Chatting over Chai – I guess you could call them interviews..

After participant observation, I started my interviews with the older generation within the Karen community. The aim of the interviews was to get a better understanding of the cultural transformation this community has gone through. By talking to the oldest generation alive (second generation immigrants), I hoped to collect personal anecdotes which revealed the intimate sentiments of the community towards cultural change. Since the older people spoke in Karen, I was accompanied my a translator who helped conduct the interview. Having a local with me really helped me connect to the population and helped them trust me and my cause. 

The interviews were of a very unique format: the questions were open-ended to help gather maximum information. Before each interview, I reminded the participants of the ethical components of my research and explained them my motives. The interviews lasted 2-3 hours each and were more like chats since they were not strictly formed through my questions. By informally chatting with these people, I learnt more than I would have through short and direct questions. 

The participants were happy to share their experiences with me and I recorded a lot about the history of the community that is not previously published. For instance, they all mentioned a tumultuous times in their history when the Karen community was troubled by 5 Burmese dacoits- everyone had vivid recollection of this time and they described it as the toughest time for the Karen. They also mentioned that love marriage has always been a custom in their community and the age of marriage is decreasing in the younger generation which is very counter-intuitive. It is these small changes that I want to record in my research. 

In order to understand the degree and method of transmission of cultural knowledge from one generation to another, I decided to conduct a survey of the youth population too. After 18 interviews of the older generation and 19 survey responses from youth, it was clear that the third generation immigrants are the last ones to have a substantial  knowledge of old cultural practices. This soon diminishing cultural practices are going to be the focus of my thesis. 

Along with a substantial amount of field notes and recordings from interviews, I also received a ridiculous amount of chai and coffee since it is rude to visit a house and not drink Chai with them! 5-6 cups of Chai a day was something my stomach had to get used to… but I guess if too much Chai was the worst of my problems, then I had a great field experience 🙂 

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About Tanvi Mittal

Class of 2015, majoring in Cultural Anthropology and sub-matricualting into the master's program in the same, minoring in Consumer Psychology, completed first archaeological field school in Belize in May2014 and first independent ethnographic field work in June-July2014