Emotion in Laments: Bodily Expressions of Emotions and the Otherworld

Viliina Silvonen, University of Helsinki

Laments are ritual poetry of grieves and expressions of sorrows and they are performed in ritual contexts such as funerals and weddings. In addition to these contexts, lamenters expressed also occasional sorrows and worries with laments. Besides the aspect of laments as expressions of emotions, laments were a way to communicate to the otherworld.

Lamenter composes her lament improvising in the performance situation using traditional material; she constructs the themes from formulaic utterances and follows traditional schemas, similarly, the melody bases on the traditional musical elements. There are some obligatory themes to be included in certain contexts and phases of the rite, but a certain lament is always a unique performance. One of the most peculiar and essential characteristic for laments is the audible, bodily expression of emotions; these “icons of crying” (Urban 1988) reveal the emotional state. With all these traditional material – metaphoric language and highly emotionally invested performance – laments convey mythic knowledge about the world and construct the socio-cultural reality of the present community. Besides the mythic knowledge, laments convey emotions and values.

The emotionality of laments is not stabile and steady, most often, the emotional intensity increases as the performance proceeds; yet, some laments are thoroughly highly emotional. The intensity of emotional expression varies between different types of laments as well as between performances. In addition, the emotional intensity varies between different parts or themes of a lament. During the performance, lamenter uses various multimodal techniques to express the emotions and at the same time these expressions provoke and instigate the emotionality – somehow enfold the lamenter in the special emotional state.