Keepers of the Sacred Chants: The Poetics of Ritual Power in an Amazonian Society

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University of Arizona Press, 1993 - Religion - 245 pages
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The Wakuenai of the upper Rio Negro region in southern Venezuela a form of singing called malikai for ceremonies of childbirth, initiation, and healing. This ritual chanting, a rich amalgam of myth and music, serves as a means of integrating individuals into a vertical hierarchy of powers relations between mythic ancestors and human descendants. In Keepers of the Sacred Chants, Jonathan Hill shows how the musical and semantic transformations of everyday discourse in malikai integrate the everyday world into a poetic process of empowerment. He interprets malikai through mythic narratives that explain the cosmos as an ongoing process of musically naming-into-being the species, objects, and activities that define individual humanness and society, and he further shows how semantic and musical meanings are joined to construct each chant and how these chants are manipulated in different contexts. Hill explains how the musical elements of malikai contribute to the success of performance, comparing different genres for which different musical criteria are appropriate. He considers the integration of speech and song through a close analysis of such elements as microtonal pitch rise, rhythm, and timbre, showing how these features are linked to poetic speech and imbued with social power. Hill's penetrating study of malikai is made within the context of Wakuenai history and cosmology and considers influences resulting from contact with the outside world. Because Northern Arawakan-speaking peoples have received less attention than others of the region, his book thus makes a significant contribution to Amazonian ethnography. It is the author's focus on malikai, however, that commends keepers of theSacred Chants to all interested in the multitextured uses of song and story by peoples of the world.

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The Genesis of Ritual Power
Birth and the Art of Microtonal Rising
Initiation into the Cult of Kuwai and the Musicalization
Going Through the Middle and Bringing Back from
The Poetics of Ritual Power

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