Saving Nepal’s archives from oblivion

To be sure, all 753 local governments in the country are in the same boat to a greater or lesser degree. The oral tradition of Nepali history and culture is rich and vibrant. But without proper archaeological evidence and documentation, the country’s heritage and history are going from existence to extinction.

The National Archives wants a systematic effort with local governments to prevent further degradation and loss of historical records but it could only dispatch a single team last year for location research. 

In October 2021, one such team was studying and photographing some 50 documents, inscriptions and copper-plate engravings in Kakani and Bidur municipalities of Nuwakot when it got word of a few more unrecorded historical objects nearby. But there was no time and money to extend the trip. 

“Our limited budget is just enough to cover salaries and overheads,” laments Rajju Hada at the National Archives. “There really is no alternative to local governments taking up the responsibility.”

Outgoing MP Radheshyam Adhikari says the Act should be promulgated soon and this will open the process for local governments to take charge.

“But there is no need for them to sit around and wait for it to protect the archival heritage under their jurisdiction,” he adds. “Their priorities need to change from building view-towers to preserving our heritage.”

Birendranagar Municipality of Karnali Province is getting its own regional archive and museum. Work began in 2016 to preserve the region’s endangered inscriptions, genealogies, copper plates and documents.

Karnali is culturally, historically and anthropologically significant. It is rich in archaeological evidence since it was part of the ancient Khas kingdom, with its capital in the Sinja Valley. There in present-day Jumla is where some of the earliest written examples of the Nepali language can be found.

Birendranagar’s Rs10 million project will be completed this month, after which a team of experts will be formed to inspect and study the archaeological sites in Dailekh, Achham and Jumla

“I have been reaching out to the National Archives for advice and guidance,” says Arjun Shahi, chief of the Birendranagar Archive. “And we have asked the provincial government for a budget to bring in the necessary technology and human resources.”

Archivist Shamik Mishra at the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Kathmandu sees this as a major step, adding that studying and conserving a document in the same environment where it was produced can help preserve its intrinsic context. 

He says: “If the central archive collects and conserves every single record, inscription or object, it may be more difficult to recognise their original meaning and value in the future. Archiving must be decentralised.”

Read also:Documenting Loss, Stéphane Huët

Adapted from the Nepali original in Himalkhabar monthly by Ashish Dhakal.

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