book review: faudree 2013 _singing for the dead_

now that the semester is over, i’ve been reading some new titles in my discipline. one of the most interesting is by a scholar at brown, who straddles ethnomusicology and sociolinguistics in a compelling work on the role of song in language revival

Paja Faudree’s Singing for the Dead (2013. Duke University Press) examines the unexpected connections of language revival projects to a wide range of discourses and representations of indigeneity. Placing the dyad of literacy versus orality in doubt, Faudree demonstrates the importance of song as a modality of linguistic practice and a powerful medium of language revival projects. Throughout, Faudree’s attention is to doubleness, in terms of forms of language, indigenous versus nationally dominant print language, and audiences. The work poses many of the questions that I want to examine in some of my work with Sowal no ‘Amis–and that I suspect other people interested in songwriting, endangered languages, or indigenous cultural movements also find vexing or at least useful to think (ok–i know all those links were ‘amis related links, but you know me…)

The networks that Faudree describes include churches, state agencies, NGOs, and academics, but also “mycotourists,” the more culturally sensitive descendants of magic mushroom seeking hippies, who have descended upon the sierra mazateca from the 1960s onward. these networks trace out the uneven and intersecting contexts in which indigenous intellectuals work–pan-indigenous, new age spiritual, national, regional, or local frameworks in which indigenous texts are written and circulate. Given this wide variety of contexts most indigenous texts circulate and are read in bilingual forms, producing a doubleness of reading. the indigenous writers that Faudree discusses must often write equally for an hispanophonic audience and their particular tastes and strategies of reading as much as for an indigenous audience. Indeed, given the status of indigenous languages, many of the indigenous readers–even in the same group–will be hispanophonic as well

why? Given the wide variety of orthographies and variants of a single recognized indigenous language, indigenous readers must often perform a double reading in which they tack between the indigenous language and more orthographically stable and lisible Spanish, the Spanish anchoring the meaning of the indigenous texts, which can then be produced orally

Unlike this doubleness across languages–in which the ability of readers to read Spanish silently, quickly, and as semantically stable allows Spanish to anchor a text that points to a particular oral performance of an indigenous language–song texts perform a doubleness of contexts, from written to sung versions. Singing and repetition thus provides the anchor for the writing in spite of orthographic instability. Moreover, as Faudree demonstrates, the relative openness and popularity of singing contests at Dead of the Dead celebrations in Nda Xo, a town in the Sierra Mazateca, has vitalized a movement for language revival that would otherwise appear distanced from “local” realities

Faudree’s work is useful to think because she neither denigrates the double practices of indigenous writers nor does she take sides in an ongoing argument about the loci of language revival; rather, she shows how the arguments among metropolitan (or cosmopolitan) intellectuals, whose writing is oriented toward national and global circuits, and local intellectuals, who work hands-on in indigenous communities to promote cultural movements “at the grass roots,” are actually self (or should one say other?) reinforcing. They actually point out a tension always present in the inherent doubleness of indigenous cultural production, which has to do with the complicated negotiations of indigenous publics in relationship to national ones (here, i’m reminded just a little of geertz’s discussion of the language question in “new nations,” but Faudree’s references are to current scholarship on indigeneity and the public sphere)

taiwan, because it is such a small country with a relatively well-developed transportation and communications infrastructure, exhibits the tensions that Faudree mentions very differently. Although the doubleness Faudree locates in indigenous writing is always present and leads me to ask questions about how indigenous cultural producers might respond to it, the orientation of indigenous cultural producers toward national / global or local spaces might not appear as fraught: after all, one can easily travel from bulo to Taipei in a few hours; and some indigenous musicians, such as Suming, for example, manage to work in Taipei’s culture industry while also keeping a foot in their home village. His indigenous audience–although he often complains that it is much smaller than his non-indigenous fan base–is also more likely to be oriented toward the globally circulating forms of culture, such as K-Pop or techo, that he riffs upon. Nonetheless, such Taipei dwelling culture workers are often described by those who remain in the bulo as “Taipei denizens” and quasi-outsiders, particularly in moments of political crisis

But I have in mind an historical question. In the 1980s, when ‘Amis songwriting flourished as a new popular medium, songs were not indexically tied to Taipei or the bulo in a simple fashion, but often expressed a sort of ‘Amis cosmopolitanism emerging in the experience of working class men in the construction and far ocean fishing trades; rather than a simple tension between nation-centric versus local-centric cultural production, then, we might see contrasting forms of cosmopolitanism, in which national and local attachments have different valences. This contrast appears more marked when we look at the distinction among intellectuals with connections with church organizations (note: Lifok (Huang Kuei-Chao), one of the most important ‘Amis songwriters of the mid to late 20th century, has worked both for the Catholic diocese of Hualien and as a research assistant for a scholar at Academia Sinica; the Presbyterian Church has been a locus for indigenous political activism and scholarship), educational institutions and their networks, and the military. And, of course, I have in mind a kind of pan-indigenous activism that emerged in educational institutions, mostly in Taipei, in the 1970s and 1980s versus the sort of cultural production associated with Lifok or Orad

My question here–and it is a question–is the extent to which the projects of the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, and (later) the Council for Indigenous Peoples are connected or separate: do they share orthographies, notions of linguistic variation, or personnel? Or are these projects largely at odds? It might be useful to examine different programs for linguistic revival in these institutions and see how these programs play out on the ground. I think that it would also be useful to think about the different sort of doubleness in the work of ‘Amis songwriters today versus earlier songwriters. To start with, we might examine orthography for hymnals, educational materials, cassette tape and CD liners, and–lest we forget an important place for performing literacy–karaoke lyrics

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