Of course, the Ik represent an extreme case, and it's not difficult to imagine such a disaster leading to a culture dying out completely. But what if it doesn't die out? What if there are survivors who manage to begin anew at some point, what will they be teaching their children? What aspects of their old culture are likely to survive, what are likely to be lost and what new elements are likely to be introduced?As far as population genetics is concerned, there is one thing we can say for sure. When a population has been drastically reduced in size, for whatever reason, its genetic diversity will also be drastically reduced, in a type of genetic drift known as a population bottleneck:
Population bottlenecks occur when a population’s size is reduced for at least one generation. Because genetic drift acts more quickly to reduce genetic variation in small populations, undergoing a bottleneck can reduce a population’s genetic variation by a lot, even if the bottleneck doesn’t last for very many generations. . .Population bottlenecks lead to founder effects:
A founder effect occurs when a new colony is started by a few members of the original population. This small population size means that the colony may have:It's not difficult to see how, in a society enduring as much extreme stress as the Ik (and here I am speaking hypothetically regarding the possibility of a parallel situation in the distant past), only a relatively few individuals might manage to survive. As far as the geneticists are concerned, this drastic reduction in size would already, in itself, produce both a population bottleneck and founder effect. But that wouldn't be the end of it, because we are dealing here with a human population, maintaining certain social and cultural traditions that will also, inevitably, be affected. In other words, we can conclude that population bottlenecks will lead to socio-cultural bottlenecks, which will, in turn, produce socio-cultural founder effects.
- reduced genetic variation from the original population.
- a non-random sample of the genes in the original population
It's impossible to predict which aspects of the old culture will endure and which will fall by the wayside, as this will depend on the individual characteristics and preference of the survivors. If they are anything like the Ik survivors, however, we can make some predictions with a reasonable degree of confidence. For one thing, if their old, pre-bottleneck culture were as communal as that of most African societies, many if not all these communal values might well be lost. If, like the Pygmies and Bushmen, and so many other hunter-gatherer groups, they were in the habit of sharing all food and other goods equally among themselves, with no thought of repayment, one might expect a very different sort of "economic" code among the bottleneck survivors. If they had been non-violent and cooperative in the past, one might expect that the survivors would not only be more prone to violence and less cooperative, but that they would also place a social value on both violence and self-interest, a value that might well be reflected in a new set of myths, legends and other traditions to be passed on to future generations.
Musically, one could predict the loss of certain elements that might have been a part of the older tradition. Certainly if they had been in the habit of singing in P/B style, or something resembling it, there would be a considerable loss, simply due to the breakdown of communal life. We might well expect far more emphasis on solo singing, with unison being more likely than polyphony in cases where group singing might be revived. As I see it, and I think this hypothesis can be supported from what we already know about the musical "evolution" of many groups, Joseph Jordania's observation regarding polyphonic singing makes a great deal of sense: once the habit of singing spontaneously in harmony (i.e., polyphonically) is lost, it will never be regained -- not at least in the most traditional societies.
One more thing to keep in mind. Regardless of the cause of the initial population bottleneck, once the new set of traditions is established by the surviving founder group, there us good reason to believe that the new traditions will tend to persist unchanged, even after the conditions that led to the bottleneck improve. Seen from this perspective, therefore, it appears as though culture, contrary to the assumptions of functionalism, is not determined so much by the environment as by a very fundamental principle, far too neglected in our time, the sheer inertial force of tradition. This is of course a hypothesis, not a rule, as there is still much to be learned about cultural evolution. It is, however, a testable hypothesis -- in the testing of which the musical evidence is now playing a crucial role.