Go to epic
(approximately three pages.)
An epic, like a myth, is often so vast--
both in the storyline and in the emotional place
in the lives of those who perceive them--
that these stories are often only alluded to
by listeners and performers. Often only one episode
is explored in detail at a sitting. Only over time
(seasonal enactments of various episodes, for example)
does one gain a comprehension of the whole.
Typically, the whole is approached sideways, metaphorically,
impressionistically. In the recalling and retelling
of such stories, one often goes off on tangents
as one blends the ancient story
with here-and-now mundane consciousness.
Certainly it is through parallelism (repetition with variation)
on every level--spoken words, melody, physical gestures...--
that performers drive themselves
and their empathetic audience-members
over the edge, around the bend, and over the top.
Three is perhaps the most famous number of times
a thing is done in order to achieve a breakthrough,
but many times there is an entire list, a catalog.
As the catalog is doggedly plowed through, recapitulated,
the momentum often builds, the pace accelerates,
and the driving insistence intensifies.
If a thing vibrates rapidly enough,
it gives the impression/sensation of being at both poles at once.
It seems it will be quite a while before I am able
to properly witness and theorize about
this micro-behavioral performance process,
but this is inevitably the direction
in which I want to proceed.
D. Biebuyck arranged for an epic-chanter to dictate
the Mwindo epic. Various scribes wrote it down.
This process involved pausing after each line.
Electronic recording would have influenced the
storytelling event in other ways, and would not
have gotten the complete text that D. Biebuyck was
seeking: D. Biebuyck reports that the teller said that
never before had he told the entire story all at once.
In certain genres of folk performance,
it is traditional to refer to members of the audience,
to compare them to characters in the story.
In certain genres of performance and ritual,
it is traditional to perform for outsiders,
including urban upper-class patrons and their guests.
The presence of outsiders
is a necessary component of certain performance events.
(Another subject: The presence of the outsiders
colors any performance in certain ways.)
In certain genres of performance and ritual,
it is traditional to learn from, imitate,
and thus incorporate foreign elements.
As you have pointed out, this contact with the foreign
often occurs in and through the marketplace.
Certain genres of folk performance
are meant to be presented for/to the king and his court.
The storyline, mode of performance--all elements of the event-
revolve around the fact that it is being done in the presence of,
in opposition to, in relation to,
the ruling temporal/economic powers that be,
those with means of traveling to
and communicating with
distant lands and peoples.
Foreigners with the camera can be seen as guests of the king.
Or as emissaries from the land of the dead--
in that they enable synchronous (that is, teleconferenced)
or dis-synchronous (sp?) (that is, recorded) communication
with other members of the human race.
In the Mead/Bateson film, _Trance and Dance in Bali_,
the performed narrative is about a struggle
between the king and a witch.
The king cannot defeat the witch.
The filmed performance seems to be taking place
in the realm of a real-life king--
a well-kept public relatively urban area.
It may be that the presence of
members of the urban upper-class /
royalty / foreigners-with-cameras
are a necessary component
for certain genres of performance and possession/trance.
That is, some genres of trance may be meant
to occur solely in/by/for the folk group,
while other genres naturally can only occur
in an alien locale (the city)
presented for (rubbed against) an alien audience.
_Trance and Dance in Bali_ may be disappointing
and at first glance seem _inauthentic_
in the sense that one (myself, for example)
wishes to see a _pure_ event--
trance done for/by/with the inner group,
the members of which have
no consideration of an outsider watching:
The romantic-alienated-intellectual aspect of me
wants to see something real,
something that is not done for an audience,
not done for effect, not done for pay.
This is seemingly an impossible desire,
for how could an outsider be present at an insider event?
(It is not honest to watch secretly.)
To be openly present,
one would have--to some degree, on certain levels--
to be accepted as a member of the group,
and/or as a ritual specialist
(many of whom are always in part outside of any group).
Actually, I believe that I will be able to attend such ceremonies,
especially from Africa to the South Pacific,
AND that I will be able to facilitate two-way audio-video contact
between such events and people at distant locations.
Actually, I believe that my function at such events
will precisely be to facilitate such contact.
This could only be possible
by putting the epic-chanter/shaman/priest
in charge of the video / interactive telecom equipment,
and allowing that equipment
to be part of the sacred apparatus for bridging the gaps
between various worlds/realms/peoples/continents.
The ethnographer/technician him/herself
would come to be seen as a technician of the sacred,
which I in fact feel myself to be
(even though I am a stone cold agnostic,
having never experienced any bodiless being).
Two essential scenes in epic are the council
and the hero’s confrontation with death.
The latter often involves healing,
reviving the dead, and visiting the underworld,
in which past and future are perceived.
The motifs of healing
(getting to the root of illness, stagnation,
and getting things going again)
(the hero passing his hand over his face
and appearing disguised as old and dirty, etc.)
are both related to the ability to get to the root,
to the metaphysical realm behind and under
the mundane physical world.
In the Mwindo epic, Mwindo goes to the land of the Dead.
In the Hilali epic told by Susan Slyomovics’ epic-chanter,
the hero does not go there, but he does have the power
of disguise, self-transformation, and healing.
Both the council and the voyage to the realm of death
(and the related motifs of healing/rebirth/transformation of the body)
are instances of the individual epic hero
coming into contact with, and coming into the midst of,
the larger Community, both human and cosmic.
As Emile Durkheim explains in
_The Elementary Forms of Religious Life_,
the coming together, the gathering of peoples
awakens in individuals feelings of the divine
and of infinity. The excitement of gathering
is one factor that causes the epic-singer to sing/chant.
Another factor is: When addressing a council
(before the age of microphones and loudspeakers)
a public speaker addressing a council often needed to adopt
a sing-song, stylized tone of voice in order to be heard
by many people in a large area.
This helped the voice to carry
and involved special types of breathing--
special uses of the diaphragm, lungs, throat, mouth, and tongue,
the entire sound-generating (verbo-motor) system.
I posit that seeking and attaining a state of trance
can be a means of transmuting one’s body and soul
so that one can commune with the infinite--
in regard to time and space, nature, one’s ancestors, etc.