BaYaka (Pygmy) Utilization of Music

p. 52, fn. 1 this use of tribe's name

"They are also referred to as Mbendjele ... occupying ... remote forest in Northern Congo and the border area of Central African Republic.

Mbendjele use it [/BaYaka/] to refer to all Central African hunter-gatherers in a similar way to the academic term "Pygmy.""

{"The term Bayaka, the plural form of the Aka/Yaka, is sometimes used in the Central African Republic to refer to all local Pygmies." ("PAPR")}

"PAPR" = "Pygmies : African Peoples of the Rainforest".

p. 53 while entranced, the women bewitch the animals which their husbands are about to hunt

"When the BaYaka [men] set out to net-hunt ..., women alternate a sung vowel with a blow on a single note flute to enchant the forest. They explain that this makes the animals feel kwaana -- ... relaxed, tired -- so that they may be more easily caught in the nets.

Before a planned elephant hunt, women sing Yele late into the night. Extended mesmeric singing and dance styles are combined with

a secret drink

{"The plant Tabernanthe iboga, containing the hallucinogen ibogaine, is used in ceremonies of Central African hunter-gatherers (Mbenga Pygmies)" (Ph&TSA"H", p. 394).}

to facilitate certain women to enter a trance. While in Yele trance, these women say that

their spirits travel over the forest

{"paranormal and spiritual phenomena occur during Iboga journeys, from out of body remote viewing" ("I--US").} {"Reports of ... Gabonese people ... show ... out-of-body experience and floating over various landscapes" ("N-DE--IHC").}

to locate elephants, and that they "tie the elephants' spirits down" so that they can be later killed by the men. In the morning, the women tell the men where to go to find the elephants that they have tied up.

Ph&TSA"H" = Suzuki et al. : "Hallucinogens". In :- Cohen et al. (edd.) : Pharmacology and Treatment of Substance Abuse. Hove (E. Sussex) : Routledge, 2009. pp. 393-418.

"I--US" = "Iboga -- Unlocking the Soul".

"N-DE--IHC" = "Near-Death Experience -- Iboga-Healing-Ceremony". ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES; 14(2008).1:30-4.

p. 53 "spirit-play" dances to vocal melodies

"large group ritual performances ... are a regular feature of camp life and are called mokondi massana, literally "spirit play." During a mokondi massana, people, and then spirits, dance to complex interweaving vocal melodies into dense

yodeled and hocketed

[fn. 2 : "Yodeling is a singing style that alternates between a chest and a head voice. Hocket is a technique in which singers sing alternately to complete a single melody."]

polyphony that overlaps with a percussive polyrhythm made by clapping and drumming. To attract forest spirits (mokondi) out of the forest to play and dance with the human group, this music must be beautifully performed."

p. 54 ekila

"Elsewhere (Lewis 2008), I have examined how a taboo complex called

ekila, based on the separation of different kinds of blood (menstrual blood and the blood of killing animals), serves to inculcate gendered roles

{Likewise, North American Indians typically forbid a menstruating woman to touch an [uncooked] slain game-quarry-animal (supposedly because the animal-spirit-chief of that species would be offended by such a touch), or even a hunters weapons.}

and ideological orientations without reference to authority figures. ... These principles are rarely made explicit, yet consistently -- across communities in widely different areas and even speaking different languages Baka, BaAka, BaYaka, Mikaya, Mbuti, Efe) -- I have observed that many of the same organizational practices are based on ekila-like taboos (concerning different types of blood) as well as the common cultural institution of spirit plays (the primary sites for the interlocked polyphonic singing style)."

Lewis 2008 = Jerome Lewis : "Ekila: Blood, Bodies and Egalitarian Societies". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 14:297-315.

{Is this word /EKILA/ related to the "EKDILUN" reported May 2008 as an emendation by Zadzaczadlin to "square 1\8" in "Book Four" of Dehn (ed.) : Book of Abramelin? }

pp. 54-5 singing in the daily lives of women

p. 54

"the women sing together in a tight group of intertwined bodies as the forest spirits are enticed into camp. ...

p. 55

Women's daily activities are often musically coordinated ... to the distinctive Yele yodels". ("2YWSM")

"2YWSM" = "Two Young Women Sing Malobe". Example 3.

p. 55 terminology of music

"massana encompasses ... musical activities, but it also refers to any type of cooperative, playful activity."

"Ritual song and dance styles are generically referred to as eboka, each with a specific name, and BaYaka differentiate between the verbs to sing (bo.yemba), to dance (bo.bina), and to play/do ritual (bo.sane).

Massana includes ... spirit-play (mokondi massana) ritual performances ... [to] summon mysterious forest spirits into camp to bless them with joy, laughter, food, and health (for further information, see Lewis 2002:124-195)."

Lewis 2002 = Jerome Lewis : Forest Hunter-Gatherers and Their World : a Study of the Mbendjele Yaka Pygmies and Their Secular and Religious Activities and Representations. PhD thesis, Univ of London. &

pp. 55-6 the Bolu is evoked out of jungle into njanga

p. 55

"forest spirit (Bolu) and secret area (njanga) to which the spirit is called from the forest by the initiates ... .

p. 56

... The singing and dancing is built up until

the leafy, cloth-covered spirit, called Bolu,

{"many of the Green Men costumes seen in other traditional May-day or Beltain processions are actually representations of Woodwose. The Jack in the Green was a figure common to the May-day processions of 18th Century southern and central England, most commonly represented as a tall heavily leafed form" ("NS").}

is invited into camp. The dancing and singing boys must then ensure that the girls do not dance too close to the Bolu spirit. Keeping Bolu in camp makes people happy, and this keeps the forest open and generous so that food will come. ...

Men call the spirit out of the forest to the secret njanga area and prepare it to dance.

Women entice it out of the secret area and into the human space by their beautiful singing and seductive dancing, thus enabling all to enjoy the euphoria that the spirit brings.

This gendered pattern of interaction resonates with gendered productive activities in ... making children ... (for a more detailed account, see Lewis 2008)."

"NS" = "Nature Spirits".

pp. 56-8 mokondi massana : socialization during spirit-plays

p. 56

"The performance of spirit plays forms BaYaka persons in very particular ways, most explicitly during initiation ceremonies into the secret society

p. 57

responsible for each of the spirit plays. [fn. 3 : "Tsuru (1998) counted more than 50 different spirit plays (called me) in Cameroon". {"51 kinds of spirit rituals" (Tsuru 2001, p. 106)}] Each has its sacred path, secret lore, and defined group of initiates responsible for preparing the spirit play and calling the spirit out of the forest.

In these secret societies, hidden knowledge is shared :

among women, this involves catching the spirits of game animals so men can kill them, using "sexiness" to control and manage men ...;

for men, this concerns hunting, honey collecting, traveling in the forest (night-walking, high-speed displacement, invisibility, etc.) ... .

Only in a musical contest will different groups communicate their qualities {qualifications}, claims, and issues explicitly. ...

BaYaka are explicit about the importance of performing spirit plays and will encourage their performance if a few days have without one. After annoucning to the camp that such-and-such spirit play should be danced, people are called by the initiates to assemble in the middle of the camp and "mix themselves together" (bosanganye njo) both physically, by laying legs and arms over each other, and acoustically, by interlocking their different sung vowel-sound melodies. Arom (1978:24) refers to this as "pure" music since the songs rarely have words. Sometimes several different spirit plays are performed on the same day and ... they may be performed every evening.

From time to time during the dense polyphony of spirit play, some participants (male or female) stand up to clown and dance. ... When things are going just right, they might shout "Great joy of joys!" (bisengo!) ..., or "Sing! Dance!" (pia massana!). Established spirit plays might have special, mostly secret, vocabularies for congratulating moments of fine performance.

There is much ... variation in the details of each spirit play, concerning who is eligible to join, the secret lore, the songs, rhythms, and dance steps of the participants. Structurally, however, ... membership is through initiation (bo.gwie) to a sacred path (njanga)

p. 58

where a forest spirit (mokondi) is called and its blessing and secret knowledge shared in exchange for polyphonic interlocked hocketed singing and dancing (massana).

The characteristics of this ritual system are shared across a range of Pygmy groups ... dispersed over Western Central Africa :

the Baka and BaGyeli in Gabon and Cameroon;

the BaAka in Central African Republic and Northern Congo; and

the BaYaka, Luma, and Mikaya in Northern Congo.

During these rituals different groups form to animate, organize, and perform spirit plays. ... Spirit plays structure ... by ensuring that small camps dispersed throughout the forest come together to form larger communities from time to time. ... In a dry season, commemoration ceremonies (eboka) bring people together in greater numbers ... . These eboka are the most important social events of the year : marriages are arranged, news from across the forest is exchanged, old friends meet ... . ... Only during spirit plays (and particularly in their sacred areas) do BaYaka publicly offer each other advice".

Tsuru 1998 = Daisaku Tsuru : "Diversity of Spirit Ritual Performances among the Bayaka Pygmies in South-Eastern Cameroon". AFRICAN STUDY MONOGRAPHS 25:47-84.

Tsuru 2001 = Daisaku Tsuru : "Generation and Transaction Processes in the Spirit Ritual of the Baka Pygmies in Southeast Cameroon". AFRICAN STUDY MONOGRAPHS, Suppl.27: 103-123, March 2001.

Arom 1978 = Simha Arom : Centrafrique : Anthologie de la Musique des Pygme'es Aka. Ocora.

As you move from the first vowel to the second, this halo of what are called harmonics will gradually change

pp. 58-9 songs during BaYaka spirit-plays

p. 58

"BaYaka songs often begin with a phrase or sentence to indicate which repertoire of melodies can be used, but then proceed

entirely based on hocketed vowel sounds. ...

{Similarly, in Karlheinz Stockhausen' Stimmung, for "the singing technique ... As you move from the first vowel to the second, this halo of what are called harmonics will gradually change" (M&S, p. 354).}

During the women-only spirit play of Ngoku, the united body of the singing women dances arm-and-arm up and down the central area of camp. As they begin a new song, whoever stopped the last song sings out a line -- such as, ... "let's fuck," ... or

"the vagina always wins, the penis is already tired!" --

{The vagina is always able to win the the contest of whether it or the penis is able to endure the longest without becoming exhausted. (Even if the woman is the first to experience orgasm, this cannot tire her; whereas the male is immediately exhausted by one or two orgasms.)}

to tell the other women which melodies to sing.

Asserting themselves to their husbands in this way could be misunderstood,

{This sort of joking by a woman to her own husband (especially if in public) could easily be misunderstood as intended as a deliberate personal insult to him.}

but as a united group of beautiful, sexy, but unavailable women they speak {collectively} as {abstract} "Woman" to the men (Finnegan 2009 expands on this theme). These rude songs do embarrass men ... .

p. 59

Men, on the other hand, speak as "Man" to the women during spirit plays, such as Sho or Ejengi".

"BaYaka explicitly use spirit plays to enchant those who witness them."

M&S = Kurt Leland : Music and the Soul : a Listener's Guide to Achieving Transcendent Musical Experiences. Hampton Rds Publ Co, Charlottesville (VA), 2004.

Finnegan 2009 : Morna Finnegan : "Some Thoughts on Women's Power Among Central African Hunter-Gatherers". RADICAL ANTHROPOLOGY GROUP J 3:31-7.

pp. 60-1 musical variations

p. 60

"Ethnomusicologist Simha Arom (... 1985) analyzed this distinctive and complexly organized style to show that its structure is based on repeated interlocked "melodic modules." ... Each participant's life-long musical apprenticeship has ensured that this musical deep structure is so effectively inculcated that each singer knows how variations can be executed and when to integrate them into the song.

More recently, Kisliuk (2001) built on this to emphasize how ... constant embellishment, variation, and recombination of the "melodic modules" occurs within their own music ..., creating huge potential for variation each time a song

p. 61

is performed and leading to the creation of new musical repertoires and the extension of existing ones. ... What is fascinating is that the music's deep structure enables, even encourages, great variation and creativity in its surface manifestations ... while respecting a coherent deep pattern that remains mostly below the surface."

Arom 1985 = Simha Arom : Polyphonies et Polyrythmies Instrumentals d'Afrique Central. 2 voll. Paris : SELAF.

Kisliuk 2001 = Michelle Robin Kisliuk : BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance. Oxford Univ Pr.

p. 61, fn. 5 BaVenda [of the Northern Transvaal] communal singing

"Tshikona polyphonic "national song," which is sung by all, played on 20 pipes, and accompanied by four drummers, "is valuable and beautiful to the Venda ... because of the quality of the relationships that must be established between people and tones whenever it is performed ... . [Tshikona creates] a situation that generates the highest degree of individuality in the largest possible community of individuals. Tshikona provides the best of all possible worlds ..." (Blacking 1973 ...:51)"

Blacking 1973 = J. Blacking : How Musical Is Man? Seattle : Univ of WA Pr.

{Cf. that "quality the Nsenga seem to desire of their music, namely, the power to bring people together in brotherhood." (Blacking 1973, p. 12)}

pp. 61-3 rules for participation in the polyphonic singing

p. 61

"Each singer must harmonize with others but avoid singing the same melody ... . Thus each singer has to hold their {his or her} own and resist being entrained into the melodies being sung around them. Learning to do this when singing cultivates a particular sense ... that ... is keenly aware of what others are doing and seeks to complement this by doing something different.

p. 62

... Recognizing melodic modules in the music, then deciding where to fit your particular module into the interlocked rhythm is an aesthetic decision ... . ... The musically acquired aesthetic predisposition to sing a melodic line different from your neighbor ... makes for efficient hunting and gathering when transformed into an economic aesthetic ... . ... Modes of musical participation are so intimately integrated into everyday life in these Pygmy communities that ... By regularly repeating the same process during performances over a lifetime, a

p. 63

particular BaYaka way of doing things is repeatedly inculcated, almost subliminally, to each generation without recourse to authority figures."

p. 64 meanings within music

"Meanings can be held within music propositionally ... and implicationally or structurally ... . The key is that musical meaning is diverse, interactive, situated, multilayered ... . Music is role in the cultural transmission of enduring aesthetic, economic, social, ... orientations is remarkable."

p. 64 estimates of possible antiquity for Pygmy vocal polyphony

"Upon hearing Mbuti music, the Bayaka immediately recognized that the Mbuti were

"real forest people"

{evokers of forest-spirits by means of music}

like themselves, even though genetic studies suggest that they last lived together around 18-20 thousand years ago (Bahuchet 1996).

Victor Grauer ... suggests that this unique and distinctive style, shared only by San Bushman groups and Central African Pygmies, extends back to the time when they were both the same people. According to the genetic studies he quotes (Chen et al. 2000), this was between 75-100 years ago (Grauer 2007)."

Bahuchet 1996 = S. Bahuchet : "Fragments pour une histoire de la Fore^t Africaine et de son peuplement". In :- C. M. Hladik et al. (edd.) : L'Alimentation en Fore^t Tropicale. Paris : E'ditions UNESCO. pp. 97-119.

Chen et al. 2000 = Y.-S. Chen; A. Olckers; T. G. Schurr et al. : "Mitochondrial DNA Variation in South African !Kung and Khwe and Their Genetic Relationships to Other African Populations". AM. J. HUM. GENET. 66:1362-83.

Grauer 2007 = V. Grauer : "New Perspectives on the Kalahari ... : ... Two Genomes". BEFORE FARMING 2:4.

Jerome Lewis : "A Cross-Cultural Perspective on the Significance of Music and Dance to Culture and Society : Insight From BaYaka Pygmies". Chapter 2 in :- Michael Arbib (ed.) : Language, Music, and the Brain. MIT Pr, Cambridge (MA), 2013. pp. 45-65.


See also :-

Jerome Lewis : "BaYaka Multi-Modal and Mimetic Communication Traditions". In :- Daniel Dor, Danny Dor, Chris Knight, Jerome Lewis (edd.) : The Social Origins of Language. Oxford Univ Pr, 2014. pp. 77-91.