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Journey of Song

Public Life and Morality in Cameroon

Clare A. Ignatowski

Publication Year: 2006

During the long dry season, Tupuri men and women in northern Cameroon gather in gurna camps outside their villages to learn the songs that will be performed at widely attended celebrations to honor the year's dead. The gurna provides a space for them to join together in solidarity to care for their cattle, fatten their bodies, and share local stories. But why does the gurna remain meaningful in the modern nation-state of Cameroon? In Journey of Song, Clare A. Ignatowski explores the vitality of gurna ritual in the context of village life and urban neighborhoods. She shows how Tupuri songs borrow from political discourse on democracy in Cameroon and make light of human foibles, publicize scandals, promote the prestige of dancers, and provide an arena for powerful social commentary on the challenges of modern life. In the context of broad social change in Africa, Ignatowski explores the creative and communal process by which local livelihoods and identities are validated in dance and song.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

If thanks could be read as a story, then mine would begin with Ma

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Note on Orthography and Song Notation

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pp. 14-15

Ruelland notes four tones in Tupuri: high, mid-high, mid-low, and low. For ease in reading, I will not note tone, though I have noted where a word’s meaning is ambiguous without it. For the names of people, places, and associations in...


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pp. 16-19

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ONE Introduction

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pp. 1-23

This study arises from experiences of discontinuity. In 1985, as an agriculturaltrainer in the Far North Province of Cameroon, I spent my weekends attendingspectacular death celebration dances, accompanied by high school (lyc

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TWO Maïtené’s Modern Life: Song as Negotiation of Public Morality

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pp. 24-40

Fascinated by the scandal surrounding a particular young woman, Maïtené, Iasked my research assistant, Dourwé, to write down the background of the case in a small notebook I gave him.1 A native of Maïtené’s village, he eagerly agreed and wrote: Maïtené was a girl who remained for a long time at her parents’ house. She made meatballs for sale, wore pants, and joined the opposition political...

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THREE “Better than Family, Better than Girls”:T he Tupuri Gurna Society [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 41-74

I have always found the gurna dance magnificent. Approaching the dance ring, I would move with the other spectators streaming along the village paths, pulled by the magnetism of the booming drums in the distance. Their throbbing would strike me deep in the chest; I never failed to feel my heart leap at the communal excitement. At the height of the dry ...

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FOUR Defying the Modern:Play of Identities in Gurna Dance Exhortation(Bɔ’ge Fɔgε)

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pp. 75-92

A hefty dancer in white shorts with a broad chest smeared with white clay peeled off from the dance line and loped up to the crowd. Stopping abruptly a few feet from the inner layer of spectators, he jerked his body, straight-legged, into a menacing stance. His arms were frozen and he gazed, as if unimpressed, over the crowd, displaying his nonchalant coolness in the heat of the dance. Suddenly he...

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FIVE “Telephone of the Dance”: Circulation of Gurna Song Discourse

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pp. 93-108

Even where they lack telephone lines, reliable mail service, and paved roads,gurna members are proud of their society’s communication network. Composersof ,gurna song (siŋ gurna) routinely draw upon images of modern technology—“telephone,” “telegram,” “mail,” “car”—as metaphors for the communicative and institutional power of the ,gurna dance society. In their ...

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SIX “Rise Up, Gather Like Storm Clouds”: Poetics of Gurna Song (Siŋ Gurna) [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 109-141

In the preceding chapter, I suggested that there is not simply one gurna song; rather, there are, in a manner of speaking, three. Each guise of the song is vested with certain priorities and meanings. First, the gurna song takes on an appearance of unity and communitas when dancers perform ...

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SEVEN “I Become Your Boy”: Power, Legitimacy and Magic in Song Composition

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pp. 142-158

Modern forms of power associated with the Cameroonian state have made many inroads into Tupuri society. The authority of the security forces, civil service,schooling, and the chieftaincy have left their traces in even the smallest villages. However, Tupuri song is still considered to be powerful in certain realms of ...

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EIGHT Staging Conflict through Insult:Competing Systems of Justice

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pp. 159-176

In insult (ďarge), gurna song composers have a special chance to display their creativity and verbal virtuosity. In addition to the ridicule of shameful acts (sõore),insult makes gurna song entertaining to the public. However, entertainment value is not the only function of insult; it also operates as a sanctioned mode for playing out interpersonal rivalries and for meting ...

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NINE Multipartyism and Nostalgia for the Unified Past:Discourses of Democracy in Gurna Politics

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pp. 177-196

If the gurna is “a society within society,” it reaches institutional status by nature of its power to stage and manage conflict, mete out justice, and sway public opinion that can be called upon when a ritual authority or individual plaintiff seeks to enforce customary law. This realm of power in the arena of aesthetic performance creates a “multilevelness” typical of many African ...

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TEN Conclusion

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pp. 197-201

Le Kirdi: Habillez la ve´rite´, l’Histoire la de´shabillera.” The homespun cultural journal Le Kirdi, which sought to socially rehabilitate the animist peoples of Cameroon’s Far North Province, asserts in its subtitle “Dress Up the Truth, History Will Undress It.” This jab at “clothedness” and nudity refers to what were marked as “traditional” differences between ...


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pp. 203-212


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pp. 213-220


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pp. 221-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111593
E-ISBN-10: 0253111595
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346469

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 36 b&w photos, 2 figures, 2 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures