Monday, January 3, 6000

Central African (c. 1000 BC) Voices

The Central African Republic is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Chad in the north, Sudan in the east, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the south, and Cameroon in the west.

Most of the CAR consists of Sudano-Guinean savannas but it also includes a Sahelo-Sudanese zone in the north and an equatorial forest zone in the south.

Two thirds of the country lie in the basins of the Ubangi River, which flows south into the Congo River, while the remaining third lies in the basin of the Chari River,

[Shrinking Lake Chad]

which flows north into Lake Chad.

Between about 1000 BC and 1000 AD, Adamawa-Eastern-speaking peoples spread eastward from Cameroon to Sudan and settled in most of the territory of the CAR. During the same period, a much smaller number of Bantu-speaking immigrants settled in Southwestern CAR and some Central Sudanic-speaking populations settled along the Oubangi. The majority of the CAR's inhabitants thus speak Adamawa-Eastern languages or Bantu languages belonging to the Niger-Congo family. A minority speak Central Sudanic languages of the Nilo-Saharan family.

Pygmies are various peoples of central Africa whose adults have an average height of 150 centimetres (4 feet 11 inches) or shorter. The term is considered by many as derogatory, with many instead preferring to be called by the name of their various ethnic groups. Nevertheless, the term is widely used as no other term has emerged to replace "Pygmy."

A commonly held view is that the Pygmies are the direct descendents of the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples of the Central African rainforest, who were partially absorbed or displaced by later immigration of agricultural peoples, and adopted their Central Sudanic, Adamawa-Ubangian, and Bantu languages. This view has no archaeological support, and ambiguous support from genetics and linguistics.

There is some common botanical and honey-collecting vocabulary between the Aka and Baka, who are both western Pygmy populations but speak quite different languages. This has been taken by some as the remnants of an indigenous (western) Pygmy language.

Genetically, the eastern Mbuti pygmies are extremely divergent from other human populations, as well as being the shortest of the Pygmy populations, suggesting they have an ancient indigenous lineage. Their closest relatives appear to be the Hadzabe, who live in the savannas east of the forest and were quite short in stature before heavy recent intermarriage with their taller neighbors. Other Pygmy groups which have been genetically tested are not very distinct from their non-Pygmy neighbors, suggesting either that their indigenous ancestry has been diluted through interbreeding with neighboring agricultural populations, or that they have a different ancestry from the Mbuti. Indeed, the genetic mutations responsible for the short stature of the eastern and western Pygmies are different and unrelated, supporting the view of some scientists that the Pygmies, or at least some Pygmies, are the descendants of the initial waves of Bantu and Adamawa-Ubangi speakers who took up living in the deep forest.

Music is an important part of Pygmy life, and casual performances take place during many of the day's events. Music comes in many forms, including the spiritual likanos stories, vocable singing and music played from a variety of instruments.

The African Pygmies are particularly known for their unusual vocal music, usually characterised by dense contrapuntal communal improvisation. Simha Arom (2003) says that the level of polyphonic complexity of Pygmy music was reached in Europe in the 14th century, yet Pygmy culture is unwritten and ancient, some Pygmy groups being the first known cultures in some areas of Africa. Music permeates daily life and there are songs for entertainment as well as specific events and activities.

Formally Pygmy music consists of at most only four parts, and can be described as an, "ostinato with variations," or similar to a passacaglia, in that it is cyclical. In fact it is based on repetition of periods of equal length, which each singer divides using different rhythmic figures specific to different repertoires and songs. This interesting case of Ethnomusicology and Ethnomathematics creates a detailed surface and endless variations of not only the same period repeated, but the same piece of music. As in some Balinese gamelan music, these patterns are based on a super-pattern which is never heard. The Pygmies themselves do not learn or think of their music in this theoretical framework, but learn the music growing up.

Colin M. Turnbull, an American anthropologist, wrote a book about the Pygmies, The Forest People, in 1965. This introduced Pygmy culture to Western countries, many of whose inhabitants were intrigued by the seemingly-simple lifestyle they led. Turnbull claimed that the Pygmies viewed the forest as a parental spirit that could be communicated with via song. Some of Turnbull's recordings of Pygmy music were commercially released, and inspired more ethnomusicological study, such as by Simha Arom, a French-Israeli who recorded a kind of whistle called hindewhu, and by Mauro Campagnoli, an Italian ethnomusicologist who studied in depth the musical rituals and instruments of Baka Pygmies, also by taking part into their secret rite of initiation.

Pygmy instruments include water drums (liquindi), musical bow (limbindi), bow harp (ieta), and ngombi (harp zither).

Central African Republic - Makala