Thursday, July 26, 2007

70. Additionally . . .

Believe me I do not feel comfortable tossing these extremely politically incorrect terms around. Not that I usually have a problem with political incorrectness. But Urrasse? Urkultur? pedigree? On the other hand, the truly delicious irony entailed by the much denigrated and abused Bushmen having a pedigree definitely appeals to me, I find some real poetic justice therein. As for Urrasse and Urkultur, well, how about "first people," and "original lifestyle," does that sound better?

Wait a minute, you're saying, what about this pedigree thing, how do the Bushmen have a pedigree, what's that all about? Aren't all of us descended from the same group of "first people," assuming there were actually such a group? Yes, we are all descended from the same ancestors, assuming the correctness of the "Out of Africa" theory. But that hasn't prevented the experts from singling out certain "indigenous" peoples as genealogically special. And the Bushmen are in the forefront of this totally mind blowing development.

Here's what no less an authority than James Watson, discoverer of the double helix, has to say: "Another interesting finding confirmed by the mtDNA and Y chromosome data is the position on the human family tree of the San [Bushmen] of southern Africa. Theirs is the longest, and therefore the oldest branch on the tree" (DNA: The Secret of Life, Knopf, 2003, p. 243). Watson is, of course, aware that we're all descended from the same deep ancestry: "If we trace lineages back to the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans, my lineage is about 5 million years old, and so is a San's. In fact our two lineages are about the same for most of those eons; only 150,000 years ago did the San lineage separate from other human lines" (p. 244). Why did it separate, what does that mean? "It appears, from the genetic evidence, that after an initial migration into southern and eastern Africa, the San remained relatively isolated throughout history. . . The Bantu expansion displaced the San to marginal environments like the Kalahari Desert" (ibid.).

So much for one great chunk of the Great Kalahari Debate. While the archaeological evidence remains sparse and inconclusive, the genetic evidence is abundant and clear. The claim by Wilmsen and Denbow that "'Bushmen' and 'San' are invented categories and 'Kalahari foragers' an ethnographic reification drawn from one of several subsistence strategies engaged in by all of Botswana's rural poor" [see post 64] is inconsistent with the genetic evidence. The Bushmen cannot be dismissed as a motley group of poor folk who happened to be living in the Kalahari just like everyone else in that region, and fell back on hunting and gathering after losing their day jobs. According to the genetic evidence, "the San remained relatively isolated throughout history," including their long period of marginalization in the Kalahari. But this is exactly what the revisionists claimed not to be the case, that they were not isolated, but an indistinguishable part of the greater historical processes roiling around them, that their identity as indigenous hunter/gatherers is an essentialist illusion, "relying ‘on obsolete anthropological notions and on a romantic and false ethnographic vision.’" [see post 64.] If that were the case, the genetic evidence would reflect it. It does not.

We now have only one more piece of the puzzle to complete, the cultural part. Which involves the musical part -- and the power of music to provide us with evidence that, for me at least, is every bit as compelling as the genetic evidence.

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