Wednesday, August 1, 2007

75. The Power of Music -- 3. The Kalahari Debate Resolved

What the genetic evidence does to establish a genealogical "pedigree" for Kalahari Bushmen, the musical evidence would appear to do for their cultural "pedigree." In both cases, the roots may go very deep indeed, perhaps all the way back to the original band of "first people." There is a difference, of course. The genetic conclusions are supported by a large consensus of recognized authorities, while there is no such consensus supporting the musical conclusions -- possibly because there are no longer any "recognized authorities" in an area of musicology all but abandoned many years ago.

It would be nice to say that the musical evidence is too new for a consensus to have formed, but in fact it is not new at all, antedating the genetic evidence by several years. It would also be nice if I could claim priority in resolving the Kalahari impasse with such evidence. But there never should have been an impasse or even a debate in the first place, since the musical evidence was already there for all to see -- and hear -- long before the debate got going. Distinguished figures in ethnomusicology, Gilbert Rouget, Alan Lomax and Charlotte Frisbie, published their Pygmy-Bushmen comparisons during the period 1956 to 1971. Lomax pointed to the unity of Pygmy/Bushmen style in several publications, beginning in the mid-Fifties, backing his assertions up with solid statistical results drawn from his Cantometrics research. While working as Lomax's assistant, I published a Cantometric study of my own, in 1965, arriving at more or less the same conclusion via a different statistical route. The musical evidence was not exactly ignored by the anthropologists -- it was invisible to them. If you want to know why, take another look at posts 2, 3 and 8 below.

What is new is a particularly meaningful fit between the musical evidence, the genetics, and the "traditionalist" position in the Kalahari debate. In a by now classic study of African genetics, "mtDNA Variation in the South African Kung and Khwe" (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 66:1362–1383, 2000), Yu-Sheng Chen et al. reported the following results:
Besides revealing the significant substructure of macrohaplogroup L* in African populations, these data showed that the Biaka Pygmies have one of the most ancient RFLP sublineages observed in African mtDNA and, thus, that they could represent one of the oldest human populations. In addition, the Kung exhibited a set of related haplotypes that were positioned closest to the root of the human mtDNA phylogeny, suggesting that they, too, represent one of the most ancient African populations. Comparison of Kung and Khwe CR sequences with those from other African populations confirmed the genetic association of the Kung with other Khoisan-speaking peoples, whereas the Khwe were more closely linked to non–Khoisan speaking (Bantu) populations.
This remarkable study was among the earliest of many to propose a "pedigree," not only for Bushmen, but Pygmies as well, since both groups are described as being among the "oldest human populations." Needless to say, the musical evidence is consistent with these conclusions. Especially noteworthy with respect to the Kalahari debate is the distinction drawn between two groups of Bushmen, in this case the !Kung, associated genetically "with other Khoisan-speaking peoples," and a group of Khwe speakers, also Bushmen, "more closely linked to non–Khoisan speaking (Bantu) populations."

In his essay "Foragers, Genuine or Spurious" (Current Anthropology 31-2, 1990), "traditionalist" Richard Lee makes a point of distinguishing between the !Kung speakers (Ju'hoansi) of Dobe, who appear to have maintained a traditional foraging lifestyle in relative isolation, and the Kweneng, whose history reveals long association with neighboring Bantu tribes. It is the Kweneng, not the !Kung, he argues, whose history accords with the "revisionist" scenario, an interpretation of the past that ought not be applied wholesale to all Bushmen groups.

A similar distinction exists with respect to the musical evidence. We've already heard examples of Ju'hoansi (!Kung) vocalizing in Pygmy/Bushmen style, including one example from the same place referenced by Lee, the village of Dobe. On the same CD, entitled "Mongogo," the music of two Khwe speaking Bushman groups, the Bugakhwe and ||Anikhwe, from another region of Botswana (the Okavango Panhandle), is also presented. Ethnographic evidence indicates that, like the Kweneng studied by Lee, these are also "assimilated" groups. According to Matthias Brenzinger, "||Anikxoe are never included when Kxoe talk about Kxoe 'proper.' Even the Kxoe in Botswana, where the ||Anikxoe live, exclude the latter when referring to Kxoe as an ethno-linguistic entity" ("Moving to Survive: Kxoe Communities in Arid Lands," in Language, Identity and Conceptualization among the Khoisan, ed. M. Schladt, 1998, p. 324). While it isn't clear from the notes which of the two Khwe groups is represented on which track, all the music in this section is very different from the examples I presented in the last post and, in fact, much closer in style to what could be called "mainstream" Bantu. Here's one typical example, an excerpt from track 12: Taa khwena li ye te. Note the completely different, relatively harsh, vocal timbre and typically Bantu "call and response" interplay between solo voice and chorus. There is no trace of interlock, yodel or polyphony, unison singing being the rule on all the Okavango tracks.

To summarize, the musical evidence establishes a powerful behavioral/semiotic link between Bushmen and Pygmies, strongly suggesting a common cultural ancestry as remote in time as the genetic one. Moreover, it distinguishes between groups like the Ju'hoansi, regarded by both anthropologists and geneticists as representing an extremely old, isolated population, and at least one Khwe group, apparently more closely aligned, culturally, genetically -- and musically -- with Bantu speakers. The musical evidence would therefore seem to establish the cultural indigeneity of certain Bushmen groups as firmly as the genetic evidence establishes their biological indigeneity, thus settling the Kalahari debate firmly on the side of the traditionalists. Thanks to the power of music, what seemed impossible now looks highly probable: a corrider in both space and time may have opened, through which the striking affinities between certain indigenous groups of today, their cousins in remote parts of the world, and our most distant ancestors, can be discerned.

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