5192 - Sitting on a stool or listening a cassette: material and verbal implications of learning among Kuna people (Panama)

This paper deals with the practice among Kuna youngsters of learning ritual chants by listening to audiotapes and memorizing them. This habit, which has become widespread in recent years with the introduction and diffusion of tape recorders among Kuna people, encounters the harsh criticism of elder specialists. The latter emphasize that to learn ritual chants young disciples should regularly visit their master’s house, participate in the daily chores and, most importantly, sit on a wooden stool in front of him when they listen to his teachings.

The paper focuses on the connections between speech, body and material objects in the frame of the master-disciple relationship. Audiocassettes mediate the transmission of ritual knowledge retaining, detaching and perpetuating the powerful speech of the master. Stools impose a discipline to the body and instantiate proper social relations. The hard wood of which they are made possesses characteristics of permanence and continuity. In particular, I ask what is the link between speech and changing material objects in learning ritual chants? What is it that Kuna elders wish to stress when commenting against young people’s practice? By looking at the quality of objects and materials and the way they participate in, and mediate the learning process, I aim at looking at ‘modernity’ from the inside of a Kuna perspective upon the materiality of social relationships.

Keywords: Learning, materiality, body, speech, Kuna.

Author: Fortis, Paolo (University of Roehampton, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)


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