Maer Lanq: The animated documentary is the collective memory of a generation of Akha People
By Ah Dong and Moon Ja
Meng Song Village in Xishuangbanna is a small village close to the China-Burma border, mainly inhabited by the Akha ethnic group. From Jinghong, you will pass through farmland and mountains to reach Meng Song Village in the clouds. At the entrance of the village, a row of colorful murals tells the story of the Akha people’s way of life.
The murals are the work of a local villager.
Maer Lanq, 49, only started painting about 19 years ago. Since then, he has painted hundreds of works featuring the Akha culture. This spring, Maer Lanq participated in the Lancang Mekong Vision Minority Anthropological Video Fusion Media Production Programme. Later, he collaborated with students from Yunnan University of Finance and Economics and Yunnan Arts University to produce an animated documentary—Remembering Childhood about the Akha nursery rhymes, supported by the program.
Remembering Childhood is set in the 1980s. It attempts to explore the relationship between Akha's childhood and traditional Akha culture at that time. It is also about the memories that Maer Lanq weighs on his mind, the memories he wants to keep.
In Maer Lanq’s view, traditional Akha nursery rhymes are closely related to the formation of the Akha’s traditional lifestyle and values. As the world has changed, these nursery rhymes have drifted away from people’s daily lives. Maer Lanq knows that oblivion is inevitable, but he still hopes to find a way to preserve and pass on the traditional Akha nursery rhyme culture. The animated documentary can be a suitable medium for both the young and the old. Perhaps, the film will encourage more people to pay attention to the traditional culture of the Akha people and keep the traditional nursery rhymes alive in their memories.
I. The Road to Painting
#painting has become a part of my life and has given me the opportunity to talk to the world.
Q: Hello, Mr. Maer Lanq! May I ask what your current occupation is? What are the main source of income?
A: I was born and raised in the Akha village as a common and ordinary farmer. I mainly rely on farming to provide for my needs. When I was working in the fields, I had endless creative inspirations, but until now, it (painting) is just a hobby.
Q: You mentioned that you started painting after you turned 30, how did you get into painting?
A: In 2000, I was approached by project staff from the Center of Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge invited to work as a translator on a local project. At one time, when the researchers asked local elders about Akha farming culture, we realized that they had never seen many of the traditional farming tools mentioned by the elders. Coincidentally, there were no models available at the time. At that time, I thought, if we could draw a picture of these traditional Akha farming tools, then, wouldn’t these problems be solved? So, by this chance, I am devoted to painting.
Q: Have you encountered any difficulties in your painting? How did you overcome these difficulties?
A: As I just said, I didn’t start to paint until I was 30 years old. I would say the difficulty is mainly psychological for me. For a long time, I was too shy to show my paintings to people around me. So I was completely just enjoying myself. Secondly, I haven’t sold a single painting in all these years. Of course, I’m not doing this with a for-profit mindset. But you know, everyone wants to be recognized for what they put their time into.
I’m a free spirit at heart. At first, the idea of painting was just to facilitate communication. But slowly, I found that with each painting, my sense of accomplishment and pride grew. Even though I have stumbled along the way, I have never thought about giving up.
Things have changed a bit in the past two years. I’ve painted some murals that are getting more and more recognition, which is a little comfort to my past self.
Q: What does painting mean to you?
A: Painting has given me so many things that cannot be measured. I was exposed to the traditional culture of our Akha people, which enabled me to present the traditional culture of the Akha in the form of painting. In this process, I feel that painting has become a part of my life and has given me the opportunity to communicate with the world.
II Lancang Mekong Vision
#Animation documentary is an innovative model for the dissemination of Akha culture.
Q:What was your motivation for participating in the Lancang Mekong Vision project? What do you hope to gain from the project?
A: The reason for me to participate in this project is very simple—I can utilize this platform to promote the Akha nursery rhyme culture in the most effective way. Nowadays, Akha children have no idea about Akha nursery rhymes. I hope through this project, I can make an animation about the nursery rhyme, which can make children interested in Akha nursery rhymes after watching it.
This documentary takes the Akha nursery rhyme as the main theme and presents it to the public in an animated way, which is an innovative way for the dissemination of Akha culture. The Akha people used to have no writing. Therefore, culture was passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. That is also the reason why many traditional cultures are now endangered, or even dead, Akha nursery rhymes being an example. People who can sing Akha nursery rhymes is getting fewer. So I hope that with the support of the Lancang Mekong Vision project, the Akha nursery rhyme culture can reach out to the world and go further into the future.
Q: Have you encountered any problems during your participation in the project? What was the final solution?
A: So far, all kinds of difficulties have been overcome. The most memorable thing is that I couldn’t find the right voice person at first. Nowadays there are too few people who can sing nursery rhymes. But when we find them, it was too often that he or she was not the right person we are looking for. After a series of attempts, we found an Akha teacher, Ms. Li Dongmei, who recommended some suitable voice students for us. Thanks to her, we were able to complete the dubbing part of the animated documentary. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank her for her support and help.
Q: What have you gained from participating in this project?
A: I am an ordinary farmer, drawing is just my hobby. I never thought my work could be presented in the form of animation. For me, this is something of significance. It also means a lot to the children involved in this project. They are the future of the Akha people. The experience of participating in the animation is like planting seeds of ethnic music in them, which is exactly the value of this project.
III Akha nursery rhymes
# Maybe one day it will disappear under our eyes.
Q: Can you share some of your childhood stories related to ethnic nursery rhymes?
A: This animated documentary is about the childhood I remember. What has been finally shown is the collective memory of our generation of Akha people.
When we were young, unlike today’s children, we could not watch TV or play with our mobile phones. We liked to sing incomplete nursery rhymes and travel through the village. Singing while playing games was the biggest entertainment for our generation. Later, I heard from the elders that nursery rhymes are the essence of Akha culture. In order to preserve Akha culture, the Akha ancestors made up a series of nursery rhymes and songs and passed them down from generation to generation.
Q: What do you think about the attitude of children towards Akha nursery rhymes nowadays? How has it changed from your generation? What are the reasons for these changes?
A: Children nowadays have little idea of Akha nursery rhymes, or rather they have no exposure to them. On the one hand, time passed, their living environment has been changed, electronic devices have almost “taken over” their childhood, on the other hand, their parents don’t know about much nursery rhymes as well, therefore, can’t give their children the opportunity to be exposed to Akha nursery rhyme culture.
Q: What do you think about the future development of Akha nursery rhymes?
A: I can’t see where its future lies until then. The Akha nursery rhyme culture has become a shattered memory of our generation. Maybe one day, it will disappear under our eyes. But now, more and more people are noticing the phenomenon and starting to collect and archive it. I believe its future is worth looking forward to.