Dr Robin Gwyndaf FSA, FLSW

Peace Mala Endorsement

Honorary Research Fellow, St Fagans National Museum of History. Former Curator of Folklore and Head of the Department of Cultural Life.


Y mae Heddwch Mala: Peace Mala yn un o’r mudiadau mwyaf ardderchog sydd gan Gymru, gwlad ag iddi etifeddiaeth faith a chyfoethog o heddwch a thangnefedd (‘heddwch y nefoedd’, ‘heddwch y galon’). Ac y mae arnom fwy o angen mudiadau ysbrydoledig o’r fath heddiw nag erioed.

Heddwch Mala: Peace Mala is one of the most wonderful organisations in Wales, a country with a long and rich inheritance of peace and tangnefedd (‘peace of heaven’, ‘peace of the heart’). And we need such inspiring organisations today more than ever.

Dr Robin Gwyndaf, Cardiff, Wales, an Honorary Member of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR), has been active for over 55 years in studying and fostering the rich folk culture of his native country. His life-long dedication to recording Welsh folklore and belief narratives has resulted in many public lectures, published papers and books.

Here he gives a brief description of his life-long dedication to recording Welsh folklore, relating, in particular, to folk beliefs and belief narratives.

Dr Robin Gwyndaf with Pam Evans, founder of Peace Mala, at the UNA Wales Temple of Peace Cardiff

"I was born 1 March 1941, and brought up on a mountain farm in the rural parish of Llangwm, Uwchaled, Denbighshire, North Wales. It was – and still is – a mainly Welsh-speaking district, renowned for its bards and singers, storytellers and craftsmen. My own father was a community-bard with a great interest in recitation, and as children (six of us) we also were encouraged to recite poetry at local eisteddfodau. (An eisteddfod: a competitive cultural festival of music, poetry, oral presentations, arts and crafts.) Presenting poetry and, occasionally, prose from memory on the stage was an excellent introduction to the Welsh literary tradition, dating from the sixth century. It is little wonder that a deep and long-lasting interest in poetry developed at an early age. Also in storytelling - in Wales and abroad.

"From the age of about sixteen I took great pleasure in the company of friends and tradition-bearers in Uwchaled and the surrounding area, and in making notes of their lore and language. This interest (or should I say ‘passion’?) continued throughout my university years at Bangor, North Wales, 1959-64) and, needless to say, has continued ever since. The subjects studied at Bangor were Welsh, History, Theology and Philosophy. I graduated in Welsh and did research in the field of sixteenth century Welsh History. Although there were no official courses in folklore or ethnology available at any University of Wales department then, I ventured to share my love for the history and folk traditions of my native country with others from the age of about twenty one. Those early talks and lectures were, no doubt, far from satisfactory, but the response and warm welcome of listeners was a lasting inspiration.

"In October 1964 I was appointed to the post of Research Assistant 1 in the Department of Oral Traditions and Dialects, Welsh Folk Museum, St Fagans, as it was then known. The Museum was founded in 1946 and opened to the public in 1948. Later the name was changed to Museum of Welsh Life. Now it is known as: St Fagans: National Museum of History. It endeavours to tell the story of Wales from prehistoric times to the present day. It is an open-air museum, with over 100 acres of grounds and 248 members of staff (9 May 2018), and is one of the seven major branches of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales (www.amgueddfacymru.ac.uk / www.museumwales.ac.uk).

"Sain Ffagan / St Fagans is a village five miles from Cardiff, whereas the National Museum itself is based in the civic centre. The Welsh name for the open-air museum at St Fagans from the beginning has been Amgueddfa Werin Cymru. (Amgueddfa: museum; (G)werin: people; Cymru: Wales. The word ‘amgueddfa’ derives from an old Welsh word, ‘amguedd’, meaning ‘treasure’.)

"Various posts and responsibilities at the Museum in St Fagans over the years included: 1971: Assistant Keeper; 1984: Curator of Folklore. In addition: 1985-87: Director of the Government’s Manpower Service Commission (MSC, the Museum Information Retrieval Projects – seven persons were employed to index the folklore collections); 1991-95: Head of St Fagans Warding Staff; 1991-97: Head of St Fagans Tape, Film and Manuscript Archives; 1997: Head of the Department of Cultural Life.

"During 1964-2018 I was given the opportunity to talk to about 3,000 to 4,000 persons throughout Wales. And what a truly great honour it was to be warmly welcomed as a friend into their homes. How immeasurable is my debt to them. Of these men and women, some 450 were recorded on tape (c. 900 hours of sound recordings, mainly in the Welsh language). All the tapes have been fully transcribed and indexed (according to subject, locality, and informant). For each tape there is also a ‘list of contents’ (on an 8 by 5 inch card), and the task of digitising these cards is in progress. The majority of the tapes were recorded during the years 1964-90 but, I may add, once a fieldworker – fond of people and their lore – always a fieldworker!

"The ‘content cards’ list roughly 20,000 items. But I hasten to note that there is no plan to count every item in detail! The ethnologist should always be aware not to place folkloristic items in neat, compact, and precisely named ‘scholarly’ boxes. The human brain knows no such finality. A holistic approach is vital. Equal attention should be given to text and context. 20,000 items may have been recorded and identified, but an attempt was also made to understand the close interrelation between these items and, needless to say, their function, form variation, and oral transmission within and outside the community. We study folkore, ethnology, and anthropology not as a collection of static items of culture, but as culture in context. Culture in action. We study folklore, ethnology, and anthropology, not merely as distinctive subjects in their own right, but also as intricate and inexplicable intrinstic parts of people’s culture. (The proposed title of one book, not yet published, will be: Culture in Action: Essays on Folkore and Ethnology, People and Community.)

"As regards my own fieldwork, the main emphasis was on folk narratives, folk beliefs and charms, but much material was also recorded relating to folk poetry, folk hymns, riddles, folk sayings and proverbs, nature lore, regional ethnology (mainly the author’s native district of Uwchaled), repertoire studies, and world-view. Numerous narratives (tales, legends, personal narratives, belief legends, motifs, memorates, chronicates, and anecdotes) were recorded on the subject of foklore relating to the supernatural, such as supernatural beings and paranormal experiences. These narratives included, for example, material relating to fairies; ghosts; witches; wise-men and conjurors; saints; giants; premonitions of death; divination; caves, lakes and wells; and mythic animals, such as dragons, the Black Dog, and the hare."

Life-long learning and sharing the culture ...

"On retiring from the Museum (1 March 2006), I was made an Honorary Research Fellow (2007), an honour which is greatly appreciated. In addition to tapes, photographs and manuscripts stored in the Museum Archives, numerous folklore and folk culture collections which have accumulated over the years (mainly correspondence files, research files, tape transcripts, and card indexes) are kept together in one fairly large room at the Museum in St Fagans, safeguarded for the future, but also, just as importantly, readily available to colleagues and current researchers. I share my working days now between this office and my own study at home in Llandaf, Cardiff. And here I may add: I have always considered it a pleasant duty to offer students, visiting researchers, and especially younger colleagues and curatorial staff, any assistance possible.

"An early motto of the National Museum of Wales was: ‘To teach the world about Wales and the Welsh people about their own fatherland’. These words, I feel, reflect my own desire and aspiration – indeed my dream – since I first began to appreciate the rich culture and folk traditions of my native country. But, before I could share this treasure with others, I had so much to learn myself. That is why I must, first of all, express my most sincere gratitude to colleagues past and present at the Museum for their unfailing support. Also, to innumerable friends and scholars in so many countries. It has always been a great pleasure to meet students and renowned folklorists and ethnologists, perhaps for the first time, and learn about their current research, the history of their institutions, and new projects being undertaken.

"In addition to 18 books and over 400 articles in the field of ethnology and folk culture, three books and numerous articles have also been published relating to such subjects as human rights and peace, religion and the sanctity of life. In a beautifully designed book to be published in September 2021, it is my great privilege to pay tribute to doctors and nurses and all NHS workers and those who care for others in the community. I also pay my respects to the most important contribution of Peace Mala: love in action.

"Throughout my life, I have been greatly blessed, but the greatest blessing of all is that I have had numerous golden opportunities to share my own blessings with others. And for this, diolch o galon: ‘heartfelt thanks’.

"Finally, to all of you in Peace Mala, and to those who will be reading these words, I wish you too every joy and blessing."

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