Folklore in Labrador
Content provided by: Martha MacDonald, Researcher, Labrador Institute of Memorial University
Photo cedit: Labrador Institute
The study of folklore is concerned with traditional or informal knowledge passed along orally amongst members of a particular cultural, ethnic, occupational, religious or other group. Folklorists collect and study various genres of folklore; these include folk narrative (legends and folktales), folksong, material culture (buildings, landscape objects, tools and crafts), custom and belief, and dance, amongst others. These products derive from many sources and develop or pass in and out of usage according to the needs of the community. Folklore in Labrador reflects the inheritance of Innu, Inuit, and Metis culture as well as that introduced by the many transient cultures forming the fabric of present day Labrador.

Folklore materials in Labrador have been less systematically gathered than on the island of Newfoundland, where student papers in folklore courses were the genesis of the collection which is now the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive. MUNFLA was one of the largest sources for the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which contains reference to Labrador speech as well. The archive does contain some materials on Labrador.

Folksong in Labrador has been documented in two collections in particular: MacEdward Leach's Folk Ballads and Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast (Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1965) and Tim Borlase's Songs of Labrador (Labrador East Integrated School Board, 1993).

Personal reminiscences of growing up in Labrador provide insight into the folklife of groups in Labrador; two examples of these are Elizabeth Goudie's Woman of Labrador, reflecting the trapping traditions and lifestyles of central Labrador, and John Igloliorte's book An Inuk Boy Becomes a Hunter, providing glimpses of life amongst the Inuit of northern Labrador.

The greatest source of examples of traditional life and culture in Labrador is Them Days Magazine, which has published the oral history of Labrador on a quarterly basis since 1976. The indexes to the magazine (in 2 volumes) provide references to accounts of ghost stories, treasure stories, calendar customs, legends, songs and much more.

It is important to note that folklore in Labrador, as elsewhere, is still very much a part of everyday life. Traditional healing practices, or folk medicine, continue to be used, as do work practices (trapping, cooking, sewing, fishing), the singing of folksong and the use of legend to warn and instruct children. Traditional knowledge has become recognized as on par with western scientific knowledge in studies now being undertaken in many aspects of environmental research, particularly amongst the aboriginal groups in the region, and this traditional knowledge can be collected and studied using the principles laid down many years ago by folklorists.

Awareness of this part of our cultural heritage enriches our understanding of both past and present, and is an area of study of interest to the general population as well as to folklore scholars.
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