Brown University shieldBrown University

Book release of Paja Faudree's Singing For the Dead

March 23, 2014

Singing for the Dead chronicles ethnic revival in Oaxaca, Mexico, where new forms of singing and writing in the local Mazatec indigenous language are producing powerful, transformative political effects. Paja Faudree argues for the inclusion of singing as a necessary component in the polarized debates about indigenous orality and literacy, and she considers how the coupling of literacy and song has allowed people from the region to create texts of enduring social resonance. She examines how local young people are learning to read and write in Mazatec as a result of the region's new Day of the Dead song contest. Faudree also studies how tourist interest in local psychedelic mushrooms has led to their commodification, producing both opportunities and challenges for songwriters and others who represent Mazatec culture. She situates these revival movements within the contexts of Mexico and Latin America, as well as the broad, hemisphere-wide movement to create indigenous literatures. Singing for the Dead provides a new way to think about the politics of ethnicity, the success of social movements, and the limits of national belonging.

Paja Faudree is a linguistic anthropologist whose research interests include language and politics, indigenous literary and social movements, the interface between music and language, the ethnohistory of New World colonization, and the global marketing of indigenous rights discourses, indigenous knowledge, and plants. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and came to Brown following a Harper-Schmidt Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. She is affiliated with Brown's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Native American and Indigenous Studies, the Program in Science and Technology Studies, and Development Studies. Professor Faudree teaches courses on language and society, social movements in Latin America, language and politics, language and music, and the anthropology of drugs. She is also a published poet and playwright, and holds an MFA from Brown's literary arts program. 

Professor Faudree is currently working on her next book, Magic Mint: An Ethnography of One of the World's Newest "Drugs."  Funded by grants from the National Science and Wenner-Gren Foundations, among others, the book concerns emerging global trade and pharmaceutical research in Salvia divinorum and other hallucinogenic plants endemic to Mexico. Used for centuries by Mexico’s Mazatec people in healing rituals, the plant has recently become marketed worldwide as a legal alternative to marijuana. The book examines how the wide range of people involved with salvia -- from biomedical researchers, politicians, and users to shamans, vendors, and growers -- saturate the plant with value, often disagreeing deeply over its meaning. The book uses investigation of the global salvia trade to engage criticall with such current issues as U.S. drug policy and enforcement, pharmaceutical research procedures, biomedical claims to intellectual property rights, and ethnic tourist markets.