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A "Musical View of the Universe" Kalapalo Myth and Ritual as Religious Performance

Author(s): Ellen B. Basso

Source: The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 94, No. 373 (Jul. - Sep., 1981), pp. 273-291
Published by: American Folklore Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/540153
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A "MusicalView of the Universe"

KalapaloMythandRitualas ReligiousPerformance*

IN THISPAPERI examine the relationsbetween myth and ritual in the life of a

centralBrazilianIndiancommunity,the Kalapalo.While theserelationsarein
parta matterof homologiesresultingfrom referencesto similarthemesand
personages,morefundamental is the complementarity betweenthe two sym-
bolic mediathat is a consequenceof the specialperformative processesthat
typify them. These processesdistinguishmyth and ritual as distinctiveex-
pressiveeventsin Kalapalolife, eventsthatconstructandclarifyfundamental
cosmologicalorderingprinciples,the enhancedawarenessandunderstanding
of which constitutea specialkindof experiencefor the performers.While in
the caseof myththe heightenedformof expressionis verbal,in Kalapaloritual
it is musical.Together,they might be saidto constitutea musicalreligion.
BecauseKalapalorituallife is fundamentally musical,L6vi-Strauss' repeated
proposal thatan understanding of music might be the key to an understanding
of myth seemsa particularlyusefulguideto understanding Kalapaloritualex-
perience.1However, LUvi-Strauss writes of the analogiesbetween the un-
consciousstructureof Westernmusicandof "primitive"myth;in thisessayI
will be concernedwith mythandmusicas eventswithina singleethnographic
context, andwill emphasizethe consequences for individualsof participating

Research among the Kalapalo during 1978-1980 was supported by a National Science Foundation
Research Grant (BNS 78-00849) and the University of Arizona. A shorter version of this paper was
presented at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., in
December 1980. I am especially grateful to Donald Bahr, Richard Henderson, Timothy Lenoir, and
Susan Philips for their very helpful comments on the manuscript.
Orthographic note: e is a mid central open vowel; i' a high back open vowel; f an unvoiced bilabial
I Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked
(New York: Harper and Row, 1969); L'hommenu
(Paris: LibrariePlon, 1972); Myth and Meaning(New York: Schocken Books, 1979).

Journalof AmericanFolklore,Vol. 94, No. 373, 1981

Copyright 1981by the AmericanFolkloreSociety0021-8715/81/3730273-19$2.40/1

in a myth or ritualevent;in otherwords,what happensto, among,andbe-

tween the participants.

Thematic in Kalapalo
Homologies MythandRitual
There is no specialKalapalocategoryof oral genre translatable as myth.
Rather, Kalapalospeak of akifia of
(a process narration), which is a distinct
typeof speechactcharacterized by performative interactionbetweena narrator
anda listener,a processthatwill be discussedat somelengthlaterin the paper.
Thematically,narrationincludestalking about a varietyof charactersand
events,somelocatedin the distantpast, somebelongingto morerecentex-
perience.What I call "myth" is a covertcategoryof narratives (seeTable1)
referringto itseke and
("PowerfulBeings") especially to ("DawnPeo-
ple"), who arelocatedin a space-time framecalledirilago,("locatedat/in the
Beginning"). Other kinds of narratives are distinguishedthematicallyfrom
these"myths"becausethey treatof characters who arenot PowerfulBeings,
andmakeuse of a lineartime framewhich is that of humanhistory,a frame
markedby wordsthatdistinguishbetweenpast,present,andfuturein a way
that "the Beginning"does not.

Table 1: Ways of Speaking(ki)

A. itagitsu :conversation, discussion; "good" speech that is "true"

B. tafandene : gossip; "bad" speech that is "false"
C. tegutsu :joking reparteewith a sexual theme
D. akitsu : narrativespeech; "telling about something"
1. aqifolo akifiagi, "story about Dawn People" (mythological narratives)
itsekeakiflagi, "story about Powerful Beings"
Taugiakifiagi, "story about Taugi"
2. kuge akifiagi, "story about some person" (recent narratives)
kuktfuguakiflagi, "story about our ancestors"
E. itagimbakita :greeting speech, "beginning to converse"

Powerful Beings all have the ability to appear human, and even more
significantly, to use language to communicatewith each other, regardlessof
the physical characteristicswhich distinguish among them. Natural species,
celestialphenomena,materialobjects, and even humanphysicalattributes(Leg
Falls Asleep, or Slips on Mud) are all able to appear human and to use
language. These human attributesare manifestedwhen Powerful Beings con-
front Dawn People, themselveshuman but with the crucialability, now lost

to most humans, to "approach" Powerful Beings, in other words, to com-

municatewith them. The distinctiveattributeof PowerfulBeings, however, is
that they are musical. All musicalinvention is associatedwith them, and when
they openly asserttheir extraordinarypower, they do so by producing some-
thing musical;in myth, music is often a means of bragging. Here is the song
of Kusetalje(Turtle Monster), who has been destroying the Birds' Leaders,
men who have dressedthemselvesin magical feathers:

Kusetaje, they are unlike us, those who disguise themselves

tagu, tagu, tagu
Is there anyone like me?
Is there anyone like me?
They are unlike us, those who disguise themselves
tagu, tagu.

Indeed, magical power lies in music, not speech. Privately owned spells
(kefege) are actually forms of music, and the songs of shamansare given by
itseke so that they may be called when seriouslyill people are being cured.
By contrast, Dawn People never invent music, but acquireit from Powerful
Beings. When performedby Dawn People, music disarmsdangerousmonsters
by making them forget their harmfulintent; music "soothes a savagebreast"
in ways that language cannot. While Powerful Beings and Dawn People are
each distinguishedby their use of one or the other symbolicchannel, speaking
and musicality in Kalapalomyth are actually complementarycommunicative
codes that establisha world to which both Dawn People and Powerful Beings
belong, and in which they reciprocallyattend to each other.
For each ritual, there is a myth describing the context of origin of some
musical phenomenon (a song or instrument)which is an integral part of that
ritual. This context is especially elaboratedwith respect to the moods and
motives of Powerful Beings who invented the music. However, no ritualin its
entirety as it might be observedtoday is ever describedin myth, and certainly
never in connection with an instrumentalgoal (though an appropriatecontext
may be indicated).The most obvious way, then, that Kalapalomyth and ritual
are connected is that myth describessomething which we can observe in the
present as the most fundamentalaspect of ritual performance,namely music,
and it informs us as well of some aspectsof the context of music's origins.

Imageryin KalapaloMyth
We can enrich the significanceof these thematic homologies by considering
myth from some other perspectivesas well. For example, by means of an

analysisof narrativediscoursestructure,what appearin mythsto be simply

stylisticdevicesfor evokinga dramaticsituationor creatinga particularlyvivid
image of a character as of
emerge ways conveyingspecial information. Further-
more,by examiningmyth as narrativeperformance, we can see how the par-
ticipants achievea heightened awarenessof a realitythatis differentfromnor-
mal sociallife.
Imagerysharedby all Kalapalomythsis that relevantto a narrativeframe,
namely,imageryof time and space.Togetherwith the introductoryword
lepene("then," "next") and the concludingaifa ("finished," "ended"),
temporalimages(summarized in Table2) serveto breakup the narrative flow
into discontinuous andtopicallydiscreteunits,to defineeventsas occurringat
different"times." This createsthe spokenequivalentof writtenparagraphs,2
andalsodistinguishes amongdifferentkindsof "time." Whileeventsin a nar-
rativeareseparated fromeachotherin thisway theyarealsoconnectedlogical-
ly through persistentimageryof the cyclicalsuccessiveness
the of time con-
veyedby the wordsusedto referto movementsof the sun, seasonalchanges,
andday turningto night turningto day. Moreover,thesewordsall express
concretewaysin which temporalchangesor naturalprocessesof time areex-
perienced,ratherthanan objectification of them.

Table2: Speakingof Time

A. Times of Day: 1. mitote (dawn)

(used for arrivalsand departures) 2. kohotsi (dusk)

B. Reference to light: 1. igila ("at the beginning"; sunrise)

(usually combined with A or C) 2. afugutili(as darknessfalls)
3. koko (darkness;at night)

C. Movements of the Sun: inde Giti atani ("when the sun was here")
(usually for description of a journey (accompaniedby pointing gesture)
or any sequencedevent)

D. Seasonalperiodicity: 1. sisoanigi:"(his) dry season passed"

"a year passed," or some number of 2. etuwoli: "flooding" (i.e., height of
years passed rainy season)

2 DennisTedlock,FindingtheCenter(New York:Dial Press,1972).UnlikeZuninarratives described

by Tedlock,pausingdoes not seemto servethis functionin is
Kalapalo, muchless and
regular, seemsto
be usedmuchless as a dramaticdeviceby speakers.

E. Monthly periodicity: runegi: "(his) moon," e.g., tilako

"a month passed," or some number junegi "three of (his) moons" (i.e.,
of months passed after three months passed, he did some-

F. Daily periodicity: 1. sirii: "(he) slept," wirjiluiroftatui:

"a day passed," or "several days "I will sleep five" (i.e., "after five days
passed" I will do something")
2. ifagutili "he spent the night"

The cumulativeaspectof time is also an importantnarrativeimage, though

expressedquite differently.The Kalapaloconsiderthat effectscan be createdby
repeating the events, feelings, and acts which occur in the same "kind" of
time. That time is cumulative and has cumulativeeffects is in turn rooted in
the idea of time as recurrent.This idea is the basis for an explanatoryproposi-
tion, namely, that an event can serve as causal precedent for similar future
events. The idea of precedenthere is differentfrom that of a model or example
or rule to be followed. What is being proposedis that an occurrencein "the
Beginning" is necessarilyfollowed by persistentrepetition and uninterrupted
flow of action, an enduring unbrokennessof recurrencethat is "endless,"
"everywhere," and "forever," perhapseven "eternal," ideas expressedby
the word titehemi.Past, present, and future are all one.
Time, then, is imagined as both repetitive and successive as well as
cumulative. The successivenessof times within Time is conveyed in mythic
discourseby means of temporalimages referringto an individual'sexperience
of it; the cumulativeaspectof time is indicatedby using persistenceof an act or
feeling (the idea of titehemi)and the ways in which that idea of repetitiveper-
sistence is used as an explanatoryproposition, which is that of precedent.
Malinowski, while emphasizing the role of precedentin myth, saw it as a
model for ritual action.3At the same time, his rejectionof the etiological role
of myth reinforcedwhat to him was the theoretical importance of myth's
psychological function: myth strengthens faith through a description of the
"miracle" demonstratingritual's efficacy. In several respects, this model of
the homologous connection between myth and ritual does not apply in the
Kalapalocase. Kalapalorituals of the sort I am concernedwith here do not
serveto effect instrumentalends, nor is instrumentalitynormallymentionedin
descriptionsof the first performances.In myth, music normally has no in-
strumental function at all, but is a manifestationof feelings and moods of
powerful beings.
Bronislaw Malinowski, "Myth in Primitive Psychology" in Magic,ScienceandReligion(GardenCity:
Doubleday, 1948), pp. 93-148.

Messagesof etiologyandof precedentareclearlypresentin thesemyths,but

they are not statedas they would be in Westernscientificexplanatorycon-
texts. Mightnot Malinowski'srefusalto acceptthisfunctionof mythhavehad
to do with his implicit applicationof Western standardsof explanation
(especiallyhow causalstatementsmust be framedand linguisticallycon-
structed)to Trobriandutterances?Might not theseassumptionshavemisled
Malinowskiinto believing that Trobriandmyths do not contain such
statements?(It is difficult to answer these questionsbecauseapparently
nowherehashe publisheda full text andtranslationof a myth.) What I have
said about Kalapalonarrativesso far has demonstratedthat to understand
etiologyandprecedentwe mustunderstand how historyandcausalityarecon-
ceived,andhow causalstatementsaremadein keepingwith indigenousstan-
dardsfor constructingexplanations.
Spatialimageryin Kalapalomythsis constructed by meansof the ubiquitous
deviceof travelingthatdistinguishesbetweendifferentkindsof placesor sites
as, on the one hand, social, predictable,ordinary,and on the other as an-
tisocial, magical, ambiguous,liminal.4The distinctionemergesfrom the
Travelersnormallyleavea sociallydefinedspace(a villagestructuredlike
thoseof humans)andmoveto a liminalsite(theforest,or a villageof powerful
anddangerousbeings).Thesetwo sitesareoftencontrastedcontinuouslyas a
character movesbackandforthrepeatedly betweenthem.Themovementfrom
structuredspaceto liminalspaceis describedby meansof conventionalverbs
that indicate the stage of the trip: "they left," "went on," "came," "ar-
rived." However, the return trip is describedquite differently. After action
within liminal space ends, the focal characteris either "miraculously" re-
turned to the original social space (he is shot from the bow of a powerful be-
ing, or he flies), or there is no descriptionof the return at all. The character
suddenly "arrives," and the next sentence in the text describessomething
which takesplace afterthe protagonisthas alreadyreturned.While travelingis
a narrativedevice for distinguishingbetween two kinds of sites, the times at
which the departurefrom social space, or a traveler'sreturn to it, occur are
normallyliminal: departurejust at dawn (mitote) or the beginning of the day
(ijila), arrivalat dusk (kohotsi).
There seems to be a clearconnectionbetween how temporalimages areused
in constructing a sense of time as experiencedby an individual(times within
Time, and of the timelessnessor flow of time), and how spatialimages convey
a sense of both discrete sites within space and of the possibility of space as

Victor Turner, The Ritual Process(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967).

use of verbshavingto do with experienceof movement,travelingin the first
case,externalandinnermovementof time in the other.
I turnnow to anexamination of the principlecharacterin myth, the Power-
ful Being(itseke).The distinctiveconcretenessof characters is plainlyevident
in the cast of mythicalbeings:Agouti, Sun, Thunder,Jaguar,Kafunetiga,
KwAtiri.It is evidentas well in theiractionsas characters: Agouti is a sneak
anda spy, Sunan effectivetrickster,Thunderthe mostpowerfulof dangerous
beings,Jaguarviolentbut easilydeceived.However,thesepsycho-physically
distinctcharactersare unifiedby their experiencein a space-timedimension
which allowsthem to be in morethanone placesimultaneously, to be con-
tinuouslydoing now what they aredescribedas doing then, to be ambiguous
with respectto sex andage (or to be withouttheseattributes),andevento be
singularandpluralat once. They aredifferentfromconcretehistoricalfigures
becausethey and their acts are "always" and "everywhere";they are
The treatment of itseke mood and motive is important in Kalapalomyth
because this seems to be the most elaborate means of fleshing out such
characters,andbecauseit is the most usualway in which etiological statements
concerningritual are made: efficient causesor reasonsseem to be of particular
interest to the Kalapalo,judging from the frequency of their appearance.
Musical performance is always described together with the performer's
motive. Rarely, however, are feelings and especially motives described by
means of designative statements that are part of a narrator'scommentary.
Rather, the Kalapalonarratoruses the device of "reported speech," quoted
remarksor even entire conversationsbetween charactersin the story.5 This
stylistic device may constitute as much as 70% or even more of a narrative.In
additionto revealingaspectsof their motives, quotationof courseconveys con-
siderableinformation about the relationshipbetween specific charactersby
their use (or more frequentlymisuse) of the language of etiquette.
Ideasabout a character'smotive are expressedthrough that character'sown
statement of feelings concerninga situation or anothercharacter.These senti-
ments are normally expressedin clausesincorporatingmodal verb forms that
can be translatedas "wants to do" and "in order that X be done." The
motive of a characteris thus linked to a statementabout the action occurring,
so as to connect the motive logically with the action in a causalway. Examples
appearin Table 3. What is especially interesting about these statements of

' Mildred Larson, The Functionsof ReportedSpeechin Discourse(Norman, Okla.: Summer Institute of
Linguistics, 1978).

motive in reportedspeechis that quotationis the only context in which

referenceto the futureis made.Suchreferencesetsup a character asdominant,
not in the senseof mostimportantto the story,but asmostpowerful.Theuse
of the futuretenseappearsin statementsof motive,warning,instruction,and
cursingmadeby onlythe mostpowerfulof beingsin a story,statementswhich
have the characterof performatives.6 Declarationsaboutthe futureare not
simplypredictive hopeful, but effective.Evennarrators refrainfromusing
the futuretense,andin conversational speechit is only usedwhen knowledge
aboutthe futureis assured;otherwisea hypotheticalfutureaspect/fo/ or the
dubitative/ko/ shouldbe used. Sometimesthereis an explicitstatementof
motiveby the narratoras well, but this alwaystakesthe formof a secondary
restatementwhich follows what the characterhimselfis madeto say. More
usually,suchcommentaryby the narratorservesto elucidatemotivewhen a
character'sactionsomehowpuzzlesthe listener.In any case, the narrator's
commentaryseemsto havean emphasizingor heighteningeffect,sometimesa
Oftena narrator will precedethe narrativewith a briefsummaryof the story
line, especially he knows the listenerhas not heardthe storybefore.Thisis
not consideredpartof the storyitself;manyspeakersrefusedto allow me to
tapethispartof theirnarrative,sayingit wasjust "instruction"andnot "nar-
rative."In anycase,muchclarification of motive,place,andcharacter names
canoccurat thispreliminary in
stage,resulting relatively little by
the narratorduring the "narration."

Table3: Statements KalapaloTexts

of Motivefrom
of Y. (narrator's
1. SinceX beganto do Y, Z results.Z is a productof the recurrence

ulefekelefalefegeiifutisofo tuita teloi. "The other continued being that way, her
daughter-in-law was being madedifferent."
(i.e., "Because
the otherwas that way her
daughter-in-law changed.")

2. BecauseA wanted to do B, C was done. Future realizationof B precededby C. B referred

to by means of future tense. (reported speech)

egilikoifiaweta, nigifeke. " 'I have come to see you all,' he said.
eifitukwokiwiflufetomi efekeni. 'In order that you will teach me about what
you all know.
weta apiko nigifeke. (Thus) I have come Grandfathers,'he said."

6 . L. Austin, How to do Thingswith Words(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962).


3. Linking of two phrasesor clausesin a sentencewith verbalconjunct marker(functioning as

"because"). A and B are two concurrentstates, one usually being an activity, the other a
feeling, desire, or motive.

a) TaugiintarileKafanifani,kwitsipigi "Kafanifanistole Taugi's wives, (because)

fakifotatifaTaugifeke,kwitsipigi it was Taugi who on that occasion was
fakifota. wanting our dead to return, wanting our
dead to return."

b) aifa, inde Giti atani, tali fisumbekuok "When that was done, the sun was here,
kuok kuok, tekulifeke,etikigokomifetsare the same was done with itali fruit, kuok
sinetokomiifekeni. kuok kuok, it was eaten in order to really
transformthemselves, in order to poison

A third attributeof mythologicalcharactersis their highly individual

strategicthinkingand actionthat conflictwith the valuesand normsof or-
dinarysociallife. However,ratherthanbeinganexpressionof purelynegative
antisocialfeelings,these are very often portrayedthroughthe expressionof
universalizedvalues,of feelingsof moralcommunityandequalityof self and
othersthatcontrastwith the restrictiveethics,hierarchy,andnonspontaneous
natureof familylife. This is similarto the contrastmadeby VictorTurnerbe-
tween structuredandliminalsocialmodes,exemplifiedby the differences be-
tweenpatrilineal andmatrilateral relationsin Tallensisociety.7While strategic
thinkingconflictswith ideasabouthow ordinarylife shouldbe conducted,it
can be used for assertingthe solidarityof peoplewho are not relativesand
something like the "strength in numbers" principle,for example in reference
to all the BirdsagainstTurtleMonster,or the womenof Aijambitivillagein
opposition to all their men.
What may have been traditionallyused to emphasizethe problemsin, say,
reconciling normative systems with what one's relativesare really like, holds
great potential for use in the face of changing materialand social conditions.
These alternativeways of thinking may be used to define new social relations
and to elaboratenew codes for conduct. For example, new and radicallydif-
ferent social relations with traditional enemies require a different moral
perspectivefrom one based on relationshipsbetween people of common de-
scent or custom.8 Universal ethics, rather than kin-basedethics, may conse-

7 Turner,pp. 114-118.

of Society(Boston:BeaconPress,1979).

quentlybe appropriate in this new situation,but arechieflyapplicable,as in

myth, duringsituationsof strategicaction.How do peoplecreatesuchdif-
ferentsystemsof ethics?One possibilityis thattheyexist, in part,in a special
markeddomain of knowledge, namely myth; myth, then, is a kind of
repositoryfor alternativemoralsystems.Thus, alternativemodelsmight be
appliedin an explanatoryfashionto justify new systemsof socialrelations,
especiallythroughexemplification of their functionalutility. What may be
significantis not the specificcontentof moralcodesbut the more general
natureof proposedsituationsof alternativeaction. Individualswho are de-
scribedin mythas makingdecisionsindependently of theirrelatives,forexam-
ple, may be seen as a
showing degree of moral freedom,andas actingaccord-
ing to universalethicalprinciplesin contrastto theirrelatives,who continueto
follow strictlykin-basedvalues.

Asidefromwhat mythsdescribe,the Kalapalonarrativeeventitselfcreates
somethingclose to this destructuring of normalsocialrelationsthroughthe
emergent narrator-listenerrelationship.In everysituationof Kalapalostory-
telling,theremustbe not only a narrator,but a focallistener,a criticalactorin
the situationwho is referredto as the tiitsofo("what-sayer").This person
mayhaveaskedto be "given" the narrative,or maybe the recipientof a story
that exemplifiessomeexplanatory principlesarisingin the courseof a discus-
sionaboutsomecurrentmatter.At eachpauseof the speaker,thispersonmust
respondto the previousremark,using expletivessuch as eh ("yes"), inkel
("look!"), kohl ("wow!"), or repeatingthe focal phraseor clauseof a
sentence.Minimally,theseresponsessignalthatattentionis beingpaid,andlet
the narratorknow thatwhat is beingsaidis understood,but how the listener
replies-casuallywith boredom,or in apparentexcitement,awe, or amuse-
ment-is important.It is necessaryfor the narratorto know that the im-
ageshe is creatingarenot simplyunderstood,but areenhancingthe listener's
appreciation of the story, even thoughit may be one the listenerhas heard
many times before. A good performance, accordingto the Kalapalo,not only
communicatesthe story line accurately,it calls to mind and heightensex-
periencethroughthe constructionof vivid word images(futofo, "used for
knowing") which make the listener "see"-that is, think more vividly
about-what is happeningin the narrative.Also, the listenermay appro-
priatelyaskfor informationat anypointin the story(sometimespromptedby
the narrator),and thus has the abilityto directthe flow of speechinto side
channelsof explicationand elaboration.This aspectof the event helps the
speakerto recallthoseincidentswhichmightotherwisebe omitted.The nar-

rator'sown mentalimagesare therebyenhancedor contributedto by the

listener,who is in effecta performerhimself,aidingthe constructionof the
narrativetext. If the storyis appreciated, the "what-sayer"shouldsayat the
conclusion,"How I desiredit!", therebyencouragingthe narratorto start
anotherstory.The successof a narrativein factdependson the competenceof
both narratorandresponder.
As performance, Kalapalonarrativede-emphasizes the boundariesbetween
individuals,perhapsmoreso thananyotherspeechevent.Duringthe mythic
narrative,the speakerattemptsto createor enhancecertainimagesin the mind
of the listener,imagesthatwill, with skill,beginto approximate his own very
closely. The hoped-forresponses wonder,surprise,laughter,even
listener's of
his requestsfor moreinformation,emphasizethe sharingof both thisimagina-
tiveintimacywith a particular storyandof the narrative eventitself,regardless
of the socialdifferencesbetweenlistenerand speaker(which are often con-
siderable). To takean extremeexample,the situationof anoldermantellinga
storyto his subservient son-in-lawis one in which the usualmarkingof their
respectrelationship (by means of speechavoidance) is clearlynot manifested.In
otherwords, the differences betweenparticipants, inevitablyreinforcedin or-
dinaryspeech(through selectionof speech forms indicatingrelativedeference,
forexample)arein situationsof narrativespeechconsiderably weakened,if not
actuallyextinguished. Both speaker and listener take account of eachother,
not primarilyas socialpersons,but as bearersof implicitknowledgeabout
whatis beingnarrated andhow thatnarrative contentshouldbe respondedto.
Goingsomewhatfurther,the imagesthatareproducedverballyby the speaker
presumablyappearboth in his and the listener'sminds;they are "seen," as
both we and the Kalapalowould say. Thus, they objectifythe events and
characters at the sametime that they assimilatethem to the self throughthe
processes imagination,reflection,and comprehension.Ratherthan am-
biguity,thereis a senseof a submersion of concreteindividuality into a larger
whole (the narrativeevent), togetherwith an experienceof concreteness and
individualitythroughheightenedcognitivework, by thinkingaboutwhat is
being saidin a way that might not occurin casualspeech.This experienceis
muchthe sameas what is actuallydescribedin myth, the participation of all
things in human language and, we shallsee, as what occursduringKalapalo
publicritual,the lesseningof socialidentityandheightenedemphasison com-
munityof persons.

Ritual Structure

Kalapalopublic rituals consist of two series of events occurring in parallel

order. One set consists of events focusing attention upon various ritual of-

ficers,andin generalupon the relationsof theseofficerswith the rest of the

community.Theseeventsentailthe use of a verbalchannelandinvolveprin-
cipallyeconomicand schedulingtasks, eventswith clearinstrumentalgoals
together constituting a community project.9The second seriesof ritual events
involves the use of a musicalchanneland manifestsmany attributesof liminali-
ty, including a destructuringof social relations, of ordinaryvillage space, and
of normal time. Both serieshave the characterof what Rappaport,following
The signs used in these events convey informa-
Peirce, calls ritual indexicality.10
tion about the states of participantsand are indexical in that they are part of
what they indicate, they convey informationabout what has producedthem.
Thus, the special oratorical speech style used by ritual officers, including
emphatic-imperativemodes of verbs, repetitive urging, and publicly visible
separationof the speakersfrom the rest of the group, marksthese ritualofficers
as formallydistinct in terms of what is actuallybeing said: they have the right
to ask for assistancefrom the others. The community at large, by contrast, is
required to act communally for the benefit of the individualofficers. Ritual
assistants,called "speech masters" (tagioto), ask the community for work; the
ritual sponsor (oto) individuallyreceivesfruits of the labor and later presents
them for redistributionby the assistants;the community as a whole (andagi,
"followers" or "associates") performsthe necessarywork. These events are
referredto by their instrumentalfunction, "collecting firewood," "cutting
the memorial posts," "gathering palms," and so forth.
The signs within the second musical seriesare also indexical, not symbolic,
to the extent that they are not conventionaland not arbitrarywith respectto
the meanings they convey. This is important to stress since multivocal ritual
signs are often describedwith respectto symbolic meaningsthat are arbitrary,
or they are iconicsigns.
The two sequencesparallelone anotherin that each instanceof one must ac-
company an instance of the other; together, a pair of events constitutes a
single, complex multivocal message-bearingunit. The musical activity is in
fact promptedby a call for the economic activity, and thus marksthe economic
act as "of the ritual." To that extent the musicalperformanceis itself an index
of the economic. At the same time, the economic activity is only performedin
the first place becauseof the need for payment to the performersof a planned
ritual event, namely a climacticperformancethat is to take place at the end of

9 For
examples see Ellen B. Basso, The KalapaloIndiansof CentralBrazil (New York: Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, 1973).
Roy A. Rappaport,Ecology,Meaning,andReligion(Richmond, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1979).

the parallelsequences.Thus, it is impossibleto say that one "causes"the

other, or even that one type of eventprecedesthe other temporally.
Sincethe climacticperformance of a Kalapaloritualalwaysfollowsa seriesof
preliminary events (sometimesoccurringoveranentireyear),whatwe haveto
be concernedwith are not single events, but a long seriesof repetitivein-
cidents.Whileeachpreliminary performance doeshavethe character of a prac-
tice session,sincemanypeoplearelearningthe music and as
dances they per-
form them, what appearsespeciallysignificantis the constantredefinitionof
spacein the communityas ritualspace,and of certaintimesof yearas ritual
time, or moreprecisely,as liminalspaceand time, "time out of time" and
spacethat is siteless.Theseattributesresultfrom the musicalperformances.
Let me explainmorepreciselyhow the redefinitionis accomplished andwhat
significanceit carries.
Ritual Performance

The word for thesemusicaleventsis /ao/, referringto the movementof

dancersaccompanying themselveswith musicin the formof songsor rattleor
flute playing.The physicalmovementsandcreationof musicare so concep-
tuallyintertwinedthatit makessenseto saythe Kalapaloconceiveof ritualas
performative motion:the movementof tones accompanied by movementof
the producersof thosetones.
The patterningof the performance is a simple,recurrentone. The initial
event marking the opening of ritual time occurs in the central plaza
(fugombo),the centralcommunalspacebeneathwhich arethe gravesandin
whichis locatedthe ceremonial house(kuakutu)wherecostumesaremadeand
storedduringthe ritualperiod.The dancersmovefromthis areato the house
of the sponsor,performin it, encirclinga centralstorageplatform,then
emergeandcontinuethe sameperformance in everyhousein the villagecircle.
The event endswith a finalperformance in the plaza.Normally,this initial
eventtakesplaceduringa liminaltime of day, at the verybeginningof dawn
or the end of the day, sunset.I stressthisbecausesuchtimesof dayarethose
duringwhich peopleare normallyat their most idle, reflectingupon their
dreamsof the previousnight, engagingin amorousencountersor gossiping
outsidetheir housesand in front of the ceremonialhouse. These are all ac-
tivities that emphasizepersonalrelationships,introspection,and thinking
aboutone'srelationships with others,activitiescontrastingmarkedlywith the
ritualeventsoccurringat the sametimes. Ritualsthustendto preventpeople
from engagingin what is, afterall, a kind of thinkingthat is potentially
divisiveandwhich ultimatelyis destructiveof groupharmony.

Justas the communallyperformeddance-songestablishes the timeas thatof

ritual,so the interiormovementunitesthe two halvesof eachhouse,andthe
house-to-housemovementlinks each autonomoussocialspaceinto a ritual
whole: communaland equal.Similarly,sincethe performance itself is com-
munal,people from different households and of different
families havea chance
to work communallyfor the ritual,and arein fact expectedto do so.11Fur-
thermore,as the movementof the performers within villagespacecreatesa
kindof spatialunity, so the danceandmusictogetherunifythe bodiesof the
participants physically,therebycreatingor at leastenhancingan experienceof
unity of persons,of space,andof time that is not that of normallife.
As the yearlongseriesof preparations continues,eachperformance intensi-
fies-indeed visuallycompressesor condenses-these temporal,spatialand
socialimagesby meansof the spatialmovementsandritualcomponentsthat
occur. As the date of the climacticevent drawsevernearerand the level of
economicactivityincreases,accompanied by greaterandgreaterpublicwork
on the partof all the ritualofficers,so do the ritualperformances occurmore
andmorewithin the centralplaza.Sometimesthereis a quiteobviousmove-
ment from villagecircleto plaza,as in the caseof the Egitsuperformances
diagramedin Figure 1. Similarly,the ritualitself becomesmore complex.
Earlierperformances, led by a few undecoratedand poorlyrehearsedsong-
leaders(igifioto),are followed by larger,more spontaneouslyformed,and
moreelaborately decoratedgroups;the finaleventssometimesuse masks,the
facesof itseke inventorsof music. This intensificationand compressionof
ritualtimeandspaceandof the unityof thecommunityseemsto be feltby the
performersthemselves, through the cumulativeeffects of their dance
movements,repeatedcostumingof theirbodies,andthe increasingsatisfaction
resultingfromgreaterperformative success.In otherwords,what seemsto oc-
cur is an intensificationof feeling,not aboutsomeritualobject,but aboutthe
ritualexperienceitself. particular, it is the experienceof the magicalpower
of communityemergingfromgroupperformance, with a concomitantde-em-
phasison the innerself andthe problems individuals,that is the Kalapalo
senseof theirritualmusicality.
Let us considerthe "tone" aspectof the performance first. A verycurious
aspectof mostKalapaloritualmusicis thatit is rarelyaccompanied by intelligi-
ble words;either consists of the playing of flutes unaccompanied by songs,
or of tone syllablesongsor virtuallymeaninglesssong texts. Songsaresome-
timessaidto be in anotherof the localXingulanguages,or in a languageiden-

" Men who are brothers do not dance next to each other, nor do they play flutes together; similarly,
women do not dance with their husbands, but always with men from other households.



: :!b . ^ EGIiITSU


a otanra flutes o egitsu preparations in general

b auugufi b memorial post preparations

c ipone songs c ear piercing preparations

:: FUGOMBO(plaza)

Figure 1. Marking of ritual time and space by /a/: "Song and Dance Per-

tifiedas Kalapalobut unintelligibleto currentspeakers;manyconsistsolelyof

tone syllables(similarto our "do re mi"). When songsaresungin Kalapalo,
the texts consistof seeminglybanaldescriptions of the beingsrepresentedby
the performers, suchas "Anteater,the long-nosedone," or of veryrepetitive
metaphorically constructedlines,as "the otherparrot'smouthis opened."In
orderto interpretthe latter,one mustknow the storybehindthe song, name-
ly, the situationin which the song was invented.Most peopledo not know
thesestories,andhenceclaimto be unableto interpretthe songsthoughthey
know the words.They are, for thesepeople,wordswith no signification.12
How, then, are we to interpretthese "meaningless" songs? My answer is
that the specificallymusical nature of the performanceis itself the symbolic
medium out of which ritual communicationis fashioned. All Kalapalosongs
approach "pure" singing," and focus the efforts of the singer on the ex-
perience of musicality. This in turn affords the performersa privileged rela-
tionship with the specialtemporal-spatialframe of myth, "the Beginning."
Musical performance,as I have said, is associatedwith Powerful Beings, a
meansof communicatingwith them although it is not addressedto them. The
apparentlybanal and repetitive nature of the lexically meaningful songs em-
phasizespreciselythe crucialobjectsand the attributesthat make them distinc-
tive, which the singers need to focus on during the performance,namely the
Powerful Beings themselves,Anteater, for example. One might say that com-
municationoccursnot by singing to a PowerfulBeing, but by singing it intobe-
ing; highly focused mental images of the Powerful Being are created in the
minds of the performersby means of the performanceitself, an act of magic.
There is consequentlya merging of the self with what is sung about;just as in
myth Powerful Beings participatein human speech, so in ritual humans par-
ticipate in itseke musicality, and thereby temporarily achieve some of the
power of these Powerful Beings. In public ritual, this is power of community.
In a masterful exposition of the meaning of musical experience, Victor
Zuckerkandelwrites of the function of singing to create "an enlargement,an

Spaceprevents me from consideringin more detail the significanceof metaphoricsongs; suffice to say
that they are metaphorizationsof culturallysignificantpsychologicalstates. The name for this kind of per-
formance is "birding" (itolotepigi).
13 However, there are two sets of ritual
songs which do serve this function. Significantly, these rituals
create something quite different from communitas.In the Yamurikumalu, women become opposed and an-
tagonistic towards men; in the Kwambi,individualsadopt an ironic public identity for themselves. In each
situation, persons of one sex communicate acrosssocial barriersto those of the other sex. Seeger describes
a similar ritual event among the Suya emphasizing the connection between individual song and com-
munication across social and psychological distance. See Anthony Seeger, "Por que os Indios Suya Con-
tam para as suas Irmas?," Arte e Sociedade(Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Ed., 1977), pp. 39-63.

enhancementof the self, a breakingdown of the barriersseparatingthe self

fromthings,subjectfromobject,agentfromaction,contemplator fromwhat
is contemplated: it is a transcending its transformation
of this separation, into
a togetherness."Situationsin which thereis no singingare those in which
"self andobjectare sharplydistinguished."Zuckerkandel continues,"Thus
music is appropriate,even helpful, where self-abandonis intendedor re-
quired-where the self goes beyonditself, where subjectand objectcome
together."14In choralsinging, as often occursamong the Kalapaloduring
ritual,the rolesof singerandlistenerarecombined,resultingin a person'sfeel-
ing at one with the groupthroughwhat he/they areproducingand which
he/they listen to. In such situations,a personfeels, first, at one with the
group,andsecond,an awareness(as a musicalperformer) of the concreteness
of objects,theirexteriority,at the sametime as experiencestheiressential
unity with the self, and finally, a sense of "spacewithout distinctionof
places"and"time in whichpastandfuturecoexistwithin the present,"that
is, of the movementof tones which is musicitself."1Additionally,the very
natureof Kalapalodancemovements,much like Hopi danceas Whorf de-
scribedit,16seemsdesignedto emphasizethe rhythmof the music.The con-
tinuouslyrepetitivemovementsof groupsof Kalapalodancingin unisonseem
to bring out what Zuckerkandel callsthe "ceaselessrepeatedbeatingof the
metricwave."17 tune cannotbe easilysungwithout the movementof the
body, especiallythe legs, nor is the song completewithout the rhythmicac-
companiment of thedancers'feet. Also, the movementsof Kalapalo dancehelp
to markchangesin the directionof the melody,from a repeatedline to the
startof a new verse,a returnto the beginningof the old melody,or the start
of a new "key" or anentirelynew melody.Finally,Kalapalodancebringsout
the spatialsideof the musicalsymbolby unitingdiscreteplaces,dissolvingthe
differences betweenautonomoushouses,andunitingthe residentsinto an un-
The Kalapalospeakof theirexperienceof communalperformance, especially
in a ritualcontext,by meansof the verb/ail/. Thisverbis mostoftenusedto

Victor Zuckerkandel,Man the Musician,2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), pp.
Victor Zuckerkandel,Soundand Symbol(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956), p. 374.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language," in
Language, Thoughtand Reality, ed. John B. Carroll (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1956), pp.
Zuckerkandel, Soundand Symbol,p. 219.

referto ritualin which severaltypes of musicalperformances occursimul-

taneously, such as the Egitsu or the Undufe, when flute playingand several
typesof communalsingingoccurat once.One Kalapalospeakerof Portuguese
translated itfica alegre("beinghappy").The wordis alsousedwith reference
to a senseof satisfaction resultingfromthe resolutionof somegroupproblem,
or the accomplishment of a difficulttaskby a group.In eachusage,the term
refersto a collectivefeelingwhichresultsfroma groupeffort;for thisreasonI
have translatedit "feeling harmony,"harmonybeing used in the senseof
"agreement in feeling," or "appropriate combination of elements in a
whole." I don't think it would be going too far to call this a South American
version of the experienceof communitas. It is music as an enacted symbol that
communicates,and at the same time creates, that attitude. Applied to musical
ritual, /ail/ expressesthe joy of experiencingcommunal action.
We can, then, think of the musical aspect of Kalapalorituals as liminal in
many of the senses of the term because, through the unificationof spaceand
time, and of persons, Kalapalomusicalityenhancesawarenessof, and may even
create, communitas. The economic, instrumentalevents in ritual which parallel
these musicalperformancesalso exhibit qualitiesof communitas in that ordinary
relationsbetween village residentswhich tend to divide households, promote
jealousies, and prevent group unity are transcended,overcome temporarilyby
means of the enactment of ritual office and communal economic activity.
Unlike rites of passage,which move in an apparentlyunidirectionalway from
separationthrough liminality to re-incorporation,Kalapaloritualsof the sort I
have been describingare liminal events that periodicallyemerge from the ex-
perienceof social structure,hierarchicallydefinedobligation, and hierarchically
framedspeakingto create a temporaryexperienceof the communalwhole, of
equality of person, and of feeling.18
Mythological narrativeand musicalritual are both performativeaction that
aims toward a certaincomprehensionof the world and of the self through ac-
tive imagining. The Kalapalo mythological perspective is close to what
Zuckerkandelcalls a "musical view of the universe"19which is attained,
accordingto him, not through faith and revelationas in Western culture, but
through sense perception and observation, or, in the words of that most
musical of anthropologists, through the "science of the concrete."20 In

18See Ellen B. Basso, "Kalapalo Affinity: Its Cultural and Social Contexts." AmericanEthnologist,
2(1975), 207-228.
Symbol,p. 374.
20Claude Levi-Strauss, The SavageMind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963).

Kalapalomyth, this "science" organizesconcepts and categoriesinto implicit

ordering principles rather than explicit propositional statements. However,
Kalapalomyth is the speechgenre that (at the same time) most de-emphasizes
the boundarieswhich occur in such cosmological structures.It is performative
action striving for a merging of the speakerwith the listeners, and of the
speakerswith what is spoken about. Here again, we return to something like
the experienceof performingmusic, the hearingof tones producedby the self,
the experienceof something that is both externaland internalat once, and the
merging of the self with what is produced. Musicalritual goes beyond myth,
of course, by putting into communalpracticewhat is normallysharedverbally
among only a few persons, thus creating the conditions for total communica-
tion, for experiencingpower of community. Kalapalomyth and ritualarecon-
nected, then, not simplyby thematichomologies but by their respectiveability
to create a particularkind of spiritualawareness,to construct complementary
visions of a comprehensivereality.
Kalapalo musical performance should indeed be treated as religious
although, unlike groups in many other parts of the world (whence much
evidence was drawn in the development of modern anthropologicalviews of
religious symbolism), Kalapalopeople rarely engage in ritual acts involving
manipulationof obviously materialsymbolic forms. Instrumentality,further-
more, is highly restricted to one series of ritual events. It is our own
twentieth-century understandingof music-that it is essentially a matter of
entertainment-that does injustice to the theoreticalpower of our anthropo-
logical understandingof religious symbolism, and contributes, of course, to
our misunderstandingof other people's musicality. It also prevents us from
clearly seeing the possibility of a musical religion.

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