Approaching through Being Presence: Epic Performance and Verbal Dueling in Nuosu Mountainous Villages
Author: Bamo, Qubumo
Affiliation: Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

 Kenre, known as a kind of the ritualistic flyting or verbal-dueling in Nuosu, a subgroup of the Yi ethnic group who live in the Great Cold Mountains of southwest China, which is recognized for the first time as a key device for carrying out hnewo or epic performance in author’s recent field studies.  The situated observations show that Nuosu epic performance always takes place in conversational, dialogic discourse between host-guest relationship with perfervid competition in the three ritualized contexts: 1) wedding ceremony, 2) cremation rites, and 3) the ritual of sending the dead to ancestral holy land whereas differing from related six sub-contexts --keep changing in emergent shift.  The “flyting scenes” and “contest paradigm” displayed in different ways of singing or dueling (in poetic framework, never prosaic). Kenre dueling stimulates the oral transmission of the epics and involves the active acceptance on the part of the audience. The dueling enables performers to step out the shadow of the written, memorized texts and perform face-to-face in the community.  The dueling it also provides performers with “battlefields” to compete with and learn from each other. Through the emergent nature of kenre dueling, aspects of the epic tradition grow and develop. 

 Kenre is proved a vital, dynamic treasure of Nuosu verbal arts. Furthermore, the dueling process provides a comprehensive examination of hnewo epics in regards to textual morphology and indigenous conception of epic traditional rules. The author combines analysis of the ritualized narrative context of epic performance with various global theoretical traditions of orality and performance folkloristics to derive an approach involving the recognition of “Situated Fields of Epic Performance” for gaining a more complete understanding of the hnewo tradition.  The approach demands “Five Basic Factors in Co-presence” related to fieldwork, textualization, and interpretation: 1) performative tradition, 2) performative event, 3) audience (in face-to-face textual community of oral epic), 4) performer (in Nuosu epic tradition there must be at least two opponent performers in verbal dueling), and 5) researcher (and translator for scholars coming from other cultures).  These “five factors in co-presence” and their synchronous dimension in interrelation play a crucial role on how a researcher would grasp traditional epic performance determined by different events.  And then, the author provides two conditions for a “correlative principle”: firstly, all of the five factors must be present, or operative, or functional, and secondly, none of the five factors may be ‘in opposition’ to the local epic tradition. 

 “Situated Fields of Epic Performance” aims at constructing not only a positively practical model for observing and textualizing epic traditions, but also an epistemological approach that will be useful in understanding other traditions of oral performance in China. On the folkloristic ground of “thick” descriptions of text, context, and situated processes of performance, this epistemological approach, which builds on performance-observing model with folkloristic interest, it is subjective, determined by researcher, which will be especially useful for analyzing longer narrative of living verbal art, for producing a performance-centered text in rich details, including oral epic traditions among other ethnic groups, which differ significantly from the Nuosu hnewo tradition.

     Keywords:verbal dueling, epic performance, field study, “five factors in co-presence,” epistemological approach