Sounds like music : ritual speech events among the Bribri Indians of Costa Rica

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Cervantes Gamboa, Laura

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This dissertation research is based on an ethnographic study of the ritual language of the Bribri Indians of Costa Rica. Bribri ritual language is always chanted. Although it sounds like music, as suggested in the title of the dissertation, it is not music from the Bribri orthodox point of view; instead, it is said to be the language of the spirit beings. Bribri ritual language is neither a special style of everyday language nor an archaic language, but rather a special code characterized by series of stanza frames which are repeated, every time with different words from a special vocabulary which have to be placed in a fixed position within the stanza frames. Bribri ritual language is unintelligible to noninitiates. The dissertation documents for the first time the scope of events in which Bribri ritual language is and was used, and analyzes its structural linguistic and musical features. The study emphasizes the confluence of language and music in Bribri verbal art and focuses on actual performances of the two types of ritual speech event most practiced today: curing rites and mythical narratives. Aspects of the classification of Bribri verbal art are discussed. Bribri ritual language is used to establish communication between the human world and the spirit world, to quote some utterances of spirit beings in narratives, and when its special vocabulary is used for poetical and erudite purposes in conversation and in women's songs, which are composed in the everyday language. The types of performances and associated structural features of Bribri ritual language range within a continuum from isolated ritual words inserted into the everyday discourse and songs to shamanic rites chants, which are based on long fixed texts adhering more closely to the ritual language discourse form.




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