Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eskimo Song Duel

Before the soundclash, before reggae, before hip hop, there was the song duel:

‘In Alaska and in Greenland all disputes except murder are settled by a song duel. In these areas an Eskimo male is often as acclaimed for his ability to sing insults as for his hunting prowess. The song duel consists of lampoons, insults, and obscenities that the disputants sing to each other and, of course, to their delighted audience… The verses are earthy and very much to the point: they are intended to humiliate, and no physical deformity, personal shame or family trouble is sacred. As verse after verse is sung in term by the opponents, the audience begins to take sides; it applauds one singer a bit longer and laughs a bit louder at his lampoons. Finally he is the only one to get applause, and he thereby becomes the winner of a bloodless contest’

Source: Man’s Rise to Civilisation – Peter Farb (London: Secker & Warburg, 1969)

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