Performance Arts Among the Là II

Continuing a discussion of the history of the performing arts in the fictional Là culture. Again, after the history there’ll be more details in the art-by-art status quo descriptions.

The Fòanaka and Kaìta Dynasties (1158-1428aH)

Under the Fòanaka and the shortlived Kaìta, the rāmayao continued to flourish, with larger ensembles of professional dancers. Dedicated performance areas were built, with tiered seats for the audience, and coloured, patterned tiles to make the patterns of movement more clear for observers.

The manungàng also developed in this period. While the rāmayao became increasingly abstract, the manungàng became increasingly representative and specialised to different functions. Meanwhile, a third form developed as a compromise between the two other forms: the luìmayao, or ‘room-dance’. This was performed inside the house of an aristocrat by professional dancers, and married the professionalism of the rāmayao to the greater, ‘rustic’ exuberance and individualism of the ordinary manungàng – where the rāmayao was an intricate display of discipline and teamwork, the luìmayao was a display of the beauty, athleticism and artistry of a small number of elite dancers. Both the rāmayao and the luìmayao became divorced from the ceremonial calendars, and came to be performed whenever the patron desired; in the case of the rāmayao, this mean increasing standardisation and abstraction, whereas the luìmayao became even more representational than the manungàng. The key model for the luìmayao was a particular kind of manungàng performed after a death, in which dancers symbolically represented some key incident or event from the life of the deceased; the luìmayao did likewise, drawing from the life of the patron or their ancestors.

Shamanic poetry and dance largely fossilised in content, but became more visible, through a shift from secret to public rituals. One significant development was the trend toward rituals incorporating multiple shamans.

Inherited oral poetry became codified under the Fòanaka. Each bardic school was charged with perfectly maintaining only ten poems, the Immortal Classics – although each school had their own, slightly different version of each one, and sometimes schools would preserve several variants of a poem. This preservation, however, remained entirely oral; indeed, writing down the Classics was considered tantamount to sacrilege, and would bring down severe punishments.

Of the ten poems, seven survive from the old Antaremese tales handed down through the generations. The Litany of the Possessions of God detailed the various things created by the Antaremese high deity; The Tale of the Goat That Devoured the Sun details the conflict between two brother gods over a beautiful woman, focused on a contest between the brothers to win a wrestling match against a particular mountain goat; The Tale of the War Between the North and the South details a war between two tribes of gods; The History of the Prince With Four Nipples recounts the erotic and political escapades of an Antaremese noble; The History of the Establishment of the True Kings briefly recounts a somewhat inaccurate history of Antarem before launching into a detailed, semi-legendary account of the rise of the Kōba; The History of the Flight of the Kōba recounts the fall of the Kōba regime due to treachery among the native Antaremese, and the exile of their noble families and their families to the island of Ebduria, where they became the Là; and The Fable of the Frogs, the Ants, the Bromeliad, and the Great Serpent details an anthropomorphised arboreal conflict that devolves from petty tricks into bloodshed, before all combatants are killed by a storm. Two more poems represent religious traditions: The Litany of the Former Rituals defines the proper rituals to praise and appease the old Antaremese deities, while The History of the Wise gives mythologised short biographical accounts of the founders (real or imaginary) of most important religions in the area, along with a few words on their religions. The tenth Classic was composed and added during the Fòanaka regime itself, supposedly from oral histories: The Litany of All the Kings, a work ‘proving’ the direct descent of the Fòanaka through the Angonāli back to the ancient Kōba queens of Antarem and back further to their ultimate progenitor, and, moreover, ‘proving’ the descent of all the Là from this single linneage, making all the Là one family and the Fòanaka kings their just hereditary superior. In addition, the Litany sets out the theory of the three Accords among the Là people, and in some detail recounts the tyranny of the Mèngitan and the national liberation by the Angonāli, before more briefly dismissing the illegitimate Petty Dynasties and recounting the Rasulu rise to power. Although both these key concepts, of the sequential Accords and of the familial unity of all the Là with the royal family as the hereditary rulers of the tribe, had been sporadically theorised by (and even before) earlier dynasties, The Litany of All the Kings, in its scope, precision and unquestionable authority, is perhaps the single most important work of Là political history.

The Immortal Classics are considered poetry, but for the most part they are not formalist. The Litany of the Possessions of God and The Litany of the Former Rituals are translations of Antaremese works, with little attention paid to linguistic details, but they are rich in parallelisms and metaphors; The Tale of the Goat That Devoured the Sun, The Tale of the War Between the North and the South and The History of the Establishment of the True Kings were for the most part written in lines with a fixed number of syllables, but changes in the language rendered this opaque even by the time of Fòanaka, and later modifications and additions do not respect this – in particular, North and South and Establishment are composed of several different sources, not all using the same metres, and these pieces are glued together with later additions that only loosely follow these rules; The History of the Flight of the Kōba, on the other hand, seems largely to reflect a single source text, which originally abided not only by syllabic line lengths but also a pattern of consonance and regular rhyme (the latter of which now entirely lost thanks to the decay of final syllables). The History of the Prince With Four Nipples is perhaps the most interesting of the ten textually, as it appears to reflect a variety of source texts in multiple languages; as more popular stories, sections of it, some sections of Devoured and most of The Fable of the Frogs appear to have been standardised at a later date, with metre and rhyme that make more sense to the later ear. The three later works make few if any concessions to form. In all the cases, the primary indicators of the ‘poetic’ nature of these works are their peculiar syntax and lexicon, their use of metaphor, and their tendency to relate events achronologically, both leaping back and skipping forward.

Music in this period continued to be largely a form of accompaniment to dance. Perhaps the most interesting development was of a concept of creative dissonance in chanting and singing: although singers were sorted into groups expected to sing the same note, rhythmically, without words, a degree of texture was introduced by intentionally encouraging the singers the be either closer to unison or further away from it and more discordant. This was combined with a distinction between singing and chanting, and with variations in volume, to create a richly-textured rhythmic effect. However, these effects were primarily employed in luìmayao; in ordinary manungàng, the non-professional singers could not be trusted, while in rāmayao the trend was increasingly toward instrumental accompaniment that did not replace singing but that did drown out nuanced vocal techniques – these instruments were primarily reeds and labrophones. Skin drums were also introduced, as were gongs. Labrophones were also increasingly used for royal ceremony.


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