Dissertation Abstract

Mountains of Song:
Musical Constructions of Ecology, Place, and Identity in the Bolivian Andes

UMI Publication No.9803031

Thomas Solomon
University of Texas, Austin
Ph.D. awarded May 1997

In this dissertation I show how for the Chayantaka people of highland Bolivia, musical performance is a vehicle for the embodiment of their experience of their social and physical environments. These indigenous peasants understand themselves in relation to their land, and in their music they consistently link their collective identity with specific features of their mountain ecology. Yet they also find themselves living within the modern Bolivian state. Throughout the dissertation I show how the Chayantaka use musical performance to construct and defend their identity as a people, both within their own communities and in the context of relations with the state in which they are embedded.

In the first few chapters of the dissertation I analyze an eclectic set of materials, including the Chayantaka folk-classification of their musical instruments in terms of rainy- and dry season instruments, song texts that describe the landscapes of their communities, the distribution of musical instruments and different named singing styles across distinct ecological zones, stories the Chayantaka tell about the origins of music in sacred places, and a key musical ritual that brings together communities from complementary ecological zones. By focusing on the cultural construction of ecology through music, I stress how artistic production is inextricably linked to material production. Since the Chayantaka construct their understanding of their mountain ecology largely through musical performance, they provide evidence for an argument that assigns expressive cultural modes such as music and art a primary place in the analysis of man-environment relationships.

In the last part of the dissertation I discuss how the Chayantaka use their music in practices of accommodation and resistance to the Bolivian state. I analyze how non-Indians appropriate the music of the Chayantaka and their indigenous neighbors and repackage it as folklore for tourists. I show how the Chayantaka resist this appropriation, using a newly created ritual burlesque of how non-Indians represent indigenous culture to re-assert their claims to their expressive forms and identity. In this part of the dissertation I show that while they have maintained traditional musical expression, the Chayantaka have also developed new musical forms as strategies of resistance. For the Chayantaka, musical culture can be simultaneously traditional and adaptive, and newly invented traditions can exist alongside ones with great historical depth.

I call on a diverse body of theory in ethnomusicology, folklore, and cultural anthropology to support the arguments of the dissertation. Theoretical topics I develop include musical performance as cultural practice, musical style as a vehicle for meaning, and the role of music in practices of resistance. The major theoretical contribution of the dissertation to ethnomusicology is in the area of aesthetics. I develop an approach to aesthetics as the study of how people "make sense" of experience, in both meanings of the word - making sensual or feelingful, and making intelligible - and argue that the Chayantaka data have important implications for the cross-cultural study of music-making as a way of making sense of the world.

Copies of this dissertation are available through University Microfilms International's Dissertation Express department. You can call them at (800) 521-3042, or to go to UMI's online ordering page, click here. You will need UMI's publication number for this dissertation, 9803031.

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