Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

12/1/2017 - 2/28/2019

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

Documenting Vaihoho, a Form of Sung Poetry in Southeast Asia

FAIN: FA-252317-17

Philip Yampolsky
Unaffiliated independent scholar

The documentation, through recordings and in a book, of vaihoho, a musical-poetic form of Timor-Leste.   

This is a project to document (in recordings and a book) the music, texts, performance practice, and ethnographic context of vaihoho, an endangered musico-poetic form with deep cultural significance for Fataluku-speakers in rural Timor-Leste (TL). The study will also contribute new data to discussions of Timor as a border zone for Austronesian and Papuan cultures. In addition to making new recordings, the project will repatriate to source communities a corpus of field recordings made in the 1960s by French anthropologists. These recordings plus the new ones will be deposited in the source communities and will also form the nucleus of a new national audio-visual archive for TL. This Fataluku research is the final phase of a larger project, under way since 2012, to document endangered traditions of sung poetry in Indonesian Timor and TL. The Fataluku material will be combined with comparable documentation of Tetun, Ema, and Bunaq sung poetry.

Associated Products

Vaihoho and kananuk: the metrical structure of two forms of sung poetry from the island of Timor [unpublished report submitted to the PARADISEC Archive of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (Report)
Title: Vaihoho and kananuk: the metrical structure of two forms of sung poetry from the island of Timor [unpublished report submitted to the PARADISEC Archive of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music
Author: Philip Yampolsky
Abstract: Since 2011 I have been documenting and researching rural singing in oral trad ition in the bi-national island of Timor.1 I have worked mainly with two ethnolinguistic groups: the Southern Tetun,2 who live (a) in the southern mountains (foho) and south coastal plain (fehan) in Kabupaten Malaka on the Indonesian side of the international border, and (b) and in the adjacent Munisipiu Covalima on the Timor-Leste side; and the Fataluku, who live at the far eastern tip of the island, in Munisipiu Lautem. In their singing, both groups use complex, unwritten systems for incorporating pre-existing poems into a repertoire of melodies that are independent of the poems. (That is, the poems are not fixed to specific melodies.) The Fataluku poems are called vaihoho, while a common term for the Tetun poems is kananuk (also knananuk and aiknanuk). Vaihoho and kananuk have different metrical structures, and the systems for setting them to melodies are different in detail, though similar in principle. These singing traditions are practiced now only by the elderly, and they are likely to die out in the next decades. My ethnomusicological aim is first of all to document them in recordings while documentation is still possible. But beyond that it is to comprehend the traditions as formal structures and as systems of knowledge and practice.
Date: 03/20/2019

Poetic Text and Melodic Text: Text-Setting in Two Song Traditions of Timor (Article)
Title: Poetic Text and Melodic Text: Text-Setting in Two Song Traditions of Timor
Author: Philip Yampolsky
Abstract: Two traditions of unaccompanied singing in rural Timor—vaihoho duets of Fataluku speakers (Timor-Leste) and choral kananuk of the Southern Tetun (Timor-Leste and Indonesian Timor)—expand poetic texts by inserting vocables and extraneous words according to remarkably specific patterns of insertion and repetition. In effect there are two levels of text: that of the poem itself and that of a melodic text belonging not to the poem but to the melody. The article closes with brief comparisons to some other singing traditions in Indonesia and elsewhere (Rajasthan, Laos, and the Solomon Islands) and calls for detailed study of the structural role of “fillers” in text-setting.
Year: 2022
Access Model: Subscription; access through JStor
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Asian Music 53(1): 80-126, 2022
Publisher: Asian Music 53(1): 80-126

Poetic text vs. melodic text in the sung poetry of Timor (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Poetic text vs. melodic text in the sung poetry of Timor
Author: Philip Yampolsky
Abstract: Two rural traditions of sung poetry in Timor—separated by 300 kilometers and belonging to different language families—exhibit similar processes of poetic fragmentation. In both traditions, the poems are couplets, but each tradition has its own metrical pattern, applied uniformly to every line. Couplets, chosen extemporaneously by the singers, are sung to strophic melodies, one line per strophe. Each tradition’s invariable meter divides the lines of poetic text into units, which, in singing, are interspersed among vocables and extraneous words that are fixed, always the same and falling in the same places in every statement of the melody. Thus there are two levels of sung text: the poetic text, changing with every strophe, and the melodic text, which belongs to the melody and must be repeated every time. Any couplet may be sung to any melody, but every melody has its own template of melodic text, so the same couplet will be realized differently in different melodies. Between couplets, singers may shift from one melody to another; this entails switching templates, which constitutes a challenge and, I suggest, an aesthetic pleasure. A search in the literature has yet to turn up counterparts to this system, but often published studies of sung poetry give “fillers” short shrift, leaving it unclear whether they are fixed and requisite elements or casual and variable insertions. So, two questions: is this interweaving of fixed melodic text and changing poetic text known in other traditions? And how could such a counterintuitive system come about?
Date: 10/28/2021
Conference Name: Society for Ethnomusicology 2021 Annual Meeting

The polyphonic duets of Eastern Flores and Eastern Timor: a detailed comparison [double-length paper] (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The polyphonic duets of Eastern Flores and Eastern Timor: a detailed comparison [double-length paper]
Author: Philip Yampolsky
Author: Dana Rappoport
Abstract: While solo singing and singing in monophonic or heterophonic choruses are common throughout Island Southeast Asia (and polyphonic choruses are also found, though less frequently), singing in polyphonic duet is extremely rare. It is known only in two circumscribed regions in the islands—one on Flores and one, some 450 km to the east, on Timor—and also, farther afield (another 2,270 km east from Timor), in the Manus Islands east of New Guinea. All three traditions are characterized not only by the duet format itself, but by the pervasive presence of harmonic seconds (major, minor, and approximate), and the duets of Flores and Timor—although practiced by speakers of contrasting language families—have many other similarities as well. (The Melanesian tradition, with fewer similarities to the others, may for the purposes of our presentation be considered an outlier.) The presence of two geographically separate traditions, strongly resembling each other but remarkably different from any other (known) traditions in the 17,000 islands of the region, presents what Rappoport calls (2010) an enigma. We propose to offer, in a combined, double-length paper, a detailed analytical comparison of the duet traditions of Flores and Timor. The presentation will feature field recordings and transcriptions derived from our individual research among Lamaholot-speakers in the Tanjung Bunga (TB) region of eastern Flores (Indonesia) and Fataluku (FL)-speakers at the eastern tip of Timor (Timor-Leste). When considered in broad terms, the traditions have a striking number of features in common. Yet when examined in detail, most of these features occur in contrasting forms in TB and FL. The ethnographic contexts also differ significantly. Our aim is to highlight the similarities and differences, not to explain them. Nevertheless, one plausible hypothesis, backed up by some TB origin-narratives (though not yet investigated with regard to DNA), inescapably presents itself: that these two
Date: 6/9/2021
Conference Name: Analytical Approaches to World Music: Sixth International Conference