To Weave and Sing
Art, Symbol, and Narrative in the South American Rainforest
Publication Year: 1990
The author's initial point of departure is the Watunna, the Yekuana creation epic, but he finds his principal entrance into this mythic world through basketry, focusing on the eleborate kinetic designs of the round waja baskets and the stories told about them. Guss argues that the problem of understanding Yekuana basketry is the problem of understanding all traditional art forms within a tribal context, and critiques the cultural assumptions inherent in our systems of classification. He demonstrates that the symbols woven into the baskets function not in isolation but collectively, as a powerful system cutting across the entire culture.
To Weave and Sing addresses all Yekuana material culture and the greater reality it both incorporates and masks, discerning a unifying configuration of symbols in chapters on architectural forms, the geography of the body, and the use of herbs, face paints, and chants. A narrow view of slash-and-burn gardens as places of mere subsistence is challenged by Guss's portrait of these exclusively female spaces as systematic inversions of the male world, "the sacred turned on its head." Throughout, a wealth of narrative and ritual materials provides us with the closest approximation we have to a native exegesis of these phenomena. What we are offered here is a new Poetics of Culture, ethnography not as a static given but as a series of shifting fields, wherein culture (and our image of it) is constantly recreated in all of its parts, by all of its members.
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Copyright
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As with all long journeys, there have been many people along the waywho have lent a helping hand. Marc de Civrieux, who first invited me toVenezuela to translate his version of Watunna, not only shared hismany years of research with me but also encouraged and aided me inmy initial visit to the Yekuana. This contact on the Paragua River was...
1 • INTRODUCTION:The Syntax of Culture
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...'/"here are many gods, many spirits, and many people who live above theearth and below the earth. I know them all because I am a great singer.There is the one who created the baskets, and the baskets began to ivalk, andthey entered the water after having, eaten many Indians. They are thecayman alligators—you've only got to look at their skins to see that. An...
2 • THE PEOPLE
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Our first contact with the Spanish was a long time after their arrival inVenezuela. We met them when they came to find the famous City of Gold, ElA little while later, the Spanish tried to conquer us by force. Then weYekuana, together with our neighbors, the Maco, Yabarana, and others, de-fended ourselves, and we overthrew the Spanish. That's why, for a long time, we...
3 • CULTURE AND ETHOS:A Play of Forces
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The traditional Yekuana settlement, of which there are approximatelythirty dotted throughout the upper Orinoco, is a fiercely independentcommunity, resistant to any pan-tribal authority. Each village is a com-pletely self-contained, autonomous unit, with its own chief and sha-man. What unites these communities is their shared linguistic and...
4 - "ALL THINGS MADE"
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While the Yekuana, like many tribal peoples, have no fixed categorycorresponding to the Western concept of "art," they do distinguishbetween objects manufactured within the guidelines of traditional de-sign and those that simply arrive without any cultural transformation orintent. Tidi'uma, from the verb tidi, "to make," are the collective arti-...
5 • ORIGIN AND DESIGN
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In writing about the nature of origin myths in tribal societies, MirceaEliade calls attention to what he refers to as an underlying "paradisiacsyndrome" (1960:63). He claims that tribal man periodically reenactsthese myths in rituals and festivals in order to return (the "eternalreturn") to the conditions that existed at the time of the Beginning, in...
6 • THE FORM OF CONTENT
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The classic distinction between form and content that has come todominate so much of the discussion of the modern work of art quicklydisintegrates as one approaches the creations of those living within theframework of a traditional tribal society. The simple dichotomy be-tween the arrangement of materials and the meaning these arrange-...
7 • TO WEAVE THE WORLD
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Through the magic of a world of objects which is the product of the applica-tion of the same schemes to the most diverse domains, a world in which eachthing speaks metaphorically of all the others, each practice comes to be in-vested with an objective meaning, a meaning with which practices—and par-ticularly rites—have to reckon at all times, whether to evoke or revoke it. The...
A GALLERY OF BASKETS
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PL. 1. Woroto sakedi, Odoyamo emudu or "Devil's joints" variationPL. 27. Kawau, the toad, with the scorpion, Marietta, below left andPL. 29. Kutto, the frog, with: a. ishacudu, the square b. Ahisha, thePI. 30. Kwekwe above and Awtfo below, surrounded by an hourglassPL. 46. Kungwa: top, Ahisha variation, also known as Wiyu or "snake...
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Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 1990