EOL 5: Professional Weeping (Greene)


1. In Tamil there is a distinction between short a and long a (aa). The a in oppari is long, pronounced like the a in "father." [back

2. The term Dalit, "Oppressed," is used by some scholars to refer to members of the lowest-ranked caste communities to emphasize the need for social change. In this article, I continue to follow common practice of using the term Harijan, and not the older term, Untouchable. [back

3. Although beyond the scope of this article, research into opparis of the Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli Districts would likely provide a useful comparative study to this project, based in the Thanjavur District. [back

4. Icaikurichi, literally "Music" + "village," is a pseudonym I agreed to use for this village. [back

5. Apparently, Egnor [Trawick]'s Tamil Paraiyar informants use the term ayira pattu, "crying song," to describe these songs (1986:296). Although she does not use the term oppari in her article, it seems from her descriptions and analysis that the genre she is describing is at least very closely related to oppari, performed in the Thanjavur District. [back

6. One small difference: whereas in the funeral I observed, the white sheet stays at the mortuary house, in Dumont's account, the male relatives proceed in single file under the white sheet, which is held overhead at arm's length (1986:273). [back

7. The absence of Harijan women in these photographs reflects the fact that Harijans in general are less welcome in the ur, or village center. Harijan women are much more active participants in the public spaces of cheris, or Harijan neighborhoods/hamlets found some distance outside the village's core. The fact that Harijan women have a more prominent public voice has been found in many South Asian settings, and suggests that in these women's activities lies a revolutionary potential (Cameron 1998). [back

8. Similarly, Sherinian (1998:620) finds that Christian minister Rev. James Theophilus Appavoo removed the most emotional, wail-like features from his oppari-based songs of repentance of requests for forgiveness, because he was afraid that middle-class parishioners would dismiss his performance as "melodramatic" and rooted in "cowardice." She suggests that his fear may also be rooted in Victorian values that middle-class Tamil Christians have assimilated from western culture. [back

9. The case of M.G.R. offers a counter-example to the conclusions of Urban, who states that, in ritual wailing primarily of Amerindian peoples, "the function of meta-signals ought not to be discussed or put into words, lest their force be diminished" (1988:398). In the case of the Tamil oppari, M.G.R. constructs himself as a professional when he discusses the musical design of his wails and of his overall performance, and in this way gains the respect of his audience. Ironically, were he to assert that the emotion he expressed was authentic, he would likely be taken less seriously, even ignored. [back

10. It is also important to note that, as I studied M.G.R. and his music, I was undoubtedly drawn into the discourse on his professionalism and prestige. I spent several days observing, interviewing, and recording M.G.R. The fact that a music researcher took his opparis so seriously lent credibility to his claims of professionalism and the musicality of his performance, and it is likely that Dumont and Moffatt were also drawn into such discourses as they conducted their research. [back

11. In addition to examining widowhood, research on oppari and gender in Tamil folk culture would also benefit from ethnographic examination of professional opparis performed in small communities of hermaphrodites and transvestites. The gender issues and discourses of emotion engaged in this article undoubtedly become more complex when taken up in such communities (Hall 1995), in which, properly understood, there are more than two gender distinctions (Fulton and Anderson 1992). [back

12. Yama is the god of death. "Blossomed" means "opened up," like a flower. [back

13. "Parrot" is a term of affection. [back

14. "Appa!" literally means "Father!" but functions as a more general cry of grief. [back

15. Cremation sites are often on the remote side of a river from a Tamil village (although this is not actually the case in Icaikurichi). [back

16. The color black here is associated with death. [back

17. Indra's world is the world after death. [back

18. The blue cart is the funeral bier. [back

19. Taramur is a spirit of generosity, willing to give up his life for another. [back

20. A bamboo stretcher is a funeral bier. [back

21. The image of milk oozing out is often considered a symbol of prosperity, but here it may also refer to the milky complexion of the dead man's face. Perhaps the metaphor is intended to be ironic, juxtaposing death and prosperity. [back

"Professional Weeping" | EOL 5 | email Author