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translated by Kevin Nolan
K'ulta is a hamlet in the Bolivian province of Oruro where the dominant
spoken language is Aymara – to the linguist, an 'agglutinate'
tongue. Abercrombie spent a couple of years in K'ulta and doesn't
merely agree with the claim that drinking is practised there 'not
in order to forget but to remember' but goes on to elevate the drinking
bouts of the K'ultans to the status of an "ethnopoetics",
('a kind of poetic device intended to construct a social body' (sic)).
Drunkenness, then, perhaps most of all in its extremest form (the
act of drinking oneself to death) can be read because it
is written, as a poem. Poems written with ch'allas,
sentence-chains of ch'allas citing other ch'allas,
strophes or paragraphs – 'memory paths' or 'drinking paths'
(uman t"akinaka). The dictionary of the Royal Spanish
Academy doesn't define this sense of the term ch'alla, even
though its use, is common amongst the Hispanophones of the Andean
area; it derives from 'ch'alland: 'to sprinkle, asperge'
(Bertonio, 1612). Thus: to sprinkle a table (mesa in Castillian,
misa in aymaran where the vowel-phoneme E doesn' t exist),
or: a kind of altar or simple andean fabric, or: to water the ground
or earth as in a sacrifice to the Pachamama to the gods of the mountain.
Finally: to DRINK. Not that the k'ultans drink or get drunk only on
saints' days, funerals, for rites of passage and other more or less
ritual occasions. It's just that almost only at those times does the
ingesting of pure (97%) or diluted alcohol and/or of chicha reach
such heights that some present truly obliterate themselves, with prolonged
loss of consciousness, etc.
Abercrombie – (here a kind of Dupin figure: cf. Baudelaire's translation of The Purloined Letter. 'godnness, godness' (sic)) made the most of some real luck when observing down the course of a k'ulteno "ethnopoem". Thanks to his relationship with a copero whose 'good friend' he became and who permitted him to 'record a part of the ch'alla session, and also ensured that his glass stayed only half-full' (the shortest session needs at least 40 ch'allas). Luck, the YANANI SURTI (yanani – couple or twins, duality, complementarity or antagonism, two that go together) play an (uncharacterised) role, crucial to the ch'alla. More and less than an offering the archvaluence of LUCK – most usually recalled and hailed at the end of the k'ultan text, opens it to the incalculable and the uncontrollable, that which is nonnegotiable in the economy of sacrifice and, most dangerously, (to summarise by citation) 'for some during this celebration luck is not with them, and it matters little how they behave'. From the deafness of chance (surti), then comes the chance to interrupt (to capitate) the domestic economy (of the sign), in such a way that a door is opened towards a non-ethnicity or radical non-familiarity (more or less impossible?) within the aforesaid (poem). This discontinuity, which neither the anthropologist and the eventual "ethnopoet" never really quite perceives, does not cancel or obscure all subsequent outcomes: ethnic, lingual, sexual, cultural, socio-cultural (etc): on the contrary, it presupposes them. As for the 'total' form of inebriation – falling down dead drunk, Abercrombie explains this, economically, as follows: given that the ch'alla and other forms of depense gratuite are intended to gain the bounty of one or more tutelary figures, the pasante must offer alcohol or chicha in abundance (the law for all reciprocity, andean or not) so that the ofertante may never have the slightest doubt as to the GEN(D)EROSITY on the part of any (occasional) pasante.