Volume 68, Number 3, Abstracts

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Distinguished Lectures


Ordeals of Language: Essays in Honor of Ellen B. Basso
Guest Editors: Juan Luis Rodríguez and Anthony K. Webster

Mascarading the Voice: Texts of the Self in the Brazilian Northwest Amazon
by Janet Chernela

“When Women Lost Kagutu Flutes, To Sing Tolo Was All They Had Left!” Gender Relations among the Kuikuro of Central Brazil as Revealed in Ordeals of Language and Music
by Bruna Franchetto and Tommaso Montagnani

Ordeals of Language and Political Agonistic Exchange in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela
by Juan Luis Rodríguez

Interactional Surveillance and Self-Censorship in Encounters of Dominion
by Sherina Feliciano-Santos and Barbra A. Meek

“Don’t Talk About It”: Navajo Poets and Their Ordeals of Language
by Anthony K. Webster

Lessons in Impunity
by Ellen B. Basso

Book Reviews

Ordeals of Language: Essays in Honor of Ellen B. Basso

Juan Luis Rodríguez
Dept. of Sociology & Criminal Justice, Saint Louis University, Carbondale, IL

Anthony K. Webster
Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL

KEY WORDS: Ordeals of language, Linguistic anthropology, Expressive genres, Amazonia, Native North and South America, Puerto Rico

ABSTRACT: In this introductory piece we discuss Ellen Basso’s critical insight concerning ordeals of language as the framework for the papers of this special issue. An ordeal of language occurs when one’s voice is affected by powerful others. The papers included here deal with this and other issues that have driven Basso’s career. Here we take inspiration not only from her theoretical innovation but also her ethnographic journey between North America and Amazonia. It is not by coincidence that our papers incorporate cases from the Canadian Yukon, the American Southwest, lowland South America, and Puerto Rico. By covering such a vast geographical territory we demonstrate Ellen Basso’s immense ethnographic influence.

Mascarading the Voice: Texts of the Self in the Brazilian Northwest Amazon

Janet Chernela
Department of Anthropology and Center for Latin American Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, MD

KEY WORDS: Amazonia, Gender, Language, Performance, Self, Wanano Tukano

ABSTRACT: In constructing “texts of the self” in spontaneous song, Wanano women draw on rhetorical and grammatical devices to distance and defl ect themselves from the impact of their utterances. Through attributing words to others, the number of contributing voices is multiplied, as the animator’s (singer’s) own dominance is performatively diminished. A fracturing of speaker roles allows for the presentation of differing positionalities and epistemic attitudes, as quoted spokespersons retain contrastive relationships to the matter conveyed. In the song performance documented here, a singer bears witness in the face of potential crisis between herself and the community. The example illustrates the dialogic and recursive processes by which internalized, normative, texts create multiple (and at times confl icting) constitutions of the self. Through her disclosure of events, reactions, and responsibilities, the singer hopes to broker an acceptable solution to a dangerous social dilemma. By exposing the illusion of consensus between the collective and the individual, the speech event makes explicit the ways in which speakers navigate that which Basso calls “the ordeals of language.”

“When Women Lost Kagutu Flutes, To Sing Tolo Was All They Had Left!” Gender Relations among the Kuikuro of Central Brazil as Revealed in Ordeals of Language and Music

Bruna Franchetto
Programa de Pós-graduação em Antropologia Social, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro,Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Tommaso Montagnani
EHESS, LAS, Fyssen Foundation, France

KEY WORDS: Amazonia, Brazil, Ethnomusicology, Gender, Kuikuro, Ordeals of language

ABSTRACT: This paper concerns the relations between men’s sacred music played on kagutu flutes and women’s tolo songs among the Carib-speaking Kuikuro of Central Brazil. The research for this paper is part of a multi-year documentation of the Upper Xingu Carib language being done by the Kuikuro themselves, with non-indigenous researchers serving as consultants. The men’s kagutu flutes and their music are regarded as highly powerful and potentially dangerous, and women are strictly forbidden from seeing these musical instruments. Women’s tolo songs are said to “imitate” the melodies of the men’s flute music, yet this process of “imitation” is full of irony and tricksterish deceit, especially when women are singing of their lovers. Women say that they are “lying” when they are singing tolo. Building on Ellen Basso and Bruna Franchetto’s works on the indigenous concept of auN (deceitful speech), the paper explores asymmetries and complementarity between genders through analysis of the musical and poetic dimensions of relations between the music of men’s sacred kagutu fl ute and women’s tolo singing. Sound is a crucial link not only between humans and spirit-beings but also between male and female social domains. Kagutu and tolo form a trans-ritual system in which a relation between spirits and men and women is established. While kagutu music is conceived as a faithful and subordinate reproduction of itseke (spirit-being) songs by men, tolo songs, by means of their creative poetics and musical power, bring women into a kind of competitive relation with itseke.

Ordeals of Language and Political Agonistic Exchange in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela

Juan Luis Rodríguez
Dept. of Sociology & Criminal Justice, Saint Louis University, Carbondale, IL

KEY WORDS: Ordeals of language, Political discourse, Gift-giving, Warao, Orinoco Delta (Venezuela)

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that Ellen Basso’s notion of ordeals of language can help us understand the semiotic mechanisms that affect political agency in the relation between indigenous populations and the state in Venezuela. Here I describe how linguistic performance and the struggle over political gifts infl uenced the production of what Basso calls “texts of the self.” During the 2008 primary elections in the Orinoco Delta, Venezuela, gifts distributed to gain the vote of the Warao produced a situation in which a local leader’s political allegiance was compromised and had to be reasserted. A close look at the process of creating political alliances through gift-giving shows that ordeals of language are central in the positioning of indigenous leaders in Venezuela. Ellen Basso’s notion of language ordeals is particularly useful as a complement to the analysis of political agonistic exchange. I argue that this form of analysis represents a more accurate and powerful heuristic tool for understanding political relations between socalled populist democracies and Amazonian societies.

Interactional Surveillance and Self-Censorship in Encounters of Dominion

Sherina Feliciano-Santos
Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Barbra A. Meek
Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

KEY WORDS: Canada, Indigenous peoples, Language, Puerto Rico, Self-determination

ABSTRACT: This paper addresses the contradictions inherent (adherent) in indigenous nations’ (and peoples’) articulations of self-determination and sovereignty which are unavoidably constrained by some dominating nation-state, resulting in their “dependent” independence. While such constraints and contradictions crosscut a variety of domains from policy-making and implementation to global recognition of human rights, we attend to the interactional scale. To explore the processes whereby such constraints are expressed in interaction as self-censorship and self-suppression we consider the role of surveillance and its accompanying threats in organizing and delimiting particular kinds of participation. The effects of such surveillance appear in the accommodations made by participants; inflections in their voices, discursive parallelisms in their speech, withdrawing of physical comportment, and their whispered silences. To complicate this concept of surveillance (Foucault, Goffman), we compare two different events wherein articulations of self-determination arise and are negotiated by individuals differentially positioned and variably invested in the goals of the interaction. In these events surveillance goes both ways so that the interaction exists as a mutual act of surveillance and self-censorship (Basso) in tandem with its emergence as an expression of constrained self-determination and marginal independence.

“Don’t Talk About It”: Navajo Poets and Their Ordeals of Language 

Anthony K. Webster
Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL

KEY WORDS: Ordeals of language, Intimate grammars, Navajo, Navajo English, Poetry

ABSTRACT: This article follows the theme of this JAR special issue—from self-suppression to expressive genres—as a way to investigate Navajo poets’ ordeals with languages. If ordeals of languages arise from languages as objects of scrutiny, then intimate grammars can be seen as the use of expressive genres in the face of such ordeals of language. I look first at the ways in which Navajo is an object of scrutiny and how, as objects of scrutiny, Navajos have self-suppressed speaking Navajo. Next I turn to the practice of some Navajos of feigning monolingualism in Navajo to avoid interacting with “outsiders” and to remove their uses of non-mainstream Navajo English from external scrutiny. I then turn to the ways Navajo poets continue to use Navajo English in their poetry and to the fact that Navajo poets now write about social, environmental, and political issues on the Navajo Nation. Here they resist a Navajo injunction, doo ajinída (don’t talk about it), which is meant to discourage critique that can be overheard by outsiders. I conclude by arguing that we can only understand Navajo poetry within the context of both emergent ordeals of languages and the expressive satisfaction of intimate grammars.  

Lessons in Impunity

Ellen B. Basso
Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

KEY WORDS: Blackmail, Voicing, Language ordeals

ABSTRACT: This essay is one in a series concerned with language ordeals, in which I examine particular discursive practices involving the self-suppression of voicing. Here I link examples of blackmail or extortion in crime fiction and the more discreet but real practices in commerce and the academy.

Book Reviews

Kathy M’Closkey: Spider Woman’s Gift: Nineteenth Century Diné Textiles, Shelby J. Tisdale, ed.

David M. Hoffman: Violence in a Time of Liberation: Murder and Ethnicity at a South African Gold Mine, 1994, by Donald L. Donham

Sarah Milledge Nelson: Coexistence and Cultural Transmission in East Asia, Naoko Matsumoto, Hidetaka Bessho, and Makoto Tomii, eds.

Mary N. MacDonald: Sung Tales from the Papua New Guinea Highlands: Studies in Form, Meaning, and Sociocultural Context, Alan Rumsey and Don Niles, eds.

Simon May: Weaponizing Anthropology, by David H. Price

John H. Walker: La Recuperación de Tecnologías Indígenas: Arqueología, Tecnología y Desarollo en los Andes, by Alexander Herrera Wassilowsky

Nadine T. Fernandez: ¡Venceremos? The Erotics of Black Self-Making in Cuba, by Jafari S. Allen

Christine Labuski: Surface Tensions: Surgery, Bodily Boundaries, and the Social Self, by Lenore Manderson

Melissa Emery Thompson: How Culture Makes Us Human: Primate Social Evolution and the Formation of Human Societies, by Dwight W. Read

R. Lee Lyman: Evolutionary and Interpretive Archaeologies: A Dialogue, Ethan Cochrane and Andrew Gardner, eds.

Patrick Hogan: A Companion to Cultural Resource Management, by Thomas F. King

Ben Ford: The Sea Their Graves: An Archaeology of Death and Remembrance in Maritime Culture, by David J. Stewart

Gabrielle Vail: Astronomy in the Maya Codices, by Harvey M. Bricker and Victoria R. Bricker

Lawrence G. Straus: Reassessing Paleolithic Subsistence: The Neandertal and Modern Human Foragers of Saint-Césaire, by Eugène Morin

Lawrence G. Straus: Una Nueva Visita a Santimamiñe: Precisiones en el Conocimiento del Conjunto Parietal Paleolítico, by César González Sainz and Rosa Ruiz Idarraga

Ann F. Ramenofsky: The Spanish Colonial Settlement Landscapes of New Mexico, 1598–1680, by Elinore M. Barrett

Jon C. Lohse: Land of the Tejas: Native American Identity and Interaction in Texas, A.D. 1300 to 1700, by John Wesley Arnn III


Department of Anthropology