Thursday, June 14, 2007

32. Are We There Yet?

I believe I've established 1. that throat-singing in essentially the same style described by Nattiez must have been practiced many thousands of years ago, well prior to the 4,000 to 5,000 year figure he suggests; 2. that shamanism must also have been practiced by the same ancestral population during the same period. We can go on to conclude that the association we now find between the spiritual practice and the vocal style must be equally archaic, since that association is also so widely distributed today, among the indigenous peoples of the north. While the Inuit might appear to be an exception, there is strong evidence, as Nattiez has shown, that their throat-singing "games" once had a shamanic function as well.

What is the nature of that relationship? In section 29, I referred to Nattiez' descrition of throat-singing as "the production of a continual stream of sound through rapid alternations of audible exhaling and inhaling, 'which create what can be called a 'panting style' . . . .'" [p. 401] I then referred to an essay on hyperventilation and trance in Nganasan shamanism, which concludes that this type of vocalizing, described in terms of a "panting motive," can be and often is used to induce trance. According to sources referenced by the authors, this type of ceremony can last either all night or until the dancers collapse. Here is a recording we've already heard (in section 22) from Kamchatka with many of the same characteristics.

Now I'd like to do essentially what Nattiez did, only on a much larger scale, by comparing similar vocal "signifiers," but over a far more extensive geographic span, taking us far beyond the circumpolar region. Because there are other instances in the world where "shouted hocket," combined with hyperventilation, singing in the throat and "panting style" work together to invoke trance in a context of shamanic ritual. The most dramatic example is the Ju'hoansi Tcoqma we've already heard. While the context is different in certain respects, as this is a boy's initiation ceremony and not a bear dance, they actually have a lot in common: both ceremonies go on for hours to the point of exhaustion or collapse; both involve hyperventilation and "panting"; most of the vocalizing in both is "gutteral," i.e., centered in the lower throat, or "glottal" area; both are organized according to the characteristically shouted form of hocketed interlock that's been the focus of our discussion for some time now; and both invoke shamanic trance.

There are in fact many other tribal groups in Africa whose vocalizing combines shouted hocket with gutteral "panting," hyperventilation and trance, though not always associated with shamanism per se. A remarkable variant can be found, for example, among Massai warriors, who chant, according to Malcom Floyd, in "a semi-vocalised, semi-pitched, rhythmic hyperventilation accompaniment technique" called nkuluut, characterized by low pitched, gutteral sounds. According to Floyd, this type of performance serves both as a source of arousal and containment of that arousal, in delicate balance. "It will also be noted, however, it is not uncommon for the arousal to reach depths which make containment impossible, for nkuluut to overpower melody, resulting in extreme cases in seizures leading to catatonic states." While such chanting can be organized according to the call and response litany format so commonly found in Africa, it can also take the form of a type of shouted interlock very close indeed to both Bushmen and Paleosiberian practice.

What we need to consider at this point is how all these practices relate to one another. It's tempting indeed to ascribe the origins of shamanism itself to the ancestors of the Bushmen, rather than the Paleosiberians, as has generally been assumed. And the musical evidence certainly seems to support such a theory, since we apparantly find so many of the essential ingredients of Paleosiberian shamanic vocalization in the Tcoqma ceremony. If our earliest fully human ancestors did indeed emerge from Africa to populate the rest of the world, then one could make a strong case for some sort of proto-Bushmen origin for shamanism -- or at the very least an origin somewhere in Africa. The argument would look very much like Nattiez' argument for the unity of circumpolar throat singing, for which he posited a "protoform" dating to at least the time when the three language families, Eskimo-Aleut, Chuckchi-Kamchatkan and Altaic, diverged. If we feel comfortable including Bushmen shamanism (and/or Massai catatonism) in the same mix, then we would need to think in terms of much larger and far older linguistic/genetic super-families which would most likely have diverged in Africa prior to the "Out of Africa" migration. By the same token, if we are looking for the same "protoform" posited by Nattiez, his dates would have to be adjusted to a period roughly 100,000 years ago, very close indeed to our year 000001.

I must hasten to add that the whole question of the origins (and even the nature of) shamanism is not something I am qualified to pass any sort of judgement on. What I've presented above can be described as informed speculation at best. Maybe also uninformed. Or half baked. I do like it. And it does make sense, to me at least. But I'd want to know a lot more about this topic before proceeding any further in that direction. It was a detour anyhow, because our main concern is with a topic much dearer to my heart: the origins of music.

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