Saturday, February 13, 2010
Beginning way back in Post 225, I've been exploring a particular historical/ evolutionary scenario, starting with certain inferences about the nature -- and culture -- of our "most recent common ancestors," and proceeding with a series of increasingly speculative speculations centered on the adventures, misadventures, trials, tribulations and triumphs of their descendants, the Out of Africa migrants, as they and their progeny (allegedly) made their way through Asia along "the southern route," all the way to what is now New Guinea and Australia. It's important to remember that this particular attempt at historical reconstruction was made possible, first, by the musical evidence, which is in certain ways unique; and, second, by the use of the musical evidence to help establish a baseline, from which we were able to proceed step by step, in an orderly and logical manner. As I see it, two of the most glaring omissions in the anthropological and archaeological literature have been the neglect of both these areas: the neglect of musical style as an essential element of core culture, clearly on a par with language in importance, but far simpler and thus far more amenable to cross-cultural comparison; and the assumption that one could reconstruct important aspects of human history and/or evolution without first establishing a clear baseline from which to begin.
I have all along been referring to this overview as an "exploration," meaning that, as far as I'm concerned, it is tentative, incomplete and possibly incorrect -- but imo a useful exercise nevertheless. It also amounts, I would think, to a testable hypothesis, or set of hypotheses, with the ultimate tests most likely stemming from the field of population genetics, which is only now beginning to realize its enormous potential, and still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, I've been accused of being selective in my use of evidence and neglecting to consider alternative explanations, with the implication being that what I'm calling an exploration is in truth nothing more than a pet theory, or worse, a crackpot theory, which must be defended at all costs. I've denied that this is the case and have often asserted that I'd be happy to accept any alternative explanation that both accounted for the evidence and made sense. But at the same time I refused to drop my line of thought for side excursions to examine evidence that didn't seem to fit, and consider alternative explanations. Now that my overview is complete, it's time to do just that.
According to one of the most active commenters on this blog, Maju, the most up-to-date genetic evidence does not support the gap I see in South Asia, nor does it support the notion that there was ever a significant large-scale bottleneck or series of bottlenecks in South Asia, consistent with either the Toba eruption or any other major disaster, such as a Tsunami, drought, etc. that might have occurred during the Out of Africa expansion along the southern route. Maju has argued that the discontinuities between India and Southeast Asia that I've pointed to, clearly apparent in some of the phylogenetic trees and related maps, are either due to sloppy, simplistic research or represent methodological artifacts rather than logical inferences from the genetic evidence. As I see it, it's simply too soon to tell with any degree of confidence which of the many interpretations of the data are correct and to what extent future research with refined methods and expanded samples will either confirm or challenge the findings of any one group.
Assuming, however, that Maju's objections are in fact legitimate, then we must consider alternative scenarios that could explain the apparently inexplicable gap that exists in the cultural evidence, especially the musical gap, where we see no sign of the "African signature," either vocally or instrumentally, anywhere in South Asia and in fact anywhere from Yemen all the way to the eastern borders of India, and yet find it in abundance among a great many isolated indigenous groups to the east and southeast of India, including southeast Asia, island southeast Asia and Melanesia. Maju's explanation is based on a recent finding to the effect that the larger the population, the greater the degree of innovation, which for him means that a society with more opportunities for interaction among various members of its population is a society that is more likely to undergo change. And since there is in fact excellent evidence for a tremendous population expansion centered in South Asia shortly after the Out of Africa migration, that could explain the various cultural changes, including musical changes, that would have taken place there. I have grave doubts about this scenario, which strikes me as overly simplistic and not fully explanatory, but it's an example of an alternative hypothesis and certainly worth considering.
Another angle to consider is the series of extremely complex developments centered in South Asia from the earliest beginnings of the Neolithic to the rapid evolution of civilization(s), a dramatic series of events that transformed the entire region and would certainly have presented a challenge to the various indigenous peoples seeking to maintain age-old traditions in the face of enormous military, political and social pressure. While a great many tribal groups did in fact wind up as castes, under the thumb of more powerful groups who sought to control every aspect of their lives, a great many did apparently maintain their independence, largely by retiring to refuge areas, minding their own business and avoiding conflict wherever possible. There remains the question, however, of the degree to which they were able to remain fully independent, as was the case with so many "relic" peoples farther to the east, or whether there was a certain amount of encroachment in each and every case, over thousands of years, that could have led to a certain degree of cultural homogeneity, despite the isolation of so many of the Indian "tribals." One does get the impression, when one explores the various musics of so many Indian and Pakistani groups, of a certain uniformity of musical style and practice throughout the subcontinent, a somewhat disturbing phenomenon that is especially apparent in the "folk" music of the villages, which never seems to depart very far from the "classical" raga style cultivated by the upper castes. Whether the same sort of pressure to conform has been felt by the ostensibly more independent tribal groups is difficult to assess. But if that has been the case, then it's possible that the absence of any trace of P/B in India or Pakistan could be due to external pressures from more powerful groups, either in recent or ancient times, which could have wiped out just about all trace of more archaic cultural practices. Why such a thoroughgoing process of cultural assimilation would have occurred in South Asia and not Southeast or Island Southeast Asia isn't clear but again, such a possibility is worth considering.
(to be continued . . .)
Posted by DocG at 2:51 PM