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Introduction (from page 127)

I shall address you as a linguist-anthropologist working in the Philippines, where I first arrived in October 1969. I follow the teachings of A-G. Haudricourt, G. Condominas, and J.M.C. Thomas and L. Bouquiaux in this approach in anthropological linguistics.

I am familiar with epic chanting and the remarkable oral literature of the Palawan Highlanders of Southern Palawan in the South China Sea. In 1987, I conceived a program that would document and safeguard the long-sung narratives of other animists and Islamised groups, not only in the Philippines, but in Nusantara, the ‘Intermediary Islands,’ which is considered an area of shared linguistic and cultural features.

Over the course of 10 years, from 1991 to 2001, I was able to expand the documentation and safeguarding of this intangible heritage, among this complex archipelago of languages and cultures. I was conducting the international seminar on “Epics” within: The Integral Study of Silk Roads, Roads of Dialogue, a program that was part of the Decade for Cultural Development of Unesco. This was done in collaboration with 19 Filipino scholars and knowledgeable local persons. Thanks to this collaboration, the dedication of the national communities, and the financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France, we were able to provide long lasting support (4 grants / year, over 10 years, 1991–2000) to tape many voices and safeguard the beauty of these multifaceted verbal arts on audiotapes, videotapes, photos and computer storage of manuscripts in the various source languages with English, Tagalog and/or French translations among 15 indigenous national communities of the Philippines where 170 languages and their respective dialects are attested.

In this country, we have been able to conduct work in several areas that either resisted Spanish and American colonization, or were geographically isolated, far from direct maritime trading hubs, and thus kept their indigenous worldviews and artistic traditions alive. The ancient aural and oral memories of the national communities in Nusantara are a treasure for their respective countries, and for humankind. Yet, they have been largely ignored by historians, and seldom transcribed, translated in full or analysed by linguists,
folklorists and anthropologists.

However, if one is faithful to the specificity of such documents, and to the necessary intellectual attitude and care that their very nature demands, one would discover unheard of wealth, in more ways than one. Not only do the memories contain the core of an epic, where there are three major narrative ganglia present, namely, an initiation quest followed by a conflict or a war related to it, then a harmony restored, but also the various poetics that are the seal of every national cultural community gifted with immense, moving, and highly interesting oral repertoires. These poetics often serve as a way of perpetuating their respective, and sometimes endangered, language.

Scholarly work was necessarily involved in this attempt to generate a written transcription and a translation out of an oral composition. In contrast to oral performances—what I named ‘literature of the voice’—can be perceived as a way of fixing the butterfly (Revel 1998; Revel 2005).

The full article is available in the open access publication “Language documentation and cultural practices in the Austronesian world: papers from 12-ICAL. Volume 4.” See page 127.

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