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On Yanomami ceremonial dialogues: a political aesthetic of metaphorical agency

Sobre los diálogos ceremoniales Yanomami: una estética política de eficiacia metafórica
Sur les dialogues cérémoniaux yanomami : une esthétique politique de l’efficacité métaphorique
José Antonio Kelly Luciani
p. 179-214

Résumés

Les dialogues cérémoniaux yanomami (wayamou) sont une forme ritualisée d’échange verbal destinée à la résolution des conflits entre les communautés. Ce travail décrit et analyse ces dialogues en tenant compte : a. du sens de son caractère métaphorique ; b. du rôle des connaissances acquises lors des rêves ; et c. de la façon dont les dénominations données au territoire socialisent l’espace, tout en le peuplant non pas seulement de communautés mais aussi de ressources et de possibilités d’échanges. J’essaierai de montrer que cette combinaison de caractéristiques relève d’une esthétique politique propre au chamanisme. Cette proximité suggère une continuité entre différents types d’agence politique et religieuse. On pourra ainsi tenter de réduire les distances que l’anthropologie amazonienne a crée entre l’analyse de la politique entre les humains et celle qui se tient entre les humains et les non-humains.

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Notes de la rédaction

Manuscrit reçu en avril 2016, accepté pour publication en octobre 2016.

Texte intégral

Introduction1

  • 1 For fieldwork in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I counted with the aid of Instituto Brasil Plural (IBP) and G (...)

1The Yanomami live on a vast territory straddling the Venezuela-Brazil frontier in some 400-500 communities, dispersed through lowland forest and highland savannas. Communities vary in size from a few households to a couple of hundred people living in a circle of domestic places around a central plaza, either under a single circular roof, or in a number of extended-family houses. Inter-village visiting is constant for quotidian affairs and regular for more ritual occasions like funerary ceremonies. From the standpoint of any given community, the network of material, marital and ritual reciprocity defines a group of allied communities. Further afield, the exchange of harm in the form of raids, sorcery or shamanic attacks is sustained with a number of present and past enemies. In these crudest of terms, Yanomami inter-community politics revolves around the administration of these relations, through all forms of exchange (for a fully fledged analysis, see Albert 1985).

2The wayamou ceremonial dialogues play an important role in this political field. They are a ritualized form of verbal exchange aimed at the resolution of conflict between communities whose status as allies or enemies has become blurred, and is hence at issue. This means that those who engage in the dialogues normally live at a remove, but still within the range of mutual influence. A contrast with the dialogues is offered by the morning and evening harangues of influential elders, called patamou – meaning to do or behave as an elder – directed at co-residents. These monologues’ moralizing content looks to create a collective disposition for economic affairs; air and defuse local grievances; and, in general, orient relations within the community, as well as its standing facing other ones (Carrera 2004). Whilst the patamou monologues seek to avoid the degradation of conviviality into strife, conflict and division, the wayamou dialogues seek to convert suspect exchange relations into mutually profitable ones, or at least settle the mutual status of socially and geographically distant communities.

  • 2 Himou and teshomomou are carried out by day and are stylistically one with wayamou. The former take (...)

3The wayamou dialogues and their variations (himou, teshomomou) can take place in the context of the elaborate funerary ceremonies where allied communities arrive at the residence of the deceased by invitation.2 Alternatively they can occur independently, in which case the visitors arrive, perhaps after one or more days’ walking, engage in the dialogue during the night, have a restorative meal in the morning, exchange goods and leave swiftly.

4The wayamou dialogues are a strictly nocturnal affair. After the visitors are received, as darkness settles, the first pair of visitor-host participants begin. The earliest to participate are the youngest and least experienced. As the night proceeds, more versatile speakers succeed the inexperienced, and towards dawn the elders display their virtuosity. The morning light puts an end to the verbal exchange and inaugurates the exchange of goods, invariably a topic of the dialogues themselves.

5In each dialogue, one participant takes the lead, speaking or chanting his phrases, whilst the other, closely crouched in front of him, responds by repeating his words identically or with a slight variation. The phrases can be sung or spoken, they can be broken into multi-syllable part-phrases, or even monosyllables. The response has to be fast, to the extent that sometimes an interlocutor guesses the lead’s phrase before he finishes. The voice – spoken or chanted – is usually very vigorous, often intimidating, as the speaker harmonizes his words with the slight swinging of his body and the slapping of his hands on his crouched legs, punctuating the force of his words. He may also be standing up, moving side to side facing his contender, perhaps brandishing his bow and arrow. The respondent must repeat the words of the lead, even if what is said is a recrimination; he may at times just acknowledge the rightfulness of the lead’s words. He may repeat phrase by phrase, or syllable by syllable, depending on the lead’s format, or await a separated multi-syllable sequence to end and then utter the reconstructed phrase. At times, a witty response may, for a few phrases, switch the lead of the exchange to the respondent, but in general the convention is that after the lead has finished, it will be his turn to listen and repeat the words of his interlocutor. As the two interlocutors consume themselves in this verbal duel, which tests their physical and vocal stamina to an extreme, everyone else listens from their hammocks.

6Visitors relay each other, as do hosts, although these successions need not be simultaneous, and depend both on individual stamina and ability, and on the number of able speakers present (Lizot 1994b). A bid to replace a fellow participant is initiated from one’s hammock with an itʰouwei « descending » (from the hammock) chant, consisting of longer phrases sung at a slower tempo.

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7In very general terms the wayamou is functionally, aesthetically and linguistically of a kind with other Amerindian ceremonial dialogues, as analyzed by Urban (1986): it occurs within a context of potential social disruption among socially distant peoples (but see Alès 1990, p. 228 for caveats); it semantically and pragmatically recalls culturally specific means to achieve social cohesion; it is a distinctive, recognizable and stylistically marked form of dialogue; it stages the mutual implication of verbal with more generally social forms of solidary interaction; and host-visitor pairs take alternate « semantic » and « responsive » turns. Additionally, this Yanomami example shares several more specific characteristics with its functional homologues elsewhere in Lowland South America: it is revelatory of principles, and participates in the negotiation, of the contours of wide-scale social organization, as is the case among the Trio, Waiwai and Wanano (Rivière 1971; Fock 1963; Chernela 2001); it is an artful and competitive duel-like speech genre that takes time to master and thus distinguishes the younger from the elder in terms of quality of performance, as is described for the Trio (Rivière 1971) and Jivaro ensemble cases, with which it also shares the importance assigned to vocal potency and vehement expression (see Gnerre 1986; Descola 1996, p. 165-172).

8There are also important differences either accountable to the phenomenon itself or to the way it has been analyzed. In contrast to what Rivière (1971) and Fock (1963) say about the language used in Trio and Waiwai dialogues, respectively, wayamou does not use archaic words or those that are otherwise distinct from those used in everyday talk, though certain metaphorical constructions and a few words would appear to be specific to or at least most common in wayamou (see examples in Lizot 1994b). Despite the use of stereotyped, formulaic forms, as I shall try to show in the examples below, it is hard to characterize wayamou as void of communicative content, that is, where the phatic as opposed to message-bearing function is definitely overriding, as is said of the Jivaro cases (Gnerre 1986; Descola 1996; Surrallés 2003). Last but not least, the weight of improvisation in the expert execution of wayamou places Yanomami wayamou on the improvisatory pole of formalized speech genres when compared, for example, with Xinguano « chiefs’ conversation » (Franchetto 2000) or Tukanoan ceremonial chants (Hugh-Jones, pers. comm.) based on the recital of memorized canonical and/or esoteric knowledge, with little or no room for improvisation.

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9Before laying out the structure and argument of this paper, it is best I describe the context that made it possible. Most of the wayamou sessions I have witnessed occurred during assemblies of the Brazilian Yanomami organization Hutukara (2008, 2010, 2012), involving Venezuelan Yanomami invited to the meetings in the role of visitors, and a mixture viBrazilian Yanomami ole of visitorshosts0, 20l ltrastwoon of these meetinghelted ae ʰitʰitʰ, 20)m> and , 2012)Ie, rerdceed the wayamou dialoguen oMe a be Bi ogues anAlfurro Silvams, Yanomame elderr from thPbeamand highlaors, anf mberies of thnewsely etiate>, 2971g Venezuelan Yanomami organizationorod nats0, fara,er the vised to tin 20on Hutukarg assemllyecarve, ased tanalant foy etilvinnorod nats. These wayamou sessionafore lsed on the firsnweight og the ur-rydae meetingt thae during thy dayntre engared inisc ausrint differhatrespeies on Yanoma-l stnge relation(he, al, educizationillegocalolseadmidingle and vccasio, etcmm.e among thn Yanomame themselvrs, an, witl stnge s preseicatists0,in 2010f the Destoulies of thPbeamann Yanomamfocubased odsemdiving s formptionans t shos to createnmi organizatioe and rec he fstanclhe air froWhspiti allied for thisuroppots0,in 22ge, witnorod naes jusbeizing etiat,om their seqtestwwher, fordvvoic, anf dotiatie, witWhspiens from theil morinexperienc I counrd pats (Hutuka72).

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Dreamins is thresoures oy knowledgm of distant plac,nt peoples anf etingt to bs displired ih « naming the fqteon ng, astes is to the verbadkicans tospduirlond exper> performancks.

2wayamouDre-wirceivby knowledge andkicaeimproi devs idcer, fornnd argumenIit wilt onlreswilt but ia fuce in the conclusi: t this combination of featuren in wayamou

3wayamou and chamanigo shainisc rsrrive aesthetic> any knowledgpteracurce(d>Dreami)ns is thps reumenlspased ot vagioul forms of improvisatio, as well as thp peespectica, ped odicheticindloyused ih thl dialogu. Botugh thesa topcesherde, acs withnbe specifi="sectians.

4wayamou speakery caf metaphoricvelyntndltiabe the conmenon on inteethmanin politicn intt the languags of exchan, myal, cosmoic> an, Yanomame everydah feue. Thid abiling tm takh thno ol t reernats with thy knnit has bee, recognrve, ased partegulonlr shamanid experwisendloyuses within thamooamingntnds formptines of lemonias ant hosf lemoniap Amazones (Cneirlsla Cunhola 1872).

5 and chamanighasyt nos beebras eulonlrtcuntethin thbilndisatuad, evealthouge Alra (26)mhaihe rigctly tceed the use od gender shiftir, asemarcttndinabe sperbah rituae contexthid bote wayamou and chamacme Destoul. E elsewhe,nEtiksonra (20)mhaias analyzeordmbitory vatelatione amonh certair Amerindisve ac means tt resvakh tht suspec conpoloctual status of visitoow. Thextsutiosur arouaring formof viss.e among thCaándhies alse les6; Surrallra (23)ed to perforilvthtrespeies of thieelconamini ceremyer in terms oe layinenmiconpoloctuat commog around is thps cspoosition fof communicati.e amonef quon(h-hum/Caándhi)ts0, d bote casesstes ir thre knnyzer AmerindiaminisuMost od appestance(spduitles ant peopesher"o it m>ws eBrasing ould pa)re thabecallr foreBratureto d dislmiconpoloctuadoubtans.

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9wayamou dialoguesmymfperidhin cjurceed tht expressioe ws s of layinf etinas. conundpling iThin cirmonvenovealpea, Yanomamemphaiize,as I shalbthreifframing tf metaphes in this vyhf wihr see,isubsumiding, aWagannee (12)m> do,gh all forms os proiaiasgumaihalexiticasidenriation0 it io importantoly tcrr from thauts sge thath de use of metaphes ie wayamou scld "o lbthr unde oove, asee was ohidamingstnrtcontuatinesrse relited tahy genera> «inisuMost ol language asef douoom foc knamint>Personatcontuatinesrsg sociartcunson ng, astet has bees described foNeloGuelinnt peoplesStaschrt, 2196, p. 80ueF for exampleg iThin conventitiat thaeesquireobjspeies ie wayamou «w fwit lson f itʰitʰ. Thogulility oe youf stsys’twd as is titer miul. E undne’n wayamouI in the context on wayamouitʰhere adef qtees, whilsf metaphessatthe work ocore cer> performancs.

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3Thd abilins ie wayamouwayamouwayamouI iahr seene wayamouwayamou4Persne’gdrostet naddlins of exchange relations ant is ancescodois of influential eldese whoxe impf bs Yanomami exchang morasityI is contrange dodnettc knt shos tf takhim/othitsel, respeate> (Lizot, 240, p.80m>I imyal, Pphor dodnette spe s wers, anDescds n the Yanomam srsgteaddlinr fro Thigowa get (Lizot 199; (Carrera 2004)T thbilinguistr, anhyalnpoloctuat anclatity betwee, speakins well anf th morasins of exchangthis vyhd publnvor. An Lizesayrms, Yanomami «e esbliniyo anquctic hencd between the exchange of gooh, andrtuat communicaties, that yo an exchange otwd on ( 19910, p.6004)Souw wheescs wity UrbAwe y ca) san wayamouwayamou doet is in"seis thresolidasinn Yanomamroeene

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alrmanay tara» n uttrve"o iy lpursuitds of th, oftetriflngobjspenmnventieang, bussoaionrincreptias et>Thy generad dispositiod tl exchange anesaiephic, othm>Onof th,tothis ha,ttewyeiconsied thagn reicpling tdayntrt aftet morvaluizablofamsis (see Alot 10),of whicsuggqtesld thas specifip phridisis edsemdsud forpbeent of thpoeistro conventiiet on wayamouewhera anbelow),ofontenr> speaker, have y giveobjspeivaen, theds,faty oves anivffmsdnarchndlimt metaphoricae sequenr, cscchdlinr tifodsemdn, witant vantyas oduesreivaensubtlers, an, wtyasvfftm oi4)T thb languags of exchangleidscetitsela isnn me-n metaphrg fns Sucobjspeivacey.

. An Lize( 199)cs anAlAlra 10) bowitl stungghblc meivins od ain the exchangy taas ie wayamouwayamouwayamou

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Ifpeaking ie vible,e, a,ag fnf thos vyhfqaed ,navailizabl fns bjspentoereseqte. 0, , Yanomames vyrydalife,eobjspeiee is rig e eosavd theiownffsng te exchang>ewhennesquireobjspeie,morkipanhadden)ng, bu"naminc peoeeisni ofnestil(a an, hencevoided)sd bae ung, an Lizea anCl parine( 78)cs alyzengghblpoindividuatiin atet nassd wit"namine vetaked feois (seErikso ot, 20rg fnf eaipisposoil re lreptias e"namind witlifeyo amonP Ya-, speakinn peopl). Nnaming thdeadresoaiod evcg crear #brcits o"ofoi. 0, bowite carms namineson incelahavs ehllef eletinuel any f thba uttee ca (nnaming thdead)eiss,pkenoa isncheraihangy tfirigm>I in generals vbtia>rsf vuerhs presenf lrepti,cevoidrmanas ancspceallemeutmoro important>Perfoelahavroterms od dil layind aropvarmeet imrtmesent ana meand of comradlinh othied tooneraacmptia(Kmrayrt, 21)ts0,  naminset pla,i, onmydabblpodexovinf etin a an, hence exchangispvibabilemiesIewisng oulssoaioi examplnadeyntndescpuatin:ch «IfsIe" nanPufftm Ayac SuomsInamn, speakins oyhbln etin t tyrI havtewheon (="par phra). Butniee naminc place, onmydabblpodexovin, peoe,sf whichzecrucntiag touaming thr past to afoupkioyhble visit-h mosre repti,ct fossnAlAlra 10) suggqtes,iy given thdeadry c"o iben" nad,mtopgeograifi naminesos alsaitoy s od audaming tg thr pa,d oeakinyhblmematore onepeoees and eveieganecdy. Wonmydaadand thaf feltgues of taehlaoc pan; are alstqtenremogues omyaloricad evei4). Thiindexovinresisntn ghblpoiriconche lreptiad betweet pla,i, peoees ann etin cspondsatethin th"o ptias en speakey.

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Notes

1 For fieldwork in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I counted with the aid of Instituto Brasil Plural (IBP) and Grupo Socio-Ambiental de la Amazonia Wataniba. Fieldwork in 2015 was carried out as part of my post-doctoral project « Two Yanomami devices for political mediation with alterity: indigenous organizations and ceremonial dialogues (Amazonas, Venezuela) », financed by the CAPES foundation of the Ministry of Education of Brazil, Project No. BEX: 0026/15-8. I would like to acknowledge the most valuable comments Stephen Hugh-Jones and Javier Carrera made on the initial draft, as well as those of the anonymous reviewers.

2 Himou and teshomomou are carried out by day and are stylistically one with wayamou. The former take place when making formal solicitations in other communities; the latter consists of short discourses given on the occasion of the entry of visitors into a community during a feast (Lizot 2000, p. 165).

3 Earlier, less exhaustive works that deal with the wayamou at different lengths include: Cocco (1972), Shapiro (1972), Eibl-Eilbesfeldt (1971) and Migliazza (1972). For a critical appraisal see Lizot (1994b).

4 Lizot (1994b, 2000) himself is hesitant on this subject. On some occasions he stresses the absence of message transmission; on others he simply states that the analysis of wayamou as a sociological fact and the semantic interpretation of the dialogue are, to an extent, separate exercises.

5 Lizot has Shitiparimɨ as an unidentified small bird with « a very melodious and varied chant » (2004, p. 396). A similar bird name Sitipari si, most probably the same bird but pronounced differently due to linguistic variations among Yanomami groups, appears as saltator maximus in Kopenawa and Albert (2010, p. 657).

6 Kopenawa insists on shamans’ ability to dream afar, in opposition to normal Yanomami, who dream close – making the exception for good hunters. The contrast is sharper when compared with Whites, who don’t know how to dream afar. Dreams are Yanomami people’s specific source of knowledge in contrast with Whites’ writing and formal education (Kopenawa and Albert 2010, p. 490-503).

7 Marcelo explained that had he known more of Brazil he would have mentioned its capital.

8 This translation requires additional commentary. The expression yãĩ koropoima- refers to the specific way this love magic/perfume is carried by the approaching Yanomami. It was explained to me as a person carrying a small stick with a cloth or cotton tied to one end, which has been soaked in the perfume contained in a bottle. The decomposition of yãĩ (tie) koro (bottom) -po- (hold) -ima- (approach) conveys this information, whereas napë tʰou is the referred bottle of perfume.

9 I was told this tree has pods like those of the krepõ tree (Guama in local Spanish, inga edulis [Lizot 2004, p. 176]), only longer. The metaphor hinges on the length of the pods.

10 Lines 5-9 are missing in this extract.

11 A similar point is made by Ramo y Affonso (2014) when comparing Guarani (mbya) inter-specific politics and those that they undertake with Whites. The author’s political reading of a people known in the literature for their religiosity is also suggestive of the appropriateness of looking for analytical threads between inter- and intra-specific politics, and hence religion and politics, in Amazonianist anthropology.

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Référence papier

José Antonio Kelly Luciani, « On Yanomami ceremonial dialogues: a political aesthetic of metaphorical agency », Journal de la société des américanistes, 103-1 | 2017, 179-214.

Référence électronique

José Antonio Kelly Luciani, « On Yanomami ceremonial dialogues: a political aesthetic of metaphorical agency », Journal de la société des américanistes [En ligne], 103-1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2017, consulté le 16 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/jsa/14892 ; DOI : 10.4000/jsa.14892

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Auteur

José Antonio Kelly Luciani

Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina [kamiyekeya@gmail.com]

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