Performing Dreams: Discourses of Immortality Among the Xavante of Central Brazil

Overview

Over several centuries, the Xavante people of Central Brazil have maintained an invincible sense of identity and feeling of control over historical processes, despite repeated invasions by colonists and settlers, capitalist commercial ventures, and most recently, an enormous government-sponsored mechanized agricultural project. In this discourse-centered study, Laura Graham explores how the Xavante use the ritual performance of myths and dreams to maintain their culture despite these disruptive outside forces. At...
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Overview

Over several centuries, the Xavante people of Central Brazil have maintained an invincible sense of identity and feeling of control over historical processes, despite repeated invasions by colonists and settlers, capitalist commercial ventures, and most recently, an enormous government-sponsored mechanized agricultural project. In this discourse-centered study, Laura Graham explores how the Xavante use the ritual performance of myths and dreams to maintain their culture despite these disruptive outside forces. At the heart of the book is an extraordinary performance, in which an elder and community leader tells his dream of an encounter with the creators. Graham analyzes the various components of his performance - narrative, myth-telling, song, and dance - and considers the entire community's participation in the preparations, rehearsal, and public performance of the dream, including their adaptation to her presence and modern technologies. From this analysis, Graham demonstrates how the practice of myth-telling is an essential element in cultural continuity and the creation of social memory. Through expressive performance, Xavante create a remarkable sense of agency in responding to historical events. The myth-teller also attains a kind of immortality. These findings will be of interest not only to students of South American cultures and linguistics but also to everyone intrigued by the role of myth and dreams in social life and social change.

"Discourse-centered approach to Xavante culture focuses on the performance of songs, the telling of dreams, and the transmission of culture. Principal arguments are that the meaning of expressive practices is constructed through performance; that dreams may be seen as communicative and hence social processes; and that discursive practices are essential to the process of cultural transmission"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 57.

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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Folklore Prize Committee
Graham's finely crafted ethnography situates the expressive performance of dreams in Xavante soundscape, discursive practices, negotiations, rituals, and narrations. . . . Her field and translation work is presented as a collaborative process that illustrates the creative power of named individuals who engage one another and the ethnographer in a range of expressive practices that constitute the discourses of immortality. Graham respects and appreciates these discourses in both oral and mediated traditions and argues persuasively for the importance of cultural identity to survival.
Choice
Graham's welcome study underscores the powerful and often-neglected potential of myths and myth-telling for the creation of cultural identity and social memory among tribal peoples. . . . Graham skillfully demonstrates ways in which expressive performances enable the Xavante people of Central Brazil to exert a remarkable degree of control over disruptive historical processes that have decimated other Latin American tribal groups. . . . This work will be of great interest to students of South American folklore, ethnology, and linguistics as well as to religious studies scholars and psychologists. Recommended.
Victor Turner Prize Committee
Graham's book achieves a beautiful balance between the global and the local. . . . This is an engaged anthropology that takes into account the politics of indigenous people's relations to the state and the political implications of fieldwork in such a context. At the same time, Graham grapples with the ways that a rich and complex indigenous cosmology informs political interactions in often disarming ways. This stunning book represents ethnography at its best.
Booknews
Graham (anthropology, U. of Iowa) explores how the Xavante people of Central Brazil have, over several centuries, used the ritual performance of myths and dreams to maintain a sense of identity and feeling of control over historical processes, despite repeated invasions by colonists and settlers, capitalist commercial ventures, and most recently, an enormous government-sponsored mechanized agricultural project. Includes 20 b&w photos and three maps. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780292727762
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1995
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 290

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
Notes on Xavante Orthography and Transcription
1 Introduction: Performing Dreams 1
2 Descendants of the First Creators 19
3 Sounds of Time, the Time of Sounds 64
4 Singing Dreams, Dreams of Singing 103
5 Depersonalizing the Dream: The Politics of Narrative Performance 137
6 Becoming a Creator 175
7 Performing the Dream 207
Epilogue 227
Appendix: Musical Transcriptions 237
Notes 251
References 267
Index 285
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