Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Professor Faudree chronicles a linguistic renaissance whose broad appeal for ordinary people often excluded from social movements stems from its emphasis on singing. Based on three years of ethnographic research among speakers of Mazatec, Singing for the Dead argues that the success of the social movement it documents arises from its vindication of the indigenous language spoken and sung throughout the region. New language practices, enacted in sites like annual Day of the Dead celebrations and the religious use of hallucinogenic plants, are tying people not only to others living across the region but also to the dead who share their language. More importantly, the revival and reconfiguration of singing in such settings has been tied to the introduction of writing, making literacy in the indigenous language a potent political catalyst promoting broad regional unity. By collectively singing in a shared, stigmatized language, people forge new ideas about community, balance the pull of past traditions against the pressures of modernization, and demand recognition within the national imagination while claiming ethnic identities at odds with standing models of Mexican citizenship. This project was funded by the Social Science Research Council, Wenner-Gren, Fulbright-Hays, and Ford.
Dr. Faudree's current Mexico-based project, "Magic Mint: An Ethnography of the Global Salvia Trade," examines the linguistic and material practices that shape global trade in Salvia divinorum, one of the world's newest hallucinogenic "drugs." Indigenous Mexicans have long used the plant in religious rituals. Recently, however, it has become a global commodity known simply as "salvia"; it is widely "advertised" online as a potent, legal alternative to marijuana. By elucidating the discursive dynamics through which salvia is given value, this study has implications for other cases where formally local "things" are inserted into complex trade networks and competing regimes of meaning. The project is funded by a Fulbright senior award and by Wenner-Gren.
A third project expands on the "sonic economy" of indigenous languages by focusing on the interface between language and music, speech and writing, art and politics, in both historical and contemporary settings and in face-to-face and cyber interactions. Mazatec's whistled register, used for chanting invocations in ritual ceremonies, is involved in an array of local singing practices. The project is funded by the American Philosophical Society Franklin Research Grant.