Kuna Ways of Speaking, 2nd ed.
Paperback, 6x9 in, 286 pages, Photos
Hats Off Books, March 2001
For the Kuna, a nonindustrial people of the South American tropical forest, the world is perceived, conceived, organized, and controlled by oral speech and language. Thus, by exploring their ways of speaking, Joel Sherzer provides valuable insights into the nature of Kuna social and political organization, world view, religion, economics, medicine, and aesthetics. This unique work encompasses the full range of speech, from the dominant areas of ritual life—magic and curing, puberty rites, and politics—to everyday conversation, gossip, narration, and greeting and leave-taking.
As a study of formand
context, Kuna Ways of Speaking is a masterpiece.
Ellen Basso, Language in Society, 1985
...a fascinating ethnography
Latin American Research Review
...a landmark book.
Language in Society
About the author
Joel Sherzer is professor
of Anthropology and Linguistics at the University of Texas at
Austin. He has been carrying out research among the Kuna Indians
since 1970. He has written Verbal Art in San Blas: Kuna culture
through its discourse, as well as numerous articles dealing
with Kuna language, culture, society, and literature.
On arriving in San Blas, visitors feel at once that they have entered another world, perhaps an idyllic one. There is the tropical lushness of the Darién jungle. There is the beauty of the coral islands, with their thatch-roofed, bamboo-walled, oblong houses and the surrounding cool blue water. There is the striking color of the women's clothing, especially the magnificent molas, the appliqué and reverse-appliqué blouses. There live the Kuna, less than one hour away from modern Panama City. It is no wonder that the San Blas has attracted so many visitors-from adventurers to tourists, from missionaries to anthropologists. The Kuna can be and have been studied from the perspective of their economic, political, or social structure, their religion, or their ecology. It is my aim to enter their world through speaking, not just because the Kuna dedicate a vast amount of time to talk, which they do, but because their world is perceived, conceived, and especially organized and controlled by means of language and speech. An investigation focused on language and speech is thus a very productive way into an understanding of Kuna culture and society, perhaps the most productive way.