Songs as salve

After decades of bringing us snapshots of Cape Breton island in photos and words – and publishing other people’s writing — at last Ron Caplan has published his own monograph. Outwardly it is a delightful, warm and ramble-y visit to the northernmost corner of the island with lovely portraits of its people. But it is also exactly the kind of ‘Anthropology’ book I like: introspective, rooted in observation and interview, while making a point very clearly.

In the book, Caplan unpacks the story of Andrew Dunphy, who served his community in various ways but most notably through composing narrative obituary verse. As Caplan explains, “Obituary verse can be seen as an extension of Dunphy’s nursing and informing roles […] elements of a complex social tool that functioned in the preservation of community and in personal and communal reintegration.” What a warm and mutually supportive culture he captures for us here. Recommended to those interested in traditional life, community, sociology, anthropology, folklore and ethnomusicology … or just those who like a good yarn.


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