Welsh and Khasi cultural dialogues

A collaborative, arts-based project between Welsh and Indian practitioners, Dr Lisa Lewis and Dr Aparna Sharma, will provide opportunities to investigate the shared cultural history of the people of Wales and the people of the Khasi Hills, North East India. 

The Welsh–Khasi intercultural relationship is based in the missionary contact established in the mid-nineteenth century by the Welsh Presbyterian mission in the Khasi Hills and the cultural processes resulting from it. In 1842, Welsh missionary Thomas Jones arrived in Sohra in the Khasi Hills (now Cherrapunji, Meghalaya), with his wife Ann Jones. One of his first tasks was to learn the local language, and to codify it into a written script, which he did based on Welsh language orthography. He subsequently started to translate religious texts, including the New Testament, into Khasi. Today Jones is recognised by the Khasi people as both a religious and secular hero, for safeguarding their language and strengthening a profound sense of national identity. Jones’ process of language codification is one of the earliest examples of the intercultural dialogues between the Welsh and Khasi peoples – dialogues that have continued into the present. 

A stone circle related to the Khasi indigenous belief system, outside the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, Meghalaya. Image courtesy of Dr Aparna Sharma.

For over 150 years the people of Wales and of the northeast of India have participated in a cultural exchange involving the production of a rich and scattered body of material, including letters, hymns, folksongs, poetry, writings in denominational magazines, pamphlets, diaries, travel films and photography, all of which provide insight into the dynamic intercultural dialogues between the peoples of these two distinct cultures. In this project we will galvanise the vast and living archive of intercultural exchange between the Welsh and Khasi peoples that still remains relatively unrecognised. For instance, the Khasi national anthem is sung to the tune of the Welsh national anthem; some notable Welsh hymns are in fact Indian songs, and folk tales have been exchanged between cultures; more recent examples include travel writing and poetry.

We are Welsh and Indian scholar-practitioners, and in response to the intercultural traces in the Welsh and Khasi relationship we will work through performance and film-making to construct a new dialogue, one that investigates the long history of intercultural communication between the Welsh and the Khasi. The creative practice will provide spaces to investigate, discuss and respond to histories of cultural exchange, and to explore the way in which shared cultural histories have shaped our identities in the modern world. 

Dr Lisa Lewis, University of South Wales
Dr Aparna Sharma, University of California Los Angeles