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The Nicholas J. Allen Archive

allenDamai musicians playing oboes, a small drum and cymbals, at a wedding in East Nepal. Photograph by N.J. Allen 1970 [2008.115.1224]. © Pitt Rivers MuseumAfter initial studies in medicine at Oxford and St. Mary's Hospital, London, Nick Allen re-trained in social anthropology, conducting fieldwork in Nepal in 1969-71. His thesis title was Studies in the myths and oral traditions of the Thulung Rai of East Nepal.

Between 1976 and 2001 he was Lecturer and then Reader in the Social Anthropology of South Asia at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford.

On his personal website at Oxford, he writes:

"For about 15 years I concentrated on Himalayan topics. I conducted fieldwork for twenty months in the east of Nepal with one Tibeto-Burman speaking tribal group (Thulung Rai), and spent a shorter period later with another group north of Simla (Kinnaur). I wrote one book describing the Thulung language, but most of my writings concentrated on comparative studies of Himalayan social structure, kinship, ritual and mythology.

From the early or mid 1980s I diversified into three new areas. (a) I developed an interest in the history of the French tradition in anthropology, in particular in the work of Durkheim, Mauss and Dumont. (b) I tried to develop, at a certain level of abstraction, a world-historical theory of kinship, starting with systems such as occur in very small-scale societies where 'everyone is related to everyone else'. (c) Building on experience with Tibeto-Burman mythology, I have been developing the comparative approach to Indo-European cultures, along the lines pioneered by the French scholar Georges Dumézil. I believe that, with certain modifications (notably a 'fourth function' having positive and negative 'aspects'), Dumézil's approach can help us to identify certain enduring patterns in Hindu/Buddhist thought and culture, casting light both on their origins and on their subsequent transformations. However, the relevance of this line of work is not confined to the Indian subcontinent, for it relates to the history of the Indo-European-speaking world in general. For instance, if, as seems clear, the Homeric epics can be shown to be cognate with the Sanskrit Mahâbhârata, this has implications not only for the study of early Greece but also for the history of European literature."

Further information about Nick's career and publications can be found here.

The Recordings

Allen's audio collection consists of 9 reel to reel tapes that were all recorded in the Himalayas between 1970 and 1971. The collection includes extended recordings of several different festivals and ceremonies, epic and myth recitals, and examples of several different instruments including a jew's harp, flutes, and oboes (sanāi). Later this year we intend listen closely to the recordings together with Nick Allen in order to fully identify the content.

The Playlist

The playlist below includes several different examples of men and women singing, chant in ritual Thulung language, and recordings of a jew's harp, flute, oboes (sanāi), and thali (brass-plate) percussion.

Sound Galleries

Musical torchlit trails at the Pitt Rivers Museum

On Friday November 23rd 2012, the galleries of the Pitt Rivers Museum were plunged into evening darkness and bathed in Bayaka music and sound from the Central African Republic. Visitors were given torches to explore the galleries that were transformed into a rich forest soundscape with sung fables, snatches of laughter, beautiful variations on harps and flutes, and the stunning polyphonic singing of Bayaka women. Hidden surprises included mini projections from the rainforests and a visualiser designed by Nathaniel Mann, the PRM's Embedded Composer in Residence. The evening was filmed By Mike Day of Intrepid Cinema as part of the Reel to Real project, and complemented the Oxford City-wide Christmas Light Night organised by Oxford Inspires. A four hour playlist of Bayaka music from the PRM's sound collections, originally recorded by Louis Sarno, was curated on the evening by Nathaniel Mann and Dr Noel Lobley. The event was streamed online, and was watched live in the Central African Republic by Louis Sarno and some of the Bayaka community.

 


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