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S E V E N “I Become Your Boy” Power, Legitimacy, and Magic in Song Composition 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 life, where it takes on institutional powers. These realms have to do with building up and tearing down personal reputation and with fracturing and knitting together networks of individuals. Earlier chapters have discussed how power is wielded in Tupuri society through song, dance, and village associations. This chapter discusses the ways that power is lodged in the role of the gurna song composer (je kaŋ siŋ gurna). In village-level politics, the composer is an important figure because of his capacity to publicly humiliate, laud, and capture the attention of the populace. For these reasons, the processes of song composition are not merely aesthetic; they involve the use of power, some of which is mystical. This chapter discusses how the gurna song composer enhances his ritual power and legitimacy as a composer. Much research on African oral literature refers to the authority of poetic license in African societies (e.g., Vail and White 1991) and in some cases attempts to trace the roots of this power. In this chapter, I consider three areas vital to the power associated with gurna song composition: a) the transmission of the social role of the composer through localized “dynasties ”; b) the use of magical herbs in the composition process; and c) strategic construction and erasure of the composer persona in the song text itself. These are best viewed as fields on which contests for legitimacy are waged. I also explore key elements of the composition process: collaboration and apprenticeship and the checks and balances on the role of the composer. In my discussions with composers, I found that the vulnerability and danger inherent in the composer role is a constant concern for them. This was especially evident when the subject of magical herbs (saŋgu) was raised. It also came into play when we considered the competing or overlapping authority of the state to determine legitimate speech. Power associated with song composition cannot be entirely explained in terms of authority and legitimacy; it must include the notion of responsibility. As “I Become Your Boy” 143 the chapter title suggests, composers like to call attention to their social role as a servant to the community. “I Become Your Boy” comes from a gurna song in which the composer borrows the French term “boy” for domestic servant, suggesting that in his composer role he serves the wider good of society. How do composers carry out this role they aspire to as righteous moralizers of society? What rules must they adhere to when exposing foolish actions (sõore) or delivering insults in the song? In constructing a persona through the song, what does the composer want his audience to believe about his integrity as composer? The chapter concludes with an exploration of aspects of the composer role embedded in the song text. Through these self-referential pragmatics, composers call attention to their own trials as they attempt to shape the behavior of gurna dancers, the purported moral leaders of Tupuri society. TRANSMISSION OF SI GURNA COMPOSITION Composers in Cameroonian Tupuriland recognize a dynasty of composers in two locations, one in the village of Zouaye in Cameroon and the other in Dawa, Chad (see map 2). This dynasty was more like a guild or association of composers than a caste in the sense that the term has been used in Mande studies (Irvine 1993, 112). The lineages of transmission involve transmission through agnatic descent, but not strictly or uniformly. The composer role in Tupuri society is exclusively male; it is specialized and high status, though it is not seen as a social category determined by birth. Any man with a gift for song composition can, through apprenticeship, become a recognized composer.1 I found the process of mapping out the historical transmission of song composition to be complex and confusing for several reasons (see diagram 2). First, there was no formulaic recitation of names as is seen in oral genres organized around “faithful” transmission of a clan or nation’s history. The gurna genre is not concerned with authoritative speech from a putative ancestral past. The composer is the sole authority of...


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