“Gasi” is a special Subanen drink. A rice-yeast fermented beverage made of rice, manioc, maize, and/or Job’s tears mash. It is drunk with bamboo straws inserted in the bottom of a Chinese jar containing the fermented mash. Each drinking turn is preceded by the addition of water to keep the jar filled to the brim. When the water is sucked up through the straw it draws an alcoholic mixture from the mash as well.
A festival meal is the usual social context of Subanen drinking. The “gasi” drinking occurs only during festivity and is the focus of the social gathering. Figuratively speaking, the function of the drinking straw is not only as a channel for the drink, but mainly as a channel for the drink-talk. The Subanen have an expression for this: “talug bwat dig beksuk” or “talk from the straw”. The drinking-talk is a major medium of interfamily communication for which the festive gathering provides the opportunity. As there are no absoluet, society-wide status positions, one’s role in society at large, partucularly for the Subanen male, depends to a considerable extent upon one’s verbal performace during drinking encounters.
The strategy of drinking-talk is to manipolate role relations among the participants thereby maximizing one’s own share of drink and talk in order to assume “esteem-at-tracting and authority-wielding roles.” All drinking sessions follow a rigid cultural pattern.Beginning with initial tasting and simple terms of address, those of lesser verbal ability are gradually eliminated. Finally, discussion and argument usually lead to litigation. The session ends with a prestigious display of true verbal art which involves stylized patterns of Subanen song and verse composition. Not only are songs and poems improvised, but a recital of traditional Subanen tales from memory is required. The most skilled in “talking from the straw” are de facto leaders of the society.

Advertisements