Unspoken Cultural Knowledge: Understanding the Endurance of Mumming in Northern Ireland, through Performance Ethnography
"Performance Ethnography rests on the idea that bodies harbour knowledge about culture, and that performance allows for the exchange of that knowledge across bodies"(Jones 2006: 339)
Some forms of cultural knowledge are unspoken, and remain between the members of a particular community. One way to acquire this cultural knowledge is through the process of performance ethnography. As Joni L. Jones states in the article (2006: 339) 'Performance and Ethnography, Performing Ethnography, Performance Ethnography', cultural knowledge can be passed on and understood through performance. This paper will explore how performance ethnography can be used to attain cultural knowledge of how and why the 'traditional' mumming performance is changed to suit a particular community's social needs. The presentation will draw on ethnographic fieldwork which was conducted with the Aughakillymaude mummers from County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, between May 2012 and May 2013. Firstly, it will give an ethnographic account of what may be seen as a 'traditional' mumming performance, using what Clifford Geertz has termed (1973) 'thick description'. We will then give an ethnographic account of what may be termed as a 'non-traditional' mumming performance- a mummers 'guard of honour'. Critics of this 'non-traditional' type of performance by the Aughakillymaude mummers have deemed it as 'not genuine Irish'. Through the ethnographic descriptions mentioned above, we will learn that while the traditional mumming performance has indeed been adapted by the community to suit their own social needs there still remains, in the 'non-traditional' performance, the traits which make the Aughakillymaude mummers unique and have helped them endure through time: a strong sense of comradery, tangible community spirit and the fortification of social relationships. Therefore, we will see that through performance ethnography, an understanding of unspoken cultural knowledge can be acquired.
About the author
Threase Finnegan is a third year Ph.D. student of social anthropology and a writing tutor at NUI Maynooth, County Kildare, Ireland. Focusing on the role of the social practise of mumming in County Fermanagh, Finnegan's work was awarded the William Wilde prize for anthropology in 2010. This work was subsequently published in the Irish Journal of Anthropology. Her Ph.D. research is funded by the Irish Research Council. Finnegan's work focuses on aspects of performance, innovation and the endurance of mumming and folk drama throughout Ireland. She is the flute player for Irish music group 'Anam', and also a keen badminton player