Friday, June 1, 2007

20. P/B Survivals

The most fascinating, and controversial, aspect of my little tree and map act concerns the history and ultimate fate of the tradition that, for me, seems most likely to represent humankind's earliest music: P/B, i.e., Pygmy/Bushmen style. Looking again at the first map, "Out of Africa," we see how this style, in four distinct variants, A1-A4 (as mentioned in the previous post, A5 should not have been included in this group), could have traveled along with the migrating "beachcomber" lineage, over a period of, say, 10,000 years (to use Oppenheimer's estimate) across the entire Indian Ocean coast, from Yemen through India, Indonesia, the Sahul (Australia and New Guinea as a single landmass), and then north, along the Pacific coast as well. All groups to have reached the Pacific when the hypothetical tsunami hit (or to have made it east of Sumatra, if you prefer the Toba version) would have been spared and would therefore have been likely to persist with their African traditions, including the perpetuation of P/B. This is illustrated by the scattering of A groups along stretches of the Pacific coast on the second map.

We may conjecture, therefore, that all groups in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Taiwan, New Guinea and Island Melanesia who vocalize in this manner today may well be the descendents (genetically, culturally or both) of those among the original "Out of Africa" migrants located beyond the reach of disaster and thus spared its culture-altering effects. If, in fact, P/B style was transmitted "demically," i.e., via lineage rather than cultural influence, then that should show up in the DNA of these groups -- there is something they should all have in common that the others lack and their haplotype structure should show no sign of a post "Out of Africa" bottleneck. The hypothesis I am presenting is therefore, surprisingly enough, testable. Before such tests could be performed, however, each group would need to be precisely identified and located and adequate DNA samplings taken.

The fact that there are no signs of P/B survivals anywhere along the original "Out of Africa" path west of Malaysia, from Yemen through Arabia, Pakistan, India, and Myanmar, including (apparently) the Andaman Islands, yet so many survivals to the east is, as I see it, an especially strong indicator of a bottleneck of some sort, that must have affected the entire Indian Ocean region. And, as Oppenheimer has argued, the signs of a bottleneck are present in the genetic evidence as well. In this case, the musical evidence would appear to corroborate the genetic evidence.

I want now to consider some other instances of P/B survival in other parts of the world, where the presence of this style is less easily explained. The most remarkable, and indeed dramatic, example is to be found in, of all places, Europe, as is attested by the following link, to a remarkable essay by Olga Velitchkina. If you select "Introduction" and then scroll down a bit, you'll come to a video example that you can play (you'll need to have QuickTime installed). According to the author, "On first listening, this music seems closer to African forms (for example, to the Ba-Benzele pygmy music) than to any European folk instrument traditions. Yet panpipe musical practices similar in many respects to those of Russia are found across Europe on limited territories of Serbia, Romania, Komi Republic (North Russia, Ugro-Finnish population) and Lithuania." It's important to understand that, as with many strikingly similar African and Melanesian examples, this is not only a pipe performance but a vocal one also, as is explained in the text. Other examples of P/B style vocalizing (and related hocketed and/or canonic instrumental practices) can be found in certain European enclaves today and are also documented historically, as in, for example, the medieval canon, "Sumer is Icumen In" and the medieval hocket tradition itself. And we should not omit the too easily taken for granted folk tradition of round singing and bell chime playing. Can this European "wing" of P/B be explained on the basis of the same history we've been tracing, or are we forced to regard it as some sort of independent invention?

I go into this question in some detail in my essay, linking the musical evidence to evidence from archaeology and genetics. As far as the evolutionary maps are concerned, please note in the first the red arrow jutting toward the northeast, into northern India, indicating styles A3 & 4. If, indeed, one band of "Out of Africa" descendents decided to veer northward, along the Indus River, they would certainly have been spared the effects of a tsunami and might also have been located far enough from Sumatra to escape the worst of a Toba induced "nuclear winter." Since, according to many of the genetic studies, Europe may have been first populated from some region in Pakistan or western India, between 50 and 40 thousand years ago, it's possible that a branch of the original "Out of Africa" lineage had survived in that region with its African traditions intact to form the first wave of migration into Europe.

There's another very interesting, though also puzzling, survival to be considered, as indicated on the fourth map by the presence of some isolated instances of A1 in Siberia, northern Japan and Alaska. I could have added some instances in northern California as well, among Amerindan tribes such as the Hupa. This type of "shouted hocket" has been found most often among some of the same Paleosiberian reindeer peoples already discussed in relation to "Breathless Solo" style. While most of their music takes the form of solo songs falling within style family B2, sporadic examples of A1 group vocalizing with hocket and yodel have also been recorded and studied. According to Jean-Jacques Nattiez, who based a very interesting essay on this tradition, it is closely linked with shamanism. Though the Inuit of today understand their practice of "throat singing" as a game, Nattiez makes an excellent case for its origins in shamanic practices now banned among these Christian groups.

If we consider the "multiregional" theory of human evolution (see section 16), the presence of what is likely to be the most archaic form of P/B , "shouted hocket," among the Paleosiberians would make some sense. Its presence in both northern Asia and Africa, with so many branches in so many other parts of the world, could make it a survival of a practice far more archaic than anything I've suggested, going back, in fact, not tens of thousands, but millions of years, to the origins, also in Africa, of pre-modern humans such as Homo Erectus and the Neanderthals . As I see it, however, a far more likely explanation can be found if we return once again to the post-disaster conditions associated with our bottleneck, where chaos would have ruled for some time and various bits and pieces of traditional culture could have survived among certain groups with varying degrees of continuity, and in various combinations, depending on circumstance.

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