South Asia Seminar - Kaley Mason "Enterprising Performers, Worldly Ethnopreneurs: Ritual Artistry out of Hereditary Servitude in Malabar"

Kerala is one of India’s premiere destinations for leisure travelers. Aggressively promoted as “God’s Own Country” since the early 1990s, the state’s robust tourism industry has benetted from an educated workforce, tropical scenery, Ayurvedic treatment facilities, and distinctive performing arts, including classical dance-dramas like Kathakali and visually stunning rituals like eyyam in Malabar. While many studies have examined touristic encounters with stationary hosts, few have explored the mobility of the “toured.” In this paper I trace the passage of Malayan eyyam spirit-medium performers from ritual servants in communities of worship, to artists on proscenium stages in destination branding strategies of corporate Kerala. Drawing on conversations with diverse actors in the industry, including a double-reed player and his high-caste impresario, I examine how global tourism opened new avenues for cultural mobility, as well as how subaltern performers adapted their craft accordingly. At the same time, I also reect on the ways in which these avenues were contingent on ethnicizing caste identity and forging inter-caste alliances, strategies that would appear to run against the grain of socialist Kerala’s sublimation of caste in favor of class.

Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)