What is Folklife?

Folklife, which is often called folklore, is what the Maine Folklife Center focuses on, but what exactly is it? A quick definition is “informal traditional culture” (Folklore Rules Lynne S. McNeill). But what does that mean?

According to The American Folklife Center at The Library of Congress, folklife is:

“The everyday and intimate creativity that all of us share and pass on to the next generation.”

The American Folklore Society has a longer definition:

“Folklore is the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. Every group with a sense of its own identity shares, as a central part of that identity, folk traditions–the things that people traditionally believe (planting practices, family traditions, and other elements of worldview), do (dance, make music, sew clothing), know (how to build an irrigation dam, how to nurse an ailment, how to prepare barbecue), make (architecture, art, craft), and say (personal experience stories, riddles, song lyrics). As these examples indicate, in most instances there is no hard-and-fast separation of these categories, whether in everyday life or in folklorists’ work.”

For their full definition and discussion please visit their “What is Folklore?” webpage.

Finally, one further quick explanation of folklore speaks to the emotional aspect of what folklife is: “If you think about the things you would be sad if your children or extended family didn’t know about your culture or heritage – that is the focus of our work” -Amy Kitchener, executive director and co-founder of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.