Re-sounding the Spirits of Altai-Sayan Oral Epic Performance

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Pegg, Carole 

My paper argues that, when collecting and re-presenting traditions based on orality, we need to consider the challenges of transferring from one medium to another, for instance, from sounds experienced within a performance complex to a potentially isolated written text or recording. Drawing on fieldwork among Altaians and Khakasses of the southern Siberian Altai-Sayan mountains, I illustrate the sound-power of the epic when performed within enabling events. In these societies, the kaichy, like the shaman, is chosen by spirits and, together with vocal tone (kai), event, words, instrument and music, each has its own ‘master-spirit’. Only by producing kai, enlivening his instrument and uttering the ‘correct’ words can the kaichy travel with his hero to other worlds or ease a dead soul from one dimension to another, and thereby rebalance cosmic and social relations. How do we ensure retention of the sound and performance spirit of oral literature?

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