwritten system of activities which formed irreplaceable environment full of rituals.

Recollections are pleasant but we should also think about our reality. What shall we begin with? Which step to take in order to go in the right direction? At first we thought we should prepare by learning songs, dances, sayings, the sequence of activities, making ritual attributes, getting to know ritual heroes and so on. In this way we were able to budge the cart a little. And then we lost the demand for performing rituals. Four years ago I left for Artik and decided to organize a real Vardavar holiday with our neighbors by making khachbur – cross handfuls and khndum - joyfuls and pouring water on each other. While making Khachbur my mother and I were singing our local folk songs, and others were telling stories and joking. We were so much carried away with our preparations, songs and stories that forgot to pour water on each other.

When I came back to Yerevan my soul was filled with joy and I felt I was happy. I realized that I had brought back the best part of my past life. In this way I gave birth to my project with which I was to give new life to our national rituals, songs, dances, games, cultural values. 

I can’t say that it is being implemented in the best way. I am simply doing what I need to do. The project is challenging as it is an unprecedented one, but as the environment is mine and I myself belong to that environment, I am trying to act with the viewpoint of a modern man.

I think that we would have a dangerous phenomenon if we made national songs, dances, fun games a stage delicacy, monopoly for ethnographic ensembles, an object for admiration, a show. My granny wouldn’t appreciate that for sure.

A good piece of my life has passed in an unaffected pure Armenian environment presenting national values, and I have unconsciously become the bearer of that environment. Many things have been easy for me, for when I have no definite answer I always speculate on how a countryman, living in harmony with nature, would act while doing this or that work; What did our ancestors mean by making this or that ritual attribute?

During the year we celebrated the holidays Barekendan, Easter, Hambardzum, Vardavar in natural environment. We got an invitation to take part in the celebrations od Vardavar in Garni. There we made ritual attributes, and although the celebration was only in the form of a concert, it didn’t disturb us to create a frank and natural environment, and we had a pleasant ritual day: Vardavar celebrations

I continued my research work by recording ritual stories told by beholders and participants:      

·         Hambartsum in the village of Nor Kyank in Shirak,

·         Hambbartsum in the village of Harich in Shirak,

·         Vardavar in the village of Harich in Shirak

This at least seems to be restoration research work. How much our nation needs it is to be determined individually, as I myself have determined it to be the cause of my life, which I am carrying out with great love. 

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