2.1.4. Performance

The performers of the narrative songs have to be specialized in their task, yet they are not professional in the sense that they would require a payment from a performance. They rank high in social status, if they are good. They have to be good in order to have public and to keep its interest in a story lasting for hours (even several nights) (cf. Barmich 1988). They have served a period of learning the practice as a novice, under the supervision of a senior performer.

As such, many of the epic texts tend to repeat the same thematic types of stories. Therefore it is up to the performer to rekindle the story and the audience. He/she has to be able to improvise details in stories. Usually a good performer has performed all his/her life (cf. Kupriyanova 1973, 173; Tereshchenko 1990, 17; Puyko 1991).

The story itself develops very slowly and with abundant repetition (Kupriyanova 1973, 177). One of the main characteristics of the repetition structure and of the performace conventions of the epic songs in general is teltanggoda 'repetitor', an assistant to the perfomer. The teltanggoda repeats in condensed prosaic form the passages sung by the performer. The assistance of the teltanggoda is very important in the traditional performance situation, but if there is no such person available, the performer can act as a teltanggoda himself (Barmich 1988). Repetition is needed, because the performer may use archaic, obsolete expressions, or his sung words may be hard to catch. If the singer thinks, that the teltanggoda seems not to be able to do his/her job, the singer may tell him to stop and ask somebody else among the audience to continue as a teltanggoda (Toholya 1991).

By its performance structure, the yárabts is closely related to the syudbabts, in particular in its repetitive character in narration and the need for a teltanggoda-assistant in performance. However, the character of the reality and the events in the song are not so heavily hyperbolized as in syudbabts. Here is a fragment from the beginning of a yárabts performance with a teltanggoda repeating the singers words.

Example 3. (261Kb, 24 sec.) Yárabts (with a tribal and a hero theme close to syudbabts; a fragment from the beginning).
Performed by Laru Horalya and an unknown teltanggoda, Southern Yamal in the 1980's.
Recording by Vera Horateta (née Horalya).
Transcription of the text, translation into Russian and commentary by Anastasia Lapsui.
Further transcription, translation into English and transcription of the singing by J. Niemi.

...a ngey, Yabtonge nyisyamyi' ngey,                 My father Yabtonge
ngamdasyey portsyery(yey) (...) eyyey,                abruptly raised sitting (having been lying down).
Ngadyerye(ye)y nyuwey ngey,                        Son of the Ngadyer
yalya' yambeyhanow ngey,                           for days
hunàrey hànànyuw (...) he na,                        has been driving somewhere,
ngawe nyamàranadyi' (...) n dey gei,                 catching (or hunting) something?
(Yabtonge ma...)                                     (Yabtonge say...) (= mistake of performer)
Ngadyeryeyey masyey (ye) (...) nge ngey:             Ngadyer' says:
nyebo' madeymsyanyow ey,                          - Last year I said to you,
tet(à)myi ngesimyei (...) yey,                          from our four herds (=reindeers and herders)
singgosyaleymatsyi (...) ey,                            there is no messages
nyaharsyamey' ngey po(m)                            for about three years.
pongey dow(ng) gàyà (...) ey ngey,                     (Three) years has passed.
ngesimyi' pyunggudey (...) ey(yà) ngey,                I want to search for these herds.

Interestingly, the role of the repetitor is related to that of the assistant (also called teltanggoda) of a shaman too, but there this kind of mediator is needed, because the words of the spirits are considered dangerous to human ears and so it requires a mediator, a repetitor (who was also devoted to shamanistic action as an assistant and a novice), as suggested by Pushkarëva (1992).

Gennadiy Puyko (1991) has an interesting notion about the sacral nature of the syudbabts. He considers that syudbabts is a sacred "heavenly song", whereas the yárabts and hinabts are not. As evidence he refers interestingly to the close connection between syudbabts and the shamanistic worldview. "Syudbabts is the kind of thing, when there is transformation (i.e., in which the hero of the story transforms himself) into something else, to a beast or a bird. And the enemies can transform as well. If the pursued transforms to a fish, then the pursuer transforms to a pike. All as in nature. If the pursued transforms to an iron reindeer, then the pursuer transforms to an iron wolf. It is all as in nature."

The sacredness is thus primarily connected to the role of the performer. Puyko continues by saying, that "as I have been noticing in my life, these performers of syudbabts are mostly the kind of persons, who master some kind of supernatural powers. They know the seven spheres (of the Nenets mythical world view) well... There are some people (i.e., performers) so familiar with that, that I can't imagine, how much room there is in a man's head! These kind of people may perform, say, three days, perhaps a whole week. It is usually considered, that there isn't room for all of that in the head of a normal man."

Puyko sees the sacral side of the performance structure in the following terms: "...And you must not interrupt these heavenly, sacred songs. Why? There was an incident (in the song), that two caravans of reindeer sledges met each other. They stopped on a big hill-top. The word-syudbabts minyeko noticed, that they stopped. Then the performer says: "Listen buddies, I'll have a break, let them (i.e., the crew of the two caravans in the song) talk meanwhile. (And the performer had either a long break or didn't continue the song at all anymore.) And suddenly, at night, a person came down from the hill-top to the performer. (He said:) "Oh, how we already have talked for ten years, all the words we have already spoken. We are tired, reindeers have nothing to eat anymore, we just stand here. After all this time, you would also hate this place?" When the morning came, the performer died, after having told this dream of his. He made sin, he left people and reindeers on the road. You must not interrupt the song." (Puyko 1991)

This kind of attitude towards the storytelling can be seen as a reflection of the Nenets animistic worldview. Performers can and they must have breaks in a song lasting for days (or nights), but it is considered safe to time the moment of interruption to a quiet, serene or transitory passage in the story, so that they would not leave the actors of the story to stand in one place for years, the reindeers dying for hunger or tribes fighting the same fight for years. Thus the figures in the song are considered as entities, that must be taken care of, even outside the performance.

In this sense the wada-syudbabts can be interpreted not only as a means of moving the story forward, but also as a transitory passage in a song, through which possible performance interruptions are possible. The song can be safely concluded, when the wada-syudbabts/minyeko, an undefinable character, is again left hovering in the wind.

In this respect, also Grachëva presents a notion about the hypostatic conceptualisation of the Northern peoples: in the Nganasan worldview an individual first has a connection with the environment and its powers (actual or believed). Second, (s)he conceptualizes these forces specifically as hypostatic, as embodied in the concrete phenomena in the environment, like the wind or animals. And it is the speciality of the shaman to deal with these personified forces, with the ability to transform himself into such a force. (Grachëva 1983, 129-130) This kind of transformation thinking is quite typical of the oldest narrative songs.