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Christopher Nicklin

Mus 601

Steven Feld’s book Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in

Kaluli Expression is study on the Kaluli people and how their music relates to life and

culture. Dr. Feld has had a long ranged career in ethnomusicology and anthropology. He

currently works at the University of New Mexico but has also worked at some

universities such as: UC Santa Cruz, New York University, and Columbia University. Dr.

Feld gained a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991 for his years of fieldwork in Papua New


Steven Feld’s book Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in

Kaluli Expression was published 1982. The purpose of this book was to show, “Kaluli

expressive modalities of weeping, poetics, and song, in their musical and textual

structure, are mirror representations of the symbolic circle constructed by the myth, The

boy who became a muni bird”(14 Feld). He proves his point through his fieldwork

research with the tribe. At the beginning of the chapter he tells the story of the boy who

became a muni bird. Afterward, he starts picking parts of the story and showing how they

relate to the Kaluli people. For example, in the Kaluli culture denying food to a person,

especially a younger family member, is considered like a death or abandonment of a

person. In the story the sister denies her brother food and because of this he turns into a

bird. Birds in their culture represent dead ancestors that are crying. All this research

paints a more vivid picture of the story. It is more than just an interesting story; it turns

into more of a cautionary tail about not treating a younger family member incorrectly.

None of this would be noticed unless one has done research on the values of the people.
Another interesting thing that Dr. Feld found out during his research was the fact

that muni birds had two sounds. There is a fast hysterical cry and the other one is a slow

downward lament. He was able to prove that the second cry was one that is found in

Kaluli music; especially with the peoples singing stories, which went down four notes

like the bird. If it had more than four notes than there was a fermata on the second to last

note, which gives emphasis to the first four in the pattern. Out of all this information it

just proves the thesis and the fact that the music reflects the culture rather than the culture

reflecting the music. The Kaluli people’s music reflects the stories and nature that is

found in their daily lives. They use music to explain their lives and stories.

Unlike many other readings that class has read so far the book was rather

accessible to the average reader. The vocabulary was of a standard more utilitarian level.

He does not dress up the sentences. Instead, Dr. Feld just gives numerous facts and

details of his research. Within the book he talks about the culture in a matter of fact way

but the backs it up with either his own research or the research of a couple of his

colleagues. In general his information is on a first person account. Because of his

wording being so factual, it was nice that he added stories about his own experiences with

the people. Otherwise I believe it would have been an exceedingly dry read.

I believe there were plentiful amount of strengths with this book. It was

exceedingly organized so that the reader knew how the chapter was going to flow. In fact

in the introduction he lays out how every chapter is going to contribute to his thesis.

There is no information that goes off course from his points. It is straight to the point,

which makes it feel like field notes put down on paper. The connections he made between

the myth and song was not far fetched and he supported his details well. Also the pictures
in the book gave a good context to what the people looked light so that the reader could

have a face to these people. If there was a weakness it might be his graphs. They were a

little confusing at first. I also do not know if they were completely necessary however

that was a minor thing. However this is a great book with a lot of strong points.


“Steven Feld-MacArthur Foundation,” John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,

accessed Sept 18, 2014

Steven, Feld. 1982. “The Boy Who Became a Muni Bird” In Sound and sentiment: birds,
weeping, poetics, and song in Kaluli expression. 1-43 (Philadelphia, University of
Pennsylvania Press.
Relating kaluli society to bird music
Kaluli are in Papa New Guinea are part of a collective know as the Bosavi. P3
Kaluli are horticulturealists P4
Exogamous marriage p5
Going into a situation to live with the people and do research on his hypothesis.
He would be introduced as a family member of Buck and Bambi, who were also field
workers. 10-11
Thesis is that the Kaluli expressive modalities of weeping, poetics, and song, in their
musical and textual structure, are mirror representations of the symbolic circle
constructed by the myth, The boy who became a muni bird 14
Chapter is a statement of the storyof the muni bird
They use stories to explain things
The south also made stories on how the blues was made
Men and women’s roles in Kaluli society is complimentary and balanced rather than
The muni story goes against all gender roles. P25
Dening food in that culture is unthinkable to a child. P.27 This in complete contrast to the
People often share food in the society 28
Hunger and loss equate isolation and abandonment
The boy becomes non human when not fed
Birds are spirit reflections of the dead
Bird calls are speaking from the dead 30
Muni bird has two sounds one is fast and histarical and the other is slow and sorrowful 31
Three to four note desending scale equals to sarrow in their culture 33
Song is communication of a person as a bird
Gisalo is not a work song. It is for death and performance in darkness
First four notes in gisalo as the muni bird call. The second last note is formatted rather
than the last 37
1male, female relation
2food reciprocity
3 loss abanodonment
1denial of relationship
2no food
3boy abandoned
4turns into bird
5weeping bird
6text of poetics
weeping melodies
provocation, mediation, metaphorically
birds equal death spirit reflection greif and sadness