Wednesday, July 4, 2007

48. A Collapse A Correlation and A Concept

I am now going to collapse the first two topics I've been covering into a single topic. Pygmy/Bushmen style, as exemplified by vocal traditions such as A1, Shouted Hocket, A2, Hocketed Interlock, A3, Contrapuntal Interlock and A4, Canonic Interlock (which I haven't covered yet), along with the hocketing wind ensembles discussed by Blench, would seem, as I've argued in previous posts, to predate the separation of the hypothetical "founder" group into the separate units we now know as "Pygmies," "Bushmen" and "Bantu." It seems likely, therefore, that the original "Out-of-Africa" migrants, of ca 50,000 to 90,000 years ago, would have been perpetuating both the original vocal tradition, and the closely related instrumental tradition, of their archaic forbears. Can such a hypothesis be tested?

This question links topic 1 to topic 2, the question of what might have become of their traditions as the original migrants made their way along the coast of the Indian Ocean, from Yemen all the way to southeast Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea and Island Melanesia. There are indeed many signs of the survival of P/B in its various forms, both vocal and instrumental, in many places along the original migration path. What I've been doing in the last few posts is putting one such set of signs to the test.

Geneticists Alan J. Redd and Mark Stoneking have found two mitochondrial DNA clusters among Papua New Guinea highlanders with "coalescent time estimates of ~80,000 and 122,000 years ago, suggesting ancient isolation and genetic drift." There are indications that "84% of the sample of PNG highlander mtDNA belong to these two clusters" ("Peopling of the Sahul: mtDNA Variation in Aboriginal Australian and Papua New Guinean Populations," America Journal of Human Genetics, 65, 1999, p. 808). This is only one of several such assessments, archaeological, linguistic and genetic, that strongly tend to associate the ancestry of New Guinea highland peoples, all of whom speak some type of Papuan language, with the original "Out of Africa" lineage. On the other hand, most Austronesian speakers of the coastal and lowland areas of New Guinea generally tend to group, genetically and culturally, with the much more recent arrivals (circa 4000 ya) from SE Asia (see previous post).

According to the Cantometric table produced from a recent MS Access query (see post 46), 10 out of 11 of the New Guinea groups coded as "interlocked" are highland populations, with all 11 groups being Papuan speakers. Since there are 23 groups identified in the sample as highland and 22 as coastal or lowland (with an additional 13 I have not yet been able to locate accurately), almost one half of the highlanders are included, but only 1/22 of the coastal/lowland groups. This remarkably strong correlation came as something of a surprise, since evidence in the social sciences rarely tends to fall out so neatly. As I see it, this result looks very much like supporting evidence for the hypothesis that interlocked vocalizing could indeed have migrated from Africa to New Guinea, which, if substantiated, would confirm the theory that the original migrants were indeed maintaining that same tradition prior to the outset of their voyage.

In a further search, for all performances in New Guinea combining yodel with interlock, seven of the original ten groups were included: Biami, Dani, Eipo, Huli, Kovai, Ok and Yali. We can also add the Bosavi men's work group (discussed in the previous post) to that list, thus linking eight highland New Guinea groups out of 24 tested -- i.e., fully one third -- with the two most characteristic features of P/B style. Interestingly, the one coastal group included in the original table, the Kovai, are also included here, suggesting that, despite their location, these Papuan speakers might well represent the original, pre-Austronesian, population -- making them excellent candidates for genetic testing.

Of special interest is the fact that at least one of the highland groups, the Eipo, have been described as "pygmies." It's important, however, not to jump to too many conclusions, as the singing of this group differs in many respects from that of African Pygmies. For one thing, their melodies tend to be sung in a kind of rough unison, with long, sweeping, glissando descents, in a manner not uncommon in other regions of New Guinea. What links them with the African tradition is their recurring use of shouted hocket (style family A1) as a kind of refrain, in a manner distinctly reminiscent of other types of shouted hocket we've already heard, from Africa and elsewhere. Significantly, they also have what sound like very high whistles, which intermittently hocket in a manner apparently echoing the vocal hocket. We find stylistic mixtures of this sort in many parts of greater Melanesia. For example, the Huli, who have a very clearly yodeled form of shouted hocket, can also vocalize in a completely different style with no resemblance to anything found in Africa. The "African signature" seems distinctly present in such groups, but intermixed with styles originating elsewhere. I should add, by the way, that other groups in greater Melanesia, Indonesia, southeast Asia and the Philippines have more elaborately interlocked vocal (and instrumental) styles more clearly reminiscent of Pygmy and Bushmen practice.

Now to continue with more on our puzzler. From TRANSFORMING THE BEASTS:ANIMALS AND MUSIC IN EARLY CHINA BY Roel Sterckx (
. . . the Yellow Emperor commissioned his minister Ling Lun to make the twelve pitch-pipes (tong ) and distinguish the twelve pitch standards (lü ) according to the cries of the phoenix: six tones were derived from the melodies of the male phoenix, and six tones were based on the sounds of the female bird. The image of the phoenix cry as the source for the tuning of musical instruments occurs elsewhere. A lost Shijing ode quoted in the Xunzi states that the cry of the phoenix resembles that of pan-pipes (xiao ). A similar identification of the sounds of the phoenix with musical instruments appears in a Han text which describes the call of the phoenix as follows: “The male cry goes *tsit-tsit , the female cry goes *tsjuk-tsjuk . Its soft cry matches that of a bell; its loud cry that of a drum.” The role of the phoenix as originator of wind-instruments was related to its image as the embodiment of wind (p. 9).
And this, from an online article entitled "The Birds and the Blues," by Max Haymes (

A story handed down by ex-slaves claims that one evening a slave was feeling low in spirit and heard a plaintive cry of a night bird. The sound inspired the slave to get a piece of cane from a canebrake and cut some holes in it. He then commenced to play a “blues” on his whistle. As time went by, the instrument evolved into a set of “quills”.

I'm feeling a bit guilty about all these uncommented quotations, but I wanted to give yins a chance to do some thinking on your own, for a change. ("Yins" is a Pittsburgh word, the equivalent of "y'all," a southern word, signifying the plural of "you" -- futile attempts at making the King's English more logical and less rigidly grammatical, thus killing two birds with one stone.) At this point, however, I do think some commentary is in order.

There are several things that interest me in all the quotations I've presented in the last few posts. First, each presents some sort of combination of myth and theory about the origin of the panpipe, and by extension, at least as far as the Chinese stories are concerned, the origins of music itself. Another thing that interests me is the association of pipes and/or panpipes with birds. This is something one finds very often in the literature on panpipes, from many different regions all over the world. And indeed some of the oldest pipes described in the archaeological literature were made from bird bones.

Most significant are the references to pipes as either male or female. In the Chinese literature this is associated with the notion of Yin and Yang, with the distinct implication that the concept might have originated, as did so many other concepts fundamental to Chinese philosophy, as part of the same process that gave rise to the panpipe itself. In a great many pipe, flute and panpipe traditions, almost everywhere these instruments are found, from Africa to China, southeast Asia, Melanesia and even the Americas, the division into male and female is important. I'll have more to say on this presently.

Another thing I've noticed in the Chinese accounts is that they are not only about origins but also traditions, and the way traditions are maintained. The Yellow Bell becomes the standard for a great many things that were vital to traditional Chinese society. It began, however, as a wooden pipe and, as such, would in all likelihood expand and/or contract over time. It was necessary, therefore, for the original process of its creation to be repeated at various intervals of time. I see this as a profound insight into the nature of tradition, which is often misunderstood as the rather boring insistence on continually doing things the same old way. However, as the myth of the Yellow Bell teaches, in order for traditions to continue functioning as such, they must not only be maintained, but renewed. Tradition can be seen, therefore, not so much like a kind of analog recording, that loses something from one generation to the next until it no longer bears much resemblance to the original, but more like a digital file, where the process that gave rise to the tradition is what is reproduced, thus ensuring that the original in all its freshness will endure.

Now I want to turn to a discussion of a seemingly very different panpipe tradition from Melanesia, specifically the remarkable tradition of the 'Are'are people, whose music, and musical theories, were studied by a very innovative and creative ethnomusicologist by the name of Hugo Zemp. The following is a quotation from his essay, "Aspects of 'Are'are Musical Theory" (Ethnomusicology vol. 23, no. 1, 1979), with reference to the surprisingly sophisticated musical concepts of the so-called "primitive" people whose traditions he's been studying:

I'll be getting more deeply into this whole issue of theory in the next installment.

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