Friday, December 18, 2009

258. The Baseline Scenarios -- 34: The Migrants -- Culture

While aspects of P/B vocal style appear to have survived as a kind of "African signature" among indigenous groups in Southeast Asia, Southern China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea, Island Melanesia, among certain Siberian, Inuit and Amerindian groups, as well as among certain "peasant" communities in various regions of Europe, it would appear to have a very different meaning for these peoples than it has for the Pygmies and Bushmen groups I've been using to construct my HBC model.

For one thing, the style tends to be watered down, lacking the complexity, subtlety, spontaneity and creative freedom so characteristic of almost all Pygmy and Bushmen music. The counterpoint is often more limited in scope, the degree of improvisation restricted, or in many cases non-existent. Performances tend to be planned in advance and often rehearsed, with a fixed rather than open-ended number of parts.

The social context in which this particular type of music is performed also tends to be far more restricted. In a great many cases, the style is reserved for special occasions, often associated with some of the most important rituals, as though this music were consciously associated with the oldest and most powerful ancestral traditions. In other cases, we find it, as in the "throat singing" of certain Paleosiberian and Inuit groups, characterized as a game (though as Nattiez has demonstrated, this "game" has decidedly shamanistic roots).

It's important to understand that such limitations do not apply among African Pygmies and Bushmen. While certain repertoires are reserved for special ceremonies, such as the girl's elima or the molimo ceremony among the Mbuti, or the Eland or Xhoma rituals among the Ju/'hoansi Bushmen, the style as a whole is a characteristic, spontaneously expressed, aspect of everyday life, as it very likely was for HBC. Whether the same applies to P/B as practiced by HMC is not completely clear, especially since we find "watered down" and contextually restricted forms of P/B among many African groups as well.

Only a very few, rather simple, musical instruments are native to either Pygmies or Bushmen. Most instruments now in use among these groups, such as the drum, the mbira and various string instruments are known to be borrowed from neighboring farming or herding peoples. In fact the only musical instrument commonly found among all three of our "feeder" groups, EP, WP and Bu, is the musical bow, an extremely important instrument that was undoubtedly a part of both HBC and HMC, and is widely found among a great many indigenous groups in many parts of the world.

Of special interest in the present context are the many polyphonic wind ensembles, of pipes, whistles, trumpets, horns or flutes, to be found among certain groups in Africa, organized in a manner very similar to the hocketed interlocking of parts so characeteristic of P/B vocalizing. Typically, each instrument has a single note to play, or in some cases, a repeated phrase, which interweaves with all the other parts to produce a resultant melody, rhythm or polyphonic texture. Since I've already discussed such ensembles at some length on this blog (see Post 38 et seq.), I won't go into detail on their organization here.

The Mbuti perform with hocketed ensembles of single-note pipes called Luma, tuned and kept for them by their Bantu "masters." The BaAka use the mobeke pipe, described as "a small whistle made from the stem of a papaw plant," for the same purpose. Among the Ba'Benzele Pygmies similar pipes are called hindewhu. In all cases, the pipes participate as equal partners with voices in hocketed/interlocked P/B style performances. I would have included pipe ensembles of this kind in HBC, except for the fact that they are not found, apparently, among Bushmen groups, and I've been trying to be as strict as possible with my "triangulation" method.*

Nevertheless, since such ensembles are so common in Africa, with very similar ensembles of pipes, panpipes and trumpets found outside of Africa, in many of the same parts of the world as P/B style vocalizing, it would be very difficult to explain such a link unless the tradition had been disseminated via HMC. Thus, despite the fact that it's not strictly speaking possible to attribute instrumental hocket/interlock to HBC, the worldwide distribution of this tradition can be explained only if it were a part of HMC. The vocal and instrumental forms of P/B are so close stylistically and structurally that the latter most likely developed from the former, possibly only after the proto-Bantu diverged from the ancestral proto-Pygmies and Bushmen.

Hocketed percussion, possibly a development from the very complex polyrhythmic interactions of P/B handclapping, is also an important tradition in many parts of Africa, with important echoes, once again, along the southern "Out of Africa" route. One of the simplest types, stamping tubes, is widely found in Africa, but also along the same southern "Out of Africa" route as so many of the other traditions I've been discussing. In this highly interactive type of music-making, each performer typically has a single tube in each hand, performing only one segment of an intricate melodic-rhythmic resultant pattern, usually repeated over and over.

Though commonly found among many African groups, stamping tubes are not reported among either Pygmies or Bushmen, though similarly interactive rhythmic effects are produced by them using sticks, a practice that could be regarded as prototypical. Since very similar types of stamping tube ensembles are found outside of Africa, and the complexities of the rhythms make independent invention unlikely, despite the simplicity of the instruments themselves, once again we have a musical tradition that could only have been transmitted via HMC.

Much the same could be said of a very simple type of xylophone, made from slabs of wood placed on the lap or legs of the performer, which once again is commonly found both in Africa and along the Out of Africa path, but not reported for Pygmies or Bushmen, thus most likely not directly associable with HBC.

Another instrument of great interest, with a very similar multi-regional distribution, is the slit drum, which is also, like stamping tubes, often played in hocketed/interlocked ensembles. Once again, the distribution of this very important instrument, often elaborately carved and with great ritual significance in certain cultures, can be explained only if it were part of a tradition disseminated via HMC.

*However, hocketed panpipe ensembles were reported among their close relatives, the Khoi-Khoi (Hottentot) cattle herders.


German Dziebel said...

"It's important to understand that such limitations do not apply among African Pygmies and Bushmen."

Again, I have to raise a serious doubt. I wouldn't dismiss the possibility, but instead put it on the same footing as your other hypothesis, that HBC musical culture (whether in Africa or elsewhere) was truly "polyphonic" (in the Bakhtinian sense of the word, not in the technical musicological sense) to encompass both polyphony and monophony as two contrasting types of vocalizing and instrumentalizing that were employed on different occasions by different groups of people. It could be that polyphony was originally instrumental only (I think one of your hated past evolutionists suggested it already), while vocalizing was strictly monophonic, as it continues to be in Australia and North America. Polyphonic singing evolved in imitation of instrumental polyphony. (Sort of like that Kid Beyond guy on YouTube who can imitate various instruments with his voice.) In Africa, among P and B polyphony simply reached "fixation," using an analogy from genetics, and spread across occasions to become the single dominant type. This would be the consequence of a bottleneck, as Pygmies and Bushmen spread into their very specific desert and jungle environments.

I think by simply flipping the "simple to complex" evolutionary scenario on its head, you remain an evolutionist (of the early unilinear kind) in the sense that you freely assign an ancestral status to one cultural form and a derived status to the other one, instead of allowing them to co-exist throughout history but change frequencies and allocations across social occasions and social groups. Otherwise, you'll have to explain 1) why some human groups kept polyphony, while others switched entirely to monophony; 2) why P and B retained the original musical style for hundreds of thousands of years (they may have gone through bottlenecks, too, even without leaving Africa), while migrating groups began losing it once they left East Africa.

"Only a very few, rather simple, musical instruments are native to either Pygmies or Bushmen... "

Does it mean that P and B originally had a very limited range of musical instruments (just one?), similarly to North American Indians? How could they form polyphonic ensembles?

"One clue, as far as Africa is concerned, is the very interesting center of P/B style to be found in a region very close to what is widely considered both a possible birthplace of "modern" humans and the staging area for the Out of Africa migration: the Omo River valley in southwest Ethiopia. According to the Cantometric database, the following peoples in this region, all speakers of "Omotic" languages, vocalize at least some of the time using interlocking counterpoint, one of the most distinctive features of P/B: the Ari, Dorze, Gamo, Ghimira and Wolamo. As far as I know, however, the Dorze are the only ones in this region who regularly yodel, another important feature of P/B among Pygmies and Bushmen."

As I've already brought to your attention, polyphonic music in Omotic, judging from the scattered data I have, follows the Papua New Guinean and South American pattern of conflating dual division of the ensemble with polyphonic instrumentalizing/vocalizing. This feature is absent from Pygmies and Bushmen and it makes P/B style derived from "moiety polyphony" by simple trait deletion. This will also make the absence of monophony in Africa look regular, as ancient African populations seem to have lost at least two widely distributed musical traits. With the loss of monophony and moiety polyphony they generalized plain polyphony across all social contexts, groups and occasions.

DocG said...

If you want to reinterpret what I've written so it suits your own theory, German, you are certainly free to do so. But don't expect me to comment when so little of what you are suggesting here makes sense to me. Sorry.

German Dziebel said...

My criticism of your interpretation of musical evidence stands on its own with or without the out-of-America theory as an alternative solution. You are the only musicologist, as far as I know, who believes that the distribution of musical styles supports the out of Africa theory of human evolution. You still have to convince everyone that polyphony devolves into monophony on a worldwide scale.