American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
After the Holy Trinity, Garifuna people turn to their ancestors for guidance, protection, and healing. Like many other Afro-descendant and Native American peoples, Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) believe that harmonious relations between kin, both living and dead, establish a cosmological balance that moral failures of the living may rupture. Many adult Garinagu fear that today’s youth who change, abandon, or fail to learn the practices of their ancestors demonstrate disrespect that will damage these vital relations. Despite adult concerns, I suggest that youth invite deceased ancestors into contemporary practices that embody and iconically display the particular brand of spiritual connectedness shared by Garifuna kin. In this paper, I examine singing as one such example. Drawing from scholarship on indexicality, voice, and studies in kinship that interrogate spiritual aspects of relationality, I discuss semiotic processes that place Garifuna ancestors into present-day social landscapes through song. Specifically, popular songs created by young adults in Garifuna simultaneously index a Modern Caribbean Cool and Garifuna ancestral values when sung collectively. Based on my ethnographic observations, I recognize collaborative singing of popular Garifuna music as a register of Garifuna speech that activates a relationality configured spiritually, linguistically, and emotionally. Songs sung in other languages do not appear to accomplish this. I argue that the manner in which popular Garifuna music is sung is a self-evident performance that mirrors ritual singing. I suggest that the values this register indexes engage ancestor observers and draw them into the singing as harmony between Garifuna singers is enacted.