Academic journal article Ethnologies

Performing Tradition and Ethnicity at the Newfoundland St. Andrew's Society Burns Supper

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Performing Tradition and Ethnicity at the Newfoundland St. Andrew's Society Burns Supper

Article excerpt

* Cet article explore les conceptualisations contradictoires de la tradition et de l'ethnicite, telles qu'elles sont representees lors de la celebration annuelle a St John's (Terre-Neuve) de l'identite ecossaise : le diner Burns de la Newfoundland St Andrew's Society. En premier, on discute de l'importance que revetent les notions de maintien de la tradition et de la celebration de l'ethnicite pour les organisateurs de l'evenement ainsi que pour les participants. L'article s'attache ensuite en detail a deux representations de Christopher et Michael Pickard, poetes et artistes locaux qui furent les invites d'honneur de l'evenement de janvier 2007. Ces representations encodent des comportements sensiblement differents allant a l'encontre de la tradition et de l'ethnicite comparativement a ceux qui sont a la base du Burns Supper dans son ensemble. L'analyse des representations des freres Pickard permet d'examiner les tensions generees quand ces deux perspectives contradictoires se confrontent dans le contexte d'un evenement public comme le Burns Supper. Cela permet egalement d'elucider des questions plus vastes liees a la tradition et a l'ethnicite mises en jeu lors du deroulement de l'evenement.

* This article explores competing conceptualisations of tradition and ethnicity as they are enacted at an annual celebration of Scottishness in St. John's, Newfoundland: the Newfoundland St. Andrew's Society Burns Supper. It begins by discussing the significance attached to notions of maintaining tradition and celebrating ethnicity on the part of the event's organisers and participants. It goes on to focus in depth on two performances by local poets and entertainers, Christopher and Michael Pickard, invited speakers at the January 2007 event. These performances are shown to encode markedly different attitudes towards tradition and ethnicity to those which underpin the celebration of the Burns Supper as a whole. Analysis of the Pickard brothers' performances thus affords a valuable opportunity to investigate the tensions which are set into motion when these two competing perspectives confront each other in the context of an organised public event like the Burns Supper. It also helps to illuminate wider issues relating to tradition and ethnicity at play within the discourse of the event.

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The Newfoundland St. Andrew's Society Burns Supper, which takes place each January in the provincial capital of St. John's, is one of hundreds of similar events held annually since the early 1800s, in Scotland and around the world. Their common purpose is to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Scottish poet Robert Burns and "to honour the Scotland he represents" (Brown 1984: 138). (1) This calendar custom's core elements include a meal of haggis and other Scottish fare; a series of speeches, toasts and recitations of Burns's poetry; and performances of Scottish music and dance. January 2007 marked the 170th anniversary of the Burns Supper tradition in St. John's, where the event first took place in 1837. (2) The Supper was held as usual in the ballroom of the local Royal Canadian Legion branch, with around 160 people in attendance (Mowbray 2007c).

The participants' conceptualisations of tradition and ethnicity fundamentally inform and shape the celebration of the Burns Supper in St. John's. Responses to an e-mail questionnaire I distributed to audience members at the 2007 Supper cite "carrying on the tradition"--or simply "tradition"--as a key motivating factor in the continuation of the event, thereby reifying and ascribing an inherent value to the concept. (3) For example, one respondent writes that the purpose of the Burns Supper is "to continue a Scottish tradition from our cultural history," while another states more generally that "it is always important to carry on traditions, too many are lost." A third audience member observes that "having an annual Burns Supper is a tradition which has taken place for over 200 years and I think as Scots we are proud to organize this. …

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