Following the words: the mobility and meanings of Sakha algys blessing poetry
Jenanne Ferguson (University of Nevada-Reno)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates the recent popularization of Sakha algys, or "blessing words" (ritual poetry). I analyze both the metaphorical mobility of language and social practices in conjunction with movements of speakers to understand the (re-)emerging and transforming meanings of the practice.
Paper long abstract:
This paper investigates the recent popularization of Sakha algys, or "blessing words" (ritual poetry) in multiple media (spoken words as well as printed copy and online texts) as a way of understanding the mobility, transformation, and significance of contemporary Sakha linguistic practices. The revitalization and popularization of the algys was catalyzed by the revival of Yhyakh, the Sakha summer festival, in the 1990s, and is popularity is also tied to reawakened interest in Sakha iteghele (Sakha spiritual beliefs) and related practices over the past two and a half decades; spiritual beliefs and practices have been employed in a broader project of marking Sakha ethnic identity (cf. Balzer 2005, 2012). In this examination of algys through ethnographic work primarily conducted between 2015-2017, I discuss how algys makes "Sakha-ness" in the sense of group identity and belonging both audible and legible in a variety of spaces, but then focus in on the "mobility" of algys to answer several key questions. How does it function as a practice of intra- and interpersonal connection, with the self and with others (both human and non-)? Within an ontology of language that stresses the power and animacy of words (see Ferguson 2016, 2018), what do new transformations of algys in form and medium (in print, online) signify? How does the creation and enunciation of algys function as an evolving "technology of the self" (Foucault 1998; cf. Hirshchkind 2006) and reveal agency, especially in times of social precarity and uncertainty?
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