Re-sounding the Spirits of Altaian Oral Epic Performance: Kai throat-singing and its repercussions


  • Carole Pegg


This paper, which focuses on the ‘spirits’ and force of oral epic performance, is based on my fieldwork in the Republic of Altai, also called ‘Mountain’ or Gorny-Altai, which lies in southern Siberia within the Russian Federation. The Altai-Sayan mountains, which also embrace the republics of Tyva and Khakassia in southern Siberia and run down through West Mongolia, form the cradle of throat-singing, a remarkable vocal technique in which richly textured harmonic clusters are manipulated by a single vocalist to create more than one simultaneous sound. The style of deep guttural Altaian kai throat-singing, essential to ritual oral epic performance, is less well-known. Here, I argue that kai is performative action that re-situates or re-negotiates the performer’s social place in local, global and spiritual worlds. In the cause of balance, this paper draws attention to the under-researched perspective of the power of the spirit-charged epic-teller. After briefly introducing the landscape, peoples and languages of Altai, I consider both the traditional kai performance complex and a contemporary re-sounding of the last ‘with spirit’ Altaian oral epic-teller, ‘Elbek’ Kalkin. Finally, I debate some of the issues arising from transferring performative experiences in the field to archival digital documents and how the World...


Republic of AltaiGorny-AltaiSiberiathroat-singingkairitualoral epic performanceElbek KalkinarchivingWorld Oral Literature Projectendangered oral literaturesrevitalisation
  • Year: 2010
  • Volume: 8
  • Page/Article: 125-139
  • DOI: 10.25894/ldd220
  • Published on 31 Jul 2014