Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Fuller, Janet

Second Advisor

Hill, Jonathan


This dissertation explores the way Kotiria/Wanano (E. Tukanoan, Kotiria hereafter) women of the Brazilian Alto Rio Negro (ARN) contrive (McDowell 1990) kaya basa ‘sad songs’ using linguistic and musical resources to construct songs that express loneliness and other private emotions, while also creating alliances and separations from other women in their lives. A central concept is the practice of linguistic exogamy, in which Kotiria marry speakers of other languages, creating a multilingual and multivocal, cacophonic sound during po’oa exchange ceremonies. I compare these songs to mythological narratives depicting the beginnings of Kotiria society and the roles of men and women within it, as well as men’s ceremonial forms of speech and unmarried women’s joking songs as a way to think about the resonances of sound and meaning married women create in their songs. Drawing on resources from linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology, semiotics, and intersectional feminism, I demonstrate that the singing of – and listening to – kaya basa is a fundamental social structuring event. Despite previous works (e.g., Brüzzi 1962) that saw men’s expressive practices like shamanic chanting or ritual instrument playing as those upholding the social order, I argue that the social order owes its stability equally to women’s public participation in musical practice. Following Hill’s formulation of musicalizing the other (1993, 2009, 2011, 2013), I demonstrate that kaya basa reflect on inter- and intra-community relations on the macro level, while also giving women the chance to comment on important life transitions on the micro level. Moreover, my combined linguistic and spectrographic analyses of the sounds of these songs illustrate the intricate relations between the sounds of language and the sounds of music, the methods by which one understands something is true or false, and how individual singers can contrive differently within the same genre to create a well-formed song. I propose further work on this genre, and on genres that seem to be related which are produced by other groups in the area. I extend Beier, Michael, and Sherzer’s (2002) conception of the greater Amazonian discourse area to one of a greater Amazonian soundscape in which sonic ways of producing and gathering meaning (acoustemologies, Feld 1996) have been and are a major driving force in the arraying of social life across language families in the ARN.




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