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  • Ritual texts of the last traditional practitioners of Nanwang Puyuma
  • Raleigh Ferrell
Josiane Cauquelin . 2008. Ritual texts of the last traditional practitioners of Nanwang Puyuma. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. Language and Linguistics Monograph Series A23. xiii + 355 pp., photographs, maps. ISBN 978-986-01-4728-5. $45.00, hardcover.

These texts were recorded at the last possible moment. When Josiane Cauquelin began her fieldwork in 1983, there were 19 shamans in Nanwang; by 2006, only two were left, and by 2007 no one any longer had full command of the rituals or the ngai kana birua 'language of the spirits'. This monograph is doubly significant in that no analogous ritual antilanguage has been documented for any other Formosan group.

Cauquelin, whose extensive work among minority peoples of China and Southeast Asia has emphasized ethnohistory and shamanism, recorded these Puyuma texts in the course of more than a quarter-century of fieldwork at Nanwang, on Taiwan's east coast. The analysis of the ritual language was done in collaboration with Elizabeth Zeitoun, director of the Formosan Language Archive (Academia Sinica) project. Puyuma is spoken in two divergent dialects, typified respectively by the head villages Katipul and [End Page 514] Puyuma. To avoid confusion with the ethnonym, Puyuma village is commonly referred to by its Chinese name, Nanwang. Cauquelin speaks the Nanwang dialect fluently, and her meticulously recorded data and the explanations provided by the shamans themselves make this study a noteworthy addition to the distinguished Language and Linguistics Monograph Series of the Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

Like many ritual languages elsewhere (Blust 2009:143), the antilanguage of the Nanwang shamans is expressed in paired, semantically linked phrases replete with metaphor and synecdoche. The Puyuma ngai kana birua is not in the strict sense a secret or taboo language. Its opacity lies in its use of everyday words in unusual senses, obsolete and phonetically altered expressions, words of obscure derivation, and occasional loans from other languages. The frequent omission of phrase markers, rapid, singsong delivery, and emotion-charged ambience keep the uninitiated from trying to understand. While not secret, the ritual language exists only embodied in the shamanic texts, which apprentices must memorize under the tutelage of senior practitioners.

Neither the ritual texts nor the ngai kana birua is a closed corpus. The ritual language constitutes a sort of phrasal matrix to which newly coined expressions may be added as need arises. Thus when preparing to sew a shaman's bag with a sewing machine, one practitioner's invocation introduced the paired phrase kana kikay / kana misin from Japanese kikai 'apparatus' and mishin 'sewing machine' (< English 'machine'; 206, 215). In one text, Chinese tudigong 'lord of the soil' and hutso 'Buddha' were invoked (219).

Cauquelin presents each of the 31 ritual texts in two different formats. In the first (51-134), the texts are presented as balanced phrases conveying the rhythmic flow of the performance, with English renditions of the general sense in facing columns. These interpretations are not translations but explications by the shamans of the ritual connotations of the paired phrases; for instance, the line amian / butəɭan is rendered simply 'the year' (77) . In the second presentation (135-325), the component forms are glossed individually: ami-an 'year' / butəɭ-an 'bamboo internode' (193). The semantic link between dyads is often far from evident. In mi-a-datar / mi-a-ɖəkal 'the masters of the village' (157, 199), ɖəkal is the usual term for 'village', whereas datar (< Proto-Austronesian [PAN] *DataR 'flat'?) is unknown in ordinary speech. Occasionally, the sense of one or both components of a paired phrase has been lost, and informants either were unable to supply etymologies or furnished conflicting ones.

Phonemes may be altered in ritual texts. Puyuma qalup 'hunt' (< PAN *qaNup) becomes aʔlup: glottal stop replaces /q/ and is then metathesized to follow the initial vowel (33). Puyuma /ʈ/ (< PAN *C) sometimes becomes /s/ in the ritual language: ɭaŋiʈ 'sky' (< PAN *langiC) becomes ɭaŋis (35, 199). A glossary of all ritual terms, to include everyday words given special meaning in ritual contexts as well as expressions for which etymologies are not available, would have...


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