Wednesday, January 13, 2010

287. Aftermath 2

Please forgive me, but at this point I want to continue quoting from the passage in an earlier blog post where I discussed what Turnbull had to say about the Ik. While my comments at that time were prompted by speculations as to what might have happened in Africa, where P/B appears to have morphed into a much simpler vocal style (and more complex development of instrumental music), which eventually became the mainstream Bantu style, my comments fit the (hypothetical) post-Toba situation even better:
While the Ik may be seen as victims of a characteristically modern, "post-colonial" situation, the radical changes recorded by Turnbull can give us an insight into what could have happened at certain times in the past, when a particular population is suddenly placed under tremendous stress to the point that the most basic cultural norms begin to break down. Of special significance for us is the relative scarcity of musical references in the book. Whenever singing is mentioned, it's almost always solo singing, not surprising in an atmosphere where social cohesion is breaking down and "every man for himself" has become the norm. The only group singing noted by Turnbull among the Ik is the singing of Christian hymns, and that takes place only when a group is expecting a consignment of food from some missionaries (who never show up). He has nothing to say about what their music might have been like in the past, but if the Ik were a typical African tribe, we can be almost 100% sure that group singing would have been common. In the context described in the book, however, occasions for group singing, either for pleasure or for traditional ritual purposes, no longer exist.
As Petraglia's findings suggest, there appear to have been Toba survivors, though they would certainly have been only a small fraction of the population directly in the path of the disaster. It's also possible that the artifacts he discovered were from survivors in a neighboring area, where the fallout wasn't quite as heavy, who moved into this area at a later time. In any case, anyone trying to survive in the post-Toba environment would have been faced with extraordinary difficulties, difficulties that, as can easily be imagined, might well have resembled those of the Ik.

Once again, I feel the need to quote what I've already written:
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?
Under such dire circumstances it's difficult to imagine that a highly interactive, group-oriented musical tradition such as P/B could have survived. And it's not difficult to imagine how it could have been replaced by something much simpler, as was apparently the case among the Ik. And other traditions reflecting the African origins of the migrants may also have been lost. If the most gifted and experienced wood carvers had been killed, then the African wood carving traditions might have died with them. If the leading shamans died, then the most elaborate rituals might have died with them. It's important to realize that once a tradition is lost, to the point that there is no longer anyone to hand it down to the younger generation, then it is most likely gone forever.

It's not difficult to see, moreover, how some of the original core values, inherited from HBP, might also be lost. What does it mean to share meat when the only meat available might be from mice or rats, hardly enough to feed one person, let alone an entire group? Egalitarian values might also go by the boards in a situation where the strong can only survive at the expense of the weak. And the weak survive only if protected by someone stronger -- and more aggressive.

Once such a situation is established, it's very easy to see how it could become a self-perpetuating tradition. Instead of an egalitarian ethic, steeped in non-violence, a new "ethic," based on the survival of the strongest, most assertive and most competitive individuals, and their subservient followers, could emerge. Once such a tradition is established, it would be almost impossible to go back to the old way of doing things and even of thinking. Even if things might improve over time, to the point that the society is no longer stressed, and no longer dependent on strong, aggressive leaders, it might not matter, because traditions tend to perpetuate themselves after they have lost their original purpose and even their meaning, as well we know.

Genetically it's not simply a matter of a "population bottleneck" forming among mitochondrial or Y chromosome genes that will remain invisible for thousands of years, but the favoring of certain genotypes and phenotypes (so called "racial" characteristics). All societies contain a certain amount of morphological variation, but when almost everyone is struck down by a disaster, or chooses to leave in search of better conditions elsewhere, then the genetic and morphological characteristics of the survivors become the new norm, which could be quite different from the old one. If only a few members of a particular migrant colony happened to resemble Bushmen, who as we know have many so-called "Mongoloid" features, and that group happened, perhaps by sheer chance, to survive, while most of the others died or migrated elsewhere, then such a development could lead to the establishment of a new "race," with "Mongoloid" features.

What I'm trying to say is that an event such as Toba could have been the trigger for certain very fundamental changes, cultural, genetic and morphological that could explain the highly structured differences we now see among different populations in different parts of the world.

(to be continued . . . )

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