Collections: Anthony Seeger - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Suyá Kĩsêdjê Ceremonies, Song, and Dance in Mato Grosso, Brazil (1994, 1996)

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Men singing and dancing in the Mouse Ceremony, Mato Grosso Brazil, 1996. Image from video © Anthony Seeger.

These are video recordings of the preparation for and performance of one fairly complete ceremony in 1996 and several songs and dances from a number of different ceremonies performed in 1994 by the Suyá Indians, who call themselves Kĩsêdjê and live in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The video footage was recorded during the dry season in 1994 and during the rainy season in 1996. These recordings include a representative sample of the Suyá music genres, but some of the ceremonies the Suyá consider their most beautiful and important are not here because the researcher only has audio recordings of them from before 1994. (The audio recordings have been deposited at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music where they may be consulted in Seeger 1973-1986.

Most of the footage (9.5 hours) is of the 1996 Mouse Ceremony. This is an initiation for a young boy that is held every few years during the rainy season when the maize ripens in the gardens, usually in January or February. The researcher had already seen the ceremony twice and written a book about it (Seeger 2004) and had an idea of the parts he wanted to film when this footage was made in 1996. In addition to the final night of non-stop singing and dancing, he sought to document the elaborate and time-consuming preparations during the approximately two weeks of the ceremony before the final day.

The other performances are selections made by the Suyá of music and dance from several ceremonies usually performed during the dry season. These include the Turtle Song/Dance Kahran Ngere, a dance performed with gourd rattles, the Hummingbird Ceremony, performed by the Suyá during the dry season (April-October), and Iamuricumã, a women's ceremony often performed by the Suyá during the dry season. These are just a few highlights from those ceremonies, each of which would have lasted weeks or months if performed in its entirety. They were performed during a two-day period when the Suyá were celebrating their successful recovery of land that had formerly been theirs but had been occupied by cattle ranches (described in Seeger 2004: 141-151. They had successfully (and without violence) driven all the Brazilians off of four nearby ranches and taken hostages and held them until the Brazilian government agreed to review the legitimacy of their claims to the land (they released the hostages unharmed). Collective singing and ceremonial activity were an important part of the whole process. In 1993 the Suyá invited the collector to discuss their land problems with them, but expelled the Brazilians before he arrived. They performed the 1994 songs in celebration of the success of their raid and the arrival of the collector and his family, whom they had not seen since 1982. They selected what to perform and were happy to have their music and dance recorded on video.

The Suyá (and the members of the researcher's own family) were sometimes reluctant to be filmed. They were especially sensitive about being filmed when they were not "beautiful," meaning painted and combed. They were happy to be filmed while performing, but some of the daily activities were filmed in short clips, without people in them, because of their sensitivity. In addition, the researcher had not taken a course in videography and was learning as he worked. This is never a good idea, but preparing for field research is always a struggle between adequate preparation and actually being in the field. The quality of the video suffered, but the long acquaintance and many previous publications of the researcher also enrich the documentary process.

Finally, it is very important to note that the Suyá are proud of their cultural heritage. They say their traditions should be respected and that people who use them should contribute to the future well-being of their community. They require licenses and royalty payments for most outside uses of their cultural heritage. Even though EVIA is a not-for-profit educational enterprise, those who learn from this material are encouraged to make a donation to the Suyá through their foundation, the associacao kinsedje.

This collection is peer reviewed and available online in the EVIA Project Archive.

Image © Roger Bourland

Anthony Seeger is an anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, archivist, record producer, and musician. His research has concentrated on the music, cosmology, and social organization of Amazonian Indians. He and his wife Judith Seeger lived in the Suyá village for over 30 months between 1971 and 2007. They learned to understand and speak Suyá and participated in everyday economic activities of hunting, fishing, gardening, and food preparation. Their fieldwork is discussed in the first chapter of Seeger 1981 and the first chapter and Afterword of Seeger 2004. In addition to teaching anthropology and ethnomusicology, Dr. Seeger served as Chair of the Departamento de Antropologia, Museu Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (1980-1982), Director of the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music (1982-1988), Curator and Director of the Folkways Collection at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (1988-2000), and Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles (2000-present). Dr. Seeger has held executive positions in a number of professional organizations, including the Society for Ethnomusicology (President 1989- 1991), the International Council for Traditional Music (President 1997-1999; Secretary General 2001-2005), and the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (founding Chair of the Research Archive Section 2003-2007). Dr. Seeger is the author or editor of five books and over 60 articles on anthropological, ethnomusicological, archival, intellectual property, and Indian rights issues. Among the books are Nature and Society in Central Brazil: The Suyá Indians of Mato Grosso (Harvard University Press 1981); Early Field Recordings: A Catalogue of the Wax Cylinder Recordings at the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music (Indiana University Press 1987); Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People (Cambridge University Press 1987; issued in a paperback edition by the University of Illinois Press in 2004), and Archives for the Future: Global Perspectives on Audiovisual Archives in the 21st Century (Seagull India, Calcutta, 2004). He also produced many recordings as Director of Smithsonian/Folkways Recordings.

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