Why study folklore? Women’s captivity narratives as an area of ordinary people’s imagination and real concern.

AIAS arranged a program for Dr. Margaret Mills on 11the September 2018 at the American university of Afghanistan. Dr. Mills talk started with a few words about the importance and value of forms of folklore (everyday knowledge) as a social data set and as an aesthetic experience, then went on to discuss how people use everyday forms of folk narrative – sacred legends, afsana (fictional folk tales), oral history and personal experience narratives of their own or their family in their daily lives, Dr. Mills pointed out that how three or four different kinds of narratives are used to think about a common human problem: The danger to women in situation of insecurity-captivity danger. 

The examples in the talk, all taken from Persian-language sources from Afghanistan and Iran, presented these different kinds of narratives on the theme of women’s and girls’ experiences of threat,  abduction, captivity and escape, and how different kinds of  narratives help people cope with this very real set of concerns. Dr. Mills gave the example of one of the most famous types of folklore, afsana or folktales that are fiction, fantasy tales told for the entertainment, also two of the most commonly told stories in the peacetime in Afghanistan are the afghan version of Cinderella (called Gaw-e-zard or Mah-peshani) and the story of the beauty and the beast (called shah mar-e-sabze-khazina). Both these stories and many others in Afghanistan are part of international intangible heritage, many folklores are international but every language group and local population has its own versions, its own cultural flavor and details.

Dr. Mills discussed how these Afsanas and other narratives solve or don’t solve the threats to women in danger of captivity. Some stories concern Muslim women and girls in Iran and Afghanistan who are also taken into the earth or turned to stone, when they pray to escape the capture by enemies.

The discussion was joined by a number of students and lecturers and they shared their ideas, stories and experiences of these folklores.