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Handing Down and Writing Down: Metadiscourses of Tradition among the Bandanese of Eastern Indonesia


The topic of this article is the reproduction of tradition among the Bandanese, an Eastern Indonesian people. I analyze the style and rhetoric of songs that tell about ancestral sea voyages. The question I address is what happens to the value of the songs as tradition when they turn from oral performances into circulating texts. I explore several contexts of performance and transmission and argue that the songs can be embedded in lived realities in different ways. By writing the songs down, the Bandanese reorganize their tradition into new genres of text and performance. Their metadiscourse of tradition affirms that these genres represent the exemplary, complete language of the ancestors. Although singers and writers affirm the artistic, textual, and cultural completeness of their arts, they are reluctant to pass on their knowledge in an already integrated form.