A lot of people really get uptight about it – the whole “culture” thing.
This defensiveness is mostly displayed by people who are, or can trace a lineage, from what we call an indigenous people. It often stirs great anger when an outsider adopts any or all of their ways and practices; “steals” their culture as they might phrase it.
I find this to be a bit odd at times, since NO ONE comes out of the womb already possessing a culture. Yes, you may have genes that will ensure certain physical attributes will be prominent, and you will look like the people of your group, but you are born INTO a culture. When a human is born, it knows NOTHING about its culture. It knows nothing about the beliefs, the rituals, the dress, the ceremonies, the songs and music, or the history that defines a culture – all of that has to be learned. Even the pride in one’s heritage has to be developed over time in that particular environment. I find this bias and defensiveness to be most rampant in indigenous spiritual practices, and in music, (and the two are usually closely tied).
How can anyone “steal” a spiritual practice? That is an absurd notion, because the spirit is like the wind – no one owns it, and it nudges each and every person in the direction that is appropriate for that soul. Unfortunately, the ego can really rear its ugly head when it comes to music and ceremony, which is primarily what this post is about.
I am strongly drawn to making, and listening to, tribal music. I feel the spiritual power and the connection that comes from these often simple instruments. I play what we Americans call the Didgeridoo, (I don’t think any tribe in Australia calls it that – it sort of came from a derogatory comment from someone visiting from the British Isles a long time ago), Native American Flute, (mostly the rim-blown, Pueblo style), the Djembe, tabla, Peruvian whistling vessels, (which you don’t really play – they are mostly one note, ceremonial, for calling the spirits), a Llama bone quena flute, medeival-style transverse flutes made from bamboo, a Balian bamboo flute, Tibetan singing bowls, and even a deer bone flute that I made myself.
In every case, I have gone to great lengths to ensure that I obtained each of these instruments from a verifiable indigenous maker – hand-made/carved, and purchased at fair trade prices. Additionally, I have researched as far as possible how these instruments were used and played and, when possible, found field recordings of them being played by the peoples who created them. I consider the music and songs to be sacred, and treat them as such.
In spite of all of this, I can go online to any forum about practically any one of these instruments, or to the comments on a You Tube video, and find someone claiming a heritage to the people who first created the sound, and angrily stating that no one else should be playing the music, or the instrument, because they are outsiders who could never understand it – that they are somehow desecrating it. I’ve never conversed with these people, or made any argument against their views . . .I just like to read what they say. But, if I DID respond to such a one I would say, “don’t try to impede the spirit.”
That people regularly make such statements is ridiculous in light of the fact that they, THEMSELVES, had to be taught every last thing they know about the music, culture, and ceremony that they are so staunchly defending as their own; they were not born with the knowledge, or the ability. The fact that ANYONE wants to carry on what, sadly, is often a dying art form ought to be cause for celebration, particularly since many people of aboriginal/indigenous background distance themselves as far as possible from the association, choosing instead to embrace modern culture. The knowledge and power are being lost at an alarming rate – I’m glad that there are people who are called by the spirit to carry it on. I just wish there were more people willing to do the passing.
It’s interesting to note that no one makes a fuss if, say, a person descended from the San Bushmen of Africa decides to become a concert Cellist and play Vivaldi. But the other way around – that seems to be a problem. In the final analysis, it is the same old culprits at work again – negative ego and intolerance.
I revere these instruments and the sounds that they make. When my spirit soars through the vibration of the Yidaki (one of the numerous tribal names for the didgeridoo), and touches the heart of Creation, I am, at that moment, every bit as much an aboriginal Australian as one who was born in the tribe. That’s what they were doing thousands of years ago – opening their heart and calling upon the vastness of the Universe through the vibration of a hollow eucalyptus limb.
I shall continue to follow where the spirit leads me with all of these ancient instruments, secure in the knowledge that I am stealing nothing – rather CONNECTING to something wondrous from the common spirit that is all of us.