Faà di Bruno, Giovanni Matteo [Horatio, Orazio] 83

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French Guiana.

South American country that is administratively an Overseas Department of France. It has a total area of 85,534 km2, over 90% of which is covered by the great Amazonian forest, and a population of 173,000 (2000 estimate). The first inhabitants were Amerindians who today number 4200 and are demographically on the increase. The largest population group in the country consists of Creoles, the local term for the descendants of slaves brought from Africa and not freed until 1848. The Creole culture is similar to that of neighbouring Guyana, Suriname and the West Indies. The Maroons, the third important group, are descendants of slaves who managed to escape in the 17th and 18th centuries and formed their own cultures with a very strong African component. Finally, this ethnically mixed society includes people of French, Asian, Lebanese, Haitian and Brazilian origin. The demographic mixture resembles that of Suriname, although there is a much more marked tendency in French Guiana for people to stay in their respective groups. There is little exchange between the different cultures (Amerindian, Creole, Maroon etc.), and they relate to tradition in different ways. However, Creole music of the West Indies and popular African music have become a kind of ‘common music’ among the younger generation of all cultural groups, due primarily to the influence of the media.

1. Amerindians.

The Amerindian peoples live in two different natural environments and speak six distinct languages. The Arawak and Palikur people belong to the Arawak linguistic family and live in the coastal area in the north of the country; the Emerillons and Wayãpi (Wayampi) are Tupi in language and culture and live in the south of the country; and the Wayana people, also living in the south on the Maroni river, and the Kalina (Kalihna or Galibi) people (the most numerous group and the most active in the Amerindian political movement) in the north at the mouth of the same river, speak Carib languages. The musical systems of the peoples of the south are very similar to each other, although the three ethnic groups have different historical origins. Cultural exchange is much less apparent among the people of the coast, the Arawak, Kalina and Palikur, who have been in continuous contact with colonization for three centuries.

All the Amerindian peoples of the Guianas distinguish between communal music, which accompanies dancing and the drinking of manioc beer, and individual music, which is played solo, has no particular kind of audience and does not require drink. Certain repertories are situated between these two poles. Within individual music, there are male repertories (usually flute tunes) and female repertories (love songs, lullabies), of which the latter are now performed with decreasing frequency. Among the Emerillons, Wayana and Wayãpi, the women sometimes accompany their men in communal song, but their place in the performance is clearly secondary. For these three ethnic groups of the south, the men initiate and are responsible for the music, while on festival days the women are chiefly responsible for providing the beer, which is served according to social codes ruling the relationship between music and drinking (Beaudet, 1992). On the coast, the situation is different: Palikur women have their own extensive repertory of communal chants. This includes wawapna (‘the song of the rattle; see illustration), where the triple metre is marked with small waw rattles fixed to long sticks, mayapna (‘the song of the Maye’, one of the Palikur founding groups), wukikapna, to accompany the cutting of hair after a death, and kuwapna (‘the song of the butterflies’). The Kalina women also have a specific repertory associated with the various stages of the ceremonial mourning cycle; they mark the rhythm of these unison chants, with a slow isochronous pulsation produced by rattles on sticks called ka:lawa:si.

Apart from the rattles played by Palikur and Kalina women, all other Amerindian musical instruments are reserved for men. The sexual distinction of instrumental performance takes the form of an actual ban in the case of aerophones, conforming to a general law of Amerindian cultures in the three Americas (Beaudet, 1983). In the same way, as with most of the indigenous peoples of South America, the French Guianan Amerindians make a wide variety of flutes, trumpets and clarinets (see Jean-Louis and Collomb, 25–39), which often convey important social and religious meaning. These aerophones include characteristic instruments of the centre and north of Amazonia, such as the large ture clarinets (Beaudet, 1980 and 1989), as well as instruments more frequently found in the north and west periphery of Amazonia, for instance panpipes, sometimes played with a tortoiseshell. The Amerindians of southern French Guiana prefer rattles (away or kaway) made of thevetia (yellow oleander) seeds to mark the rhythm of their dances. The Kalina people give pride of place and significance in their mourning rituals to sambula drums, large double-headed instruments, probably of European origin. The first sequences of these rituals employ two distinct forms of music: six to eight men sing vigorously to the beating of their drums, while some ten women (their number increasing as the ceremony progresses) pound the long sticks of their rattles on the ground and sing a different repertory in shrill, plaintive tones (Kloos, 1975). Communal vocal music is held in high esteem. This always involves singing in unison, except among the Wayãpi, where the women, when singing with the men, perform a heterogeneous canon superimposed on the lower register of the men's vocal unison.

In all these traditions, the repertories' origins are uncertain: they are said to belong to the world of myth or to derive from neighbouring groups. The method of composition most frequently described is a communication from forest or river spirits conveyed through shamans, whose musical inspiration is explicitly defined as mediation between village society and the world of supernatural powers.

The musical practice of the Wayãpi is clearly organized to correspond with the structure of society: there are instruments and repertories for every social level (individual, nuclear family, larger family group, village, regional group). Emerillon music, which is little known, should be understood primarily as an assertion of the people's present identity, a miraculous one in view of the demographic catastrophe of the past. Wayana socio-musical organization seems to centre around two focal points: shamanism and the important ritual of adolescent initiation, the marake (Hurault, 1968). The repertories and musical performances of the Palikur people are evidence of the federative dynamic that has shaped their identity for several centuries. This Arawak group is also involved in the production of folklore performances associated with cultural revivalism, as are Kalina and other Arawak peoples. Throughout the country, individual music is dying out faster than communal music, although the latter has been increasingly threatened by the pressure of the tourist industry.

2. Creoles.

Creole musical performances have fallen into two large categories: the first, ‘folkloric music’ or ‘local dances’, consists of dances accompanied by song, led by drum ensembles, with rhythms of African origin; the second, ‘typical music’, comprises dance music played by bands made up of different instruments according to period and social class. These types of dance and music are of more pronounced European origin but have undergone local modification of the kind common in the West Indies (see Jean-Louis and Collomb, 73–90).

The ‘local dances’, originally danced by slaves, again divide into two subsidiary categories, depending on whether they are regarded as ‘reserved’ or ‘frenzied’. The former could be danced before slaves' masters and even in drawing-rooms: examples are the gragé, found chiefly in the Sinnamary area, accompanied by circular frame drums of different sizes, and the lérol, a kind of quadrille accompanied by three drums and a rattle. The kamougué (also ‘reserved’) is a dance accompanied by two long conical drums with single heads, which rest on the ground; the first drum, 3 metres long, is regarded as male and is used for rhythmic ostinatos (foulé). One drummer beats the skin with his hands while another strikes the body of the drum with tibwa, two short sticks. The other drum, considered female, is shorter and is used for playing various formulas described as coupé.

The belya and the kaseko (‘break the body’), the most ‘frenzied’ dances, were originally performed by the slaves among themselves; only the kaseko really survives in French Guiana. Accompanied by a tibwa and two single-headed cylindrical drums, held between the knees, it is still sometimes danced in the evening in the yards of private houses in the suburbs of Cayenne or in small towns, but, like other folkloric dances, it is chiefly performed at spectacles associated either with the revivalist movement or with tourism (Blerald-Ndagano, 1996).

‘Folkloric music’ is associated with a strong sense of locality (it is said that the gragé of the Approuague is different from the gragé of Sinnamary), whereas the whole body of ‘typical music’ is felt by the Creoles to be unoriginal and ‘copied’ from the rest of the West Indies, and in fact the constitution of Creole instrumental ensembles, their musical genres and sometimes even the musicians themselves are from the Caribbean. The middle classes in Cayenne, like other Creole middle classes, have performed European art music with piano and violin, but their main musical life has been in ballroom ensembles. The make-up and repertory of these ensembles has changed in accordance with musical changes throughout the region.

In French Guiana, the most creative period was that of the gold rush at the end of the 19th century, when such ensembles proliferated. During the 20th century the banjo, clarinet, guitar, trombone, accordion, saxophone, electric guitar and synthesizer succeeded one another as the leading instrument of bands, which, depending on the period, played waltzes, mazurkas, schottisches, beguines, merengues, campas, kadens, reggae and finally zouk. The most original part of both ‘folkloric’ and ‘typical’ music has always been the words of the songs, in which the particular features of the Creole culture of Guiana could be expressed. The poetry and vigour of Guianan song are found in the repertory of drum-accompanied dances in the carnival procession (the vidé) and among the singers themselves. The best-known singers of the first half of the 20th century include Sabas, Lubin, the Volmar brothers and Ruffinel; Viviane Emigré may be considered representative of the 1980s (Play, 1989).

3. Maroons.

Less numerous than in Suriname, most of French Guiana Maroons live along the Maroni river, where they fall into four large distinct groups: the Aluku (or Boni), the Djuka (or Aukan), the Paramaka (or Paramaccan) and the Saramaka (or Saramaccan). The Aluku, the last of these groups to form (at the end of the 18th century), live mostly in French Guiana. Although their histories are different, these peoples share many characteristics, particularly a marked African inheritance. Their multiple African origins have been synthesized into original forms, often incorporating elements of local Amerindian and Creole cultures. Creativity is another common characteristic, particularly evident in the arts (R. and S. Price, 1980). In musical life, this becomes evident in the high value placed on improvisation and the element of play, even in ceremonies (Hurault, 1968). Women and men alike enjoy the spontaneous creation of songs alluding to everyday life or accompanying heavy work; formerly men might have accompanied such songs with an agwado, a pluriarc with a resonator. The same instrument might also have led certain games.

The most important ceremonies of the Aluku (which bear the generic name of pee, ‘play’) are the booko dei funeral rites and the puu baaka marking the end of mourning (see Jean-Louis and Collomb, 49–68). They are usually led by an ensemble of three drums, the gaan doon (‘big drum’), the pikin doon (‘little drum’) and the tun. These single-headed conical drums, often profusely ornamented with carving (Hurault, 1970), appear to be very similar to West African drums (see Jean-Louis and Collomb, 49–68). Kaway rattles are important rhythmic instruments in this ceremonial music; as their name and shape indicate, they are borrowed from the neighbouring Amerindian Wayana people. Funeral rites consist of a series of sequences (mato, susa, songe, awawa, awasa) mingling song, recitation, dances, demonstrations of virtuosity, challenges and improvisations. Besides these funeral ceremonies, there are many other occasions for performance: some are formal, like the other festivals, principally held with the aim of keeping in touch with the various gods, but the dances performed by young people for their own amusement (aleke) are also very popular (Aleke Sapatia, 1994). All these performances are of great sensuous, dramatic and emotional intensity. This vivacity and formal dynamism bear witness to a deliberate and successful synthesis between the African tradition claimed by the Maroons, the value they place on ludic creativity, the physical memory of their historic recovery of their liberty and the active incorporation of foreign elements. Young people coming back from urban areas may amuse themselves by imitating the rhythm of a cola-bottling machine on their drums (R. and S. Price, 1980); similarly, ritual demonstrations of agility during a songe may be performed either to the rhythm of the village drums or to cassettes of popular African music bought in the nearest Creole town.


and other resources

M.J. Herskovits, F.S. Herskovits with M. Kolinski: Suriname Folk Lore … with Transcriptions of Suriname Songs and Musicological Analysis (New York, 1936/R), 491–740

J.-M. Hurault: Africains de Guyane (Mouton, 1970)

R. and S. Price, eds.: Afro-American Arts of the Suriname Rain Forest (Los Angeles, 1980)

J.-M. Beaudet: Les orchestres de clarinettes tule des Wayãpi du Haut-Oyapock (Guyane française) (diss., U. of Paris X, 1983)

F. Tiouka: ‘Adresse au gouvernement et au peuple français’, Ethnies, i/1–2 (1985), 7–10

J.-M. Beaudet: ‘Les turè, des clarinettes amazoniennes’, LAMR, x (1989), 92–115

M.-P. Jean-Louis and G. Collomb, eds.: Musiques en Guyane (Cayenne, 1989) [incl. J.-M. Beaudet: ‘La musique amérindienne, un art du souffle’, 25–39; K. Bilby: ‘La musique aluku, un héritage africain’, 49–68; M.-J. Jolivet: ‘Les formes de la tradition musicale en Guyane créole’, 73–90]

J.-M. Beaudet: ‘Musique et alcool en Amazonie du nord-est’, Cahiers de sociologie économique et culturelle, xviii (1992), 79–88

M. Blerald-Ndagano: Musiques et danses créoles au tambour de la Guyane française (Cayenne, 1996)

J.-M. Beaudet: Souffles d’Amazonie: les orchestres ‘tule’ des Wayãpi (Nanterre, 1997)


Musique boni et wayana de Guyane, coll. J.-M. Hurault, Vogue/Musée de l'Homme LVLX 290(1968)

Amerindian Songs from Surinam: the Maroni River Caribs, coll. P. Kloos (1975)

Music of the Haut Oyapock, coll. D. Stiffler, Folkways Records F–4235 (1980)

Wayãpi – Guyane, coll. J.-M. Beaudet, Orstom CETO 792 (1980)

Amazonie: les bruits de la forêt – Guyane-Surinam, coll. P. Huguet and O. Tostain, Audio Patrimoine International (1989)

Typiquement D.O.M. Compilation 89 Antilles – Guyane, D. Play (1989)

Aleke/Sapatia on the Move, rec. June 1994, Sonoclair SSS 9429 (1994)

Musique instrumentale de Wayana du Litani, coll. H. Rivière Musique du Monde CD 926372 (1995)

Teko Dzembi’a: musiques des Emérillon, TEK ØØØ1 (1997)

Wayãpide Guyane: un visage sonore d’Amazonie, coll. J.-M. Beaudet, Le Chant du Monde 2741102 (1998)


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