A Blog Book, by Victor Grauer

. . . . . for Alan Lomax, who lives . . . . .

I felt that their music came from the back of time, but also, to a certain extent, from my own depths.

Simha Arom

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chapter Fifteen: Upcoast, Downcoast -- from Asia to the Americas

According to most anthropologists, humans first entered the Americas via a land bridge linking northeast Asia with Alaska. Certain dissenters have nevertheless pointed to evidence suggesting more direct trans-Pacific links. Among the most notable was Paul Rivet, founder of the Musée de l'Homme, who argued that “the dark skinned people of New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji, as well as the inhabitants of the Polynesian archipelagos—Maoris, crossed the Pacific Ocean in their canoes, and arrived in Central and South America, from where their descendants spread all across the Americas” (Paul Rivet, New World Encyclopedia Online).

Rivet’s theory was based on physical similarities, such as bone structure and blood type; similar traditions, such as head hunting; and certain linguistic parallels. Other investigators, such as Joseph Needham, have noted striking cultural similarities suggesting an ancient Chinese influence on groups such as the Northwest Coast Indians and the high cultures of Central and South America.  Over the years a considerable body of evidence for trans-Pacific contacts of various kinds has accumulated, but the topic remains controversial in the extreme.1 

Musical Cognates

An especially compelling argument for trans-Pacific migrations could be made on the basis of musical evidence alone. Various wind ensembles involving pipes, panpipes, flutes, whistles, horns and trumpets abound not only in Africa, Southeast Asia and Melanesia, as we have learned, but also Central and South America. Ensembles of this sort are not found north of the Rio Grande, suggesting that carriers of these traditions may have arrived via the south Pacific.

Cross cultural comparisons by some of the early pioneers of ethnomusicology tended to support the trans-Pacific model. In a review of Erich von Hornbostel’s 1911 paper “Über ein akustisches Kriterium für Kulturzusammenhänge” (“On an acoustic criterion for cultural association”), no less an authority than Edward Sapir expresses his conviction in no uncertain terms. For Sapir, Hornbostel’s comparative study of Melanesian and Brazilian panpipe tunings proved that

the pan-pipes of Melanesia and South America are historically connected, not merely because they are pan-pipes but because their detailed musical construction is too closely alike to be explained by convergent evolution.  Here at last we have clear evidence of a cultural contact between these two parts of the world (Collected Works of Edward Sapir, de Gruyter, 1994 (1913), p. 158).

Since musicologists of that era were fixated on tuning systems and scales, they paid little attention to either the manner in which the instruments are performed or how they sound when played together. If they had, the trans-Pacific associations would have been even more convincing. In almost all cases, from Africa to Melanesia to the Americas, the music played by such instruments is divided into at least two hocketing/interlocking parts. In the case of pipes, whistles, trumpets and horns, each instrument is capable of producing only one or two notes, but even in panpipe or flute ensembles all instruments perform in closely interactive hocketed interlock. 

Unlike Western counterpoint, but very similar to certain practices found in Africa, what we hear is not the intertwining of independent lines, but a resultant melodic/ polyphonic texture produced by the juxtaposition of interlocking parts. In almost all cases, from both Melanesia and the Americas, the instruments are symbolically divided into two complementary groups, one male, the other female.

To get a visceral sense of how closely some of these very widespread practices resemble one another, let’s hear some examples from both sides of the ocean:

Hocketing bark horns of the Aitape, northern coast of New Guinea: Audio Example 61: Pig Hunting Song 

Hocketing bark horns of the Piaroa Indians of the Upper Orinoco, Venezuela: Audio Example 62: Piaroa Horns  (from The Columbia Library of World Music, Venezuela, recorded by Pierre Gaisseau).

Panpipes of the the Buma people, on the island of Malaita, in the Solomons: Audio Example 63: Panpipes of Buma (from Spirit of Melanesia).

Compare the above with this closely interlocking pipe duet of the Cuna Indians, from Panama (as already presented in Chapter Nine): Audio Example 23:Cuna Pipes   (Primitive Music of the World, Folkways).

Curiously Andean-sounding panpipes of the Are’are people of the Solomon Islands (as already presented in Chapter Nine): Audio Example 22:Are’are pipers (from Solomon Islands:The Sound of Bamboo, recorded by Buaoka & Sekine).

Compare with these Andean panpipes, from Bolivia: Audio Example 64: Kacharpaya Kantu (from Bolivia-Panpipes – UNESCO, track 4).

Hocketing flute duet, Sepik Region, New Guinea: Audio Example 65: Sepik Flutes (from Spirit of Melanesia).

Hocketing flute duet, Iawa Indians, upper Amazon Basin, Peru: Audio Example 66: The Mayantu (from Music of the Upper Amazon, Lyrichord LL157, recorded by Bertrand Flornoy).

Compare the above with this duet from the Madang region of northern New Guinea: Audio Example 67: Nubia-Sissimungum (from Windim Mambu:Sacred Flute Music from New Guinea, vol. 2, track 5, recorded by Ragnar Johnson).

Here’s a somewhat different sounding flute duet, featuring repeated tones, also from Madang: Audio Example 68: Gomkail Flutes (from Windim Mambu:Sacred Flute Music from New Guinea, vol. 2, track 1).

Compare with the repeated tones in this flute duet, from the Camayura of the Amazon basin, Brazil: Audio Example 69: Camayura Sacred Flutes (from Anthology of Central and South American Indian Music, Smithsonian Folkways 4542).

In both New Guinea and South America, such flutes are played in pairs, with the larger considered “male” and the smaller “female.” According to Ragnar Johnson, who recorded the Madang flutes, “each player blows in turn; one flute is blown and the other alternates. It requires all the air in a man’s lungs to blow a flute, so one player inhales while the other is blowing his flute.” The Madang flutes “are made, owned, played and kept secret by adult men. 

Women and children are forbidden to see the flutes and are told that the cries of the flutes are the voices of actual spirits.” (Sacred Flute Music from New Guinea, 1999, accompanying pamphlet, p. 1) Essentially the same taboo applies in South America as well -- paralleled by very similar restrictions regarding the Mbuti Pygmy molimo trumpet, also considered a spirit voice and also forbidden to women and children (Turnbull 1961:82).

[Added 8-5-2013: We also find essentially the same origin myth for sacred flutes in both Melanesia and South America, viz. the flutes were originally controlled by the women, who at some point were tricked into allowing them to be taken over by the men -- who from then on forbade women to see or touch them (see Jonathan Hill "Kamayurá Flute Music: A Study of Music as Meta-Communication," Ethnomusicology, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Sept., 1979), pp. 417-432, p. 418; and Laura Baron, The Forbidden Flutes, website at http://www.laurabarron.net/articles/gender_article.htm). See also Colin Turnbull, The Forest People, p. 154, where essentially the same myth is applied to the molimo).]
Remarkably close similarities can be found among percussion ensembles as well, since very similar types of slit drums and stamping tubes are found abundantly in both Southeast Asia/Melanesia and South/Central America.

Canonic/Echoic Style

The musical “cognates” are not limited to instrumental music. Many groups in both regions sing together in roughly coordinated canons or rounds, a highly distinctive style I’ve referred to as “Canonic/Echoic” (“haplogroup” B1 in the Phylogenetic Tree presented in Appendix B). This style, based on the interlocked imitation of similar motives to produce a kind of “echo” effect sounds to me like a variant of certain types of Pygmy/Bushmen canonic interlock (“haplogroup” A4), the principal difference being that the latter is rhythmically precise and tightly coordinated while the former tends to be rhythmically imprecise and uncoordinated. 

Since both styles are based on essentially the same musical principle, the temporal displacement of a single motive or melody among two or more singers, “Canonic/Echoic” style (C/E) could be a development from P/B, as suggested by the Phylogenetic Tree – and in that sense we could say that it too, like the instrumental styles discussed above, carries the “African Signature.”  On the other hand, I am not aware of any examples of C/E anywhere in Africa, suggesting a post-bottleneck origin.

Let’s first listen to the sort of thing that might have served as its prototype, a three part Mbuti Pygmy “canon” in classic P/B style: Audio Example 70: Amabele-o-iye (from On the Edge of the Ituri Forest, recorded by Hugh Tracey, track 16).

The following imitative duet, from the Kaluli people of Bosavi, in the New Guinea highlands, is quite similar, but loosely coordinated rhythmically, as is characteristic of C/E: Audio Example 71: Ulahi and Eyobo sing at a waterfall (from Bosavi: Rainforest Music From Papua New Guinea, Smithsonian Folkways, recorded by Steven Feld). According to Steven Feld, the Kaluli refer to this type of singing as “lift-up-over sounding.”

Compare with this similarly ragged “canon” from an Iawa Indian ceremony, in Peru: Audio Example 72: The Kaputio (from Music of the Upper Amazon, Lyrichord LL157, recorded by Bertrand Flornoy).

Here’s a very similar duet, a lullaby from the ‘Are’are of the Solomon Islands: Audio Example 73: Lullabye (from The Solomon Islands:Sounds of Bamboo, track 36).

Finally, let’s listen to one more example of C/E, from Venezuela, a trio of Warao shamans, loosely echoing one another: Audio Example 74: Hoarotu Shamans (recording by Dale Olson, accompanying the book, Music of Many Cultures, Elizabeith May, Ed.).

A Distinctive “Style-Trace”

In a little-known but extremely important Cantometric study of Amerindian song style, Alan Lomax’s anthropological collaborator, Edwin Erickson, identifies a substyle corresponding quite closely with that illustrated above, which he designates “Specialized South America-Mexico.”  On the basis of strictly statistical, computer-based research (Erickson was an anthropologist, not a musicologist), he describes it as follows:

The bounding of the style domain, the distribution of its diagnostic traits and the patterning of resemblances all suggest that the underlying style trace has isolated a very old and generalized diffusion sphere . . .
If the appearance of these distinctive traits, especially in multiples, were the result, for example, of independent invention, or elaboration of old and broadcast American Indian styles, there would be no reason to expect the sharp bounding of the distribution area. (The Song Trace: Song Styles and the Ethnohistory of Aboriginal America. Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1969-70, p. 301.)

After considerable discussion of various anthropological and archaeological ramifications of this style, he speculates regarding a possible association with the panpipe:

The distribution [of panpipes] in South America, thus, goes beyond the compass of the specialized South American style domain, but not very far beyond. . . Clearly, pair-playing of panpipes is a powerful sorting device for specialized South American style (pp. 329, 331).

The Homogeneous North

The musical picture presented so far is completely different from that of North America, or to be more precise, America north of Mexico, where there are basically three instrument types, the drum, the rattle and the flute, and a remarkably homogenous vocal style, characteristic of the great majority of native North American tribal groups, regardless of language, subsistence type, environment, etc.

[Added 3-25-11: Exceptions can be found among the tribal groups of the Northwest Coast, where we find a wider variety of musical instruments than is typical for North America, and also certain groups in California, notably the Hupa, who employ a form of shouted hocket resembling certain types of Ainu vocalizing. Panpipes made from metal or ceramic materials have been unearthed by archaeologists in so-called “Mound Builder” sites, dating roughly from 3,000 to 1,000 years ago. There is strong evidence that these instruments, along with many other artifacts and customs, such as head flattening, ear plugs, the use of mica, etc., even the practice of mound building itself, could have originated in Mexico, specifically the La Venta culture of Veracruz (see Silverberg 1968:222-27).]

At least six principal  sub-families have been identified for this region: Northwest Coast-Eskimo; California-Yuman; Great Basin; Athabascan; Plains-Pueblo; Eastern Woodlands (Nettl 1965:157-162). Songs from each such family can often be distinguished from the others by certain specific traits, such as the wide-ranging “terraced” melodies of the Plains and Pueblos, the melodic rise characteristic of the California-Yuman family, or the call and response patterns typical of the Eastern Woodlands.

Especially interesting is the manner in which characteristic “nonsense” vocables are deployed in almost all of these traditions, so that, for example, a Navajo song almost always ends with the syllables “he-ney-yan-ga,” while “he-ya-ha-ya” is more characteristic of Plains songs. The music of each “family,” and in many cases each tribe, can often be identified on the basis of its favored nonsense vocables alone. To my knowledge, this is a situation unparalleled in any other musical region of the world.

While each North American “family” has its own idiosyncrasies, the differences appear minor compared to the many commonalities that make this region, along with Australia, among the most musically homogeneous in the world. The most prominent shared characteristics would appear to be: unison singing; relatively straightforward percussion accompaniment on drums and/or rattles, usually based on a simple one-beat pattern; a preponderance of “nonsense” vocables; wide intervals; moderately tense voices; and an idiosyncratic manner of forming melodies, where most notes are squarely on the beat and the iteration of the same pitch over different vocables is common, especially at phrase endings. 

Variants of more or less the same style can be found among many Central and South American Indian tribes as well. But such qualities tend to be rare among the groups identified above, i.e., those with the strongest trans-Pacific links – which also happen to be those bearing the “African Signature.”

While no one recording could be considered typical for all North American groups, the following example of Salish (so-called “Flathead”) performance, illustrates some of the most typical features discussed above: Audio Example 75: Powow Dance (American Indian Dances, Smithsonian Folkways.)

An excellent assortment of authentic North American Indian performances, including Navaho, Apache, Ponca, Sioux, Taos, Kiowa, etc. can be found on the CD Ceremonial & War Dances, available via Amazon.com. Brief clips from each can easily be streamed, giving a good general sense of some of the differences between each group and also the many commonalities, as enumerated above.

A Disconcerting Discontinuity

Given the many differences between the musical styles of the American north and south, the mainstream theory by which all Native Americans arrived via a northern land bridge becomes especially difficult to maintain. Before attempting to deal with this very problematic issue, I’ll  complicate it a bit more:

If the Americas had been populated directly and unproblematically via a Bering Strait land bridge in the manner usually presented, we would expect there to be a clear stylistic continuity between the music of the Paleosiberians of Siberia and the Amerindians of North America.   But in fact there is no such continuity. There are certainly resemblances. The two traditions are definitely related.   But Paleosiberian singing is usually solo, usually unaccompanied, often noticeably glottalized, whereas Amerindians often sing in unison, with little to no glottalization, and usually accompanied by various types of drums and/or rattles, while the frame drum of the Arctic Shamans appears to be the only instrument native to Paleosiberia. 

Significantly, we find only a very few instances of Paleosiberian "breathless" style2 among Amerindians, with none at all in the north, where one would expect to find that highly distinctive trait quite frequently if these groups were simply displaced Paleosiberians, as implied by the dominant theory.
In other words, between regions once connected by a land bridge, where we would expect to find continuity, we find discontinuity; and between regions separated by the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean, where we would expect to find discontinuity, we find continuity. Such a situation would seem to demand serious reconsideration of all those theories postulating ancient trans-Pacific voyages.

Did the Earliest Americans Arrive via the Pacific Ocean?

Sorry to disappoint you, but that won’t wash either. In literally every case where archaeological research provides us with dates for possible trans-Pacific contacts, these are relatively recent. Pre-Columbian to be sure, but not really all that old, certainly not old enough to account for long-distance Paleolithic era migrations. It’s not outside the realm of possibility, or even probability, that certain artefacts, traditions, crops, animals, artistic or architectural styles, etc. may have infiltrated the New World via sporadic contacts with Polynesian voyagers, or possibly even, as Needham suggests, Chinese vessels. But there is no evidence that any of these voyages could have taken place at any time prior to roughly one or two thousand years ago, and in all likelihood much later.

There is no question that Polynesian sailors were capable of making long voyages of this kind. If they could reach Easter Island, it is often argued, then why not the western shores of South America? But Easter Island was not settled until, at the very earliest, 700 AD (Easter Island, Wikipedia). Even the westernmost reaches of Polynesia are thought to have been populated no earlier than 2,000 years ago (Polynesia, Wikipedia). Since even the most conservative estimates for the first arrival of humans in the Americas date to 10,000 years ago and more, we can’t rely on Polynesian sailing skills to account for the earliest settlement of the New World. And there is absolutely no evidence for trans-Pacific voyages prior to the advent of the Polynesians.

[Added 3-24-11: I must add that there is also no real evidence for an "African Signature" in Polynesian music, which has its own very distinctive style. While panpipes have been found at archaeological sites, they are apparently no longer being played, so it's not possible to assess performance style. There is, in any case, little to no sign of anything resembling P/B style hocket or interlock in any of the instrumental traditions, although we do find slit drums.  Polynesian vocal style can be characterized as "social unison," i.e., all singers sing in more or less the same rhythms at the same time, either in harmony or unison. The most common types of polyphony are parallel harmonies or drones. Contrapuntal interplay of the sort associated with the "African Signature" is not found. It's important to make this clear, in case anyone might want to assume that the P/B elements found in the music of certain Central and South American
groups could be due to relatively recent Polynesian influence.]

The First Wave

In a recently published paper, archaeologist/biologist Walter Neves and his associates present compelling physical evidence for an African-Melanesian-American link and at the same time offer a convincing alternative to the Trans-Pacific theory. Noting that the cranial morphology of the earliest American settlers is “distinct from that displayed by most late and modern Native Americans,” they find it closer to what “can be seen today among Africans, Australians, and Melanesians”; thus, “South America, Central America and possibly North America were populated by human groups with a more generalized cranial morphology before the arrival of the Mongoloids.” Since a more “Australo-Melanesian-like” morphology “was also present in East Asia at the end of the Pleistocene,” they go on to conclude that “transoceanic migrations are not necessary to explain our findings.”

We postulate that after reaching southeast Asia, this stem [Out-of-Africa] population gave rise to at least two different dispersions. One took a southward direction and arrived at Australia around 50 Ka. Sometime between 50 and 20 Ka a second branch dispersed towards the north, and arrived in the Americas by the end of the Pleistocene, bringing with it the same cranial morphology that characterized the first modern humans. (Neves, et al, “A new early Holocene human skeleton from Brazil: implications for the settlement of the New World.” Journal of Human Evolution Volume 48, Issue 4, April 2005, Pages 403-414

A similar picture can be found in the genetic evidence. Already in 1995, Zago et al. (1995:4) had identified:

three predominant [Alpha]-globin gene haplotypes among Brazilian Indians [, a distribution that] has some features in common with the distributions observed in Southeast Asia, Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.... The frequency of haplotype IIe among the Amazon Indians is the highest thus far observed in any human population. It occurs regularly in Oceanic and Southeast Asian populations but is absent in Europeans and sub-Saharan blacks.

[Additionally] all examples of haplotype IIa identified in our sample contained...a variant [which] when present is commonly associated with haplotypes IIa or IId in Southeast Asia, Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia.

After considering all this evidence, along with a considerable amount of additional genetic data gleaned from the research of others, the authors conclude: “the similarities between native [South] Americans and populations from the Pacific Islands are probably the consequence of ancient common origins that predate the peopling of the Americas and Oceania” (ibid.:5).

A “Beachcomber” Legacy

Stephen Oppenheimer (2004:300-13) holds a very similar view of the earliest migration into the Americas, but takes it one step farther, to accommodate the effects of the Ice Age maximum, which produced a huge glacier ca 20,000 years ago. According to him, if North America had been initially populated prior to the Ice Age, that population would have either been wiped out or forced to move as the glacier expanded—some to refuges in the South, others back where they’d come from in the northwest where at that time there lay a large land mass relatively free of ice, in the vicinity of today’s Bering Strait, which he refers to as the “Beringian refuge.”3 Those already based in the southern part of North America could have continued south, possibly by sea, along the western coast, to Central and South America. This would have been the first “paleoindian” wave described by Neves.

The second wave of Asian immigrants proposed by Neves, those with a more “Mongoloid” morphology, would have been stalled in Beringia until the glacier receded, thus raising the possibility that the two populations may have mixed, both genetically and culturally. As the glacier receded, North America would have been repopulated by groups from both Beringia and the south, while Central and South America would, for the time being at least, have retained its original ''Australo-Melanesian-like'' first-wave population. Ultimately, the largely Mongoloid or mixed populations from the north would have migrated into Central and South America, displacing the first-wavers to marginal refuge areas in the densest jungles and highest mountains, to produce the physically and culturally diverse situation we find there today.

To summarize, the Americas may have originally been populated by at least two different groups: an offshoot of the original Out-of-Africa “beachcombers,” steadily progressing from Indonesia, up the coast of Eastern Asia to the extreme north; a now very different group from Central Asia, which had already broken off from the main line thousands of years earlier. Both might have made it across the arctic land bridge prior to the Ice Age maximum, but only certain groups might have made it far enough south to be safe from the maximum when it finally arrived.

Could these have included direct descendents of the original beachcomber group, bringing with them the canonic/echoic variant of P/B singing style and their hocketing panpipes? If so, then, as they progressed further south, they would have populated certain areas in Mexico, Central America, the Andes, and the Amazon Basin, where their descendents would be living today. According to this line of thought, we do not find panpipes, hocketing horn and trumpet ensembles or canonic/echoic singing north of Mexico because any stragglers from that group would not have survived the worst of the Ice Age.

The groups taking refuge in Beringia may have consisted of two other populations traced by Oppenheimer, whose history had taken them on a different course, through Central Asia and Siberia, where they could have lost touch with the original P/B traditions, since there is now, outside of the Inuit “Throat Singing” tradition (Nattiez 1999), little trace of P/B style singing, or panpipes, north of Mexico. Possibly due to their shared experiences in Beringia during the Ice Age, these northern groups may have developed strong musical and linguistic affinities that would have persisted after they diverged, making America north of Mexico an unusually homogeneous area in both respects.

Mapping American History

Since the history outlined above may be somewhat confusing, I’ve made an attempt to depict it in a series of three maps:

Figure 15.1 New World Migrations

The uppermost map traces, in red, the progress of Oppenheimer’s Out-of-Africa “beachcombers,” appropriately named, since, according to his model, we can trace their slow but steady progress along the coastlines of, first, the Indian Ocean and then the Pacific, all the way up from Southeast Asia to Beringia and beyond, continuing down the coast of North America. The red line makes more sense if we assume these were not only “beachcombers” with a taste for seafood, but also seafarers of sorts, whose relatively primitive vessels would have had no problem so long as they didn’t venture too far beyond sight of land. The blue arrows trace some of the later, post-bottleneck migrations discussed in Chapters Ten and Eleven. Note the two groups in Northeast Asia, poised at the doorstep of the New World. But, as the map suggests, the “beachcombers” may have already beaten them to it.

The map on the lower left highlights, in yellow, the “Beringian refuge” referred to above. Geological research suggests that it was not glaciated during this period, and would have thus been capable of sustaining human life. The large green area represents the extent of the icepack during what is known as the “Last Glacial Maximum,” thought to have lasted roughly between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago.  The blue arrows on the left represent the two waves of “post-bottleneck” migration into Beringia posited by Oppenheimer.

The two red arrows pointing northwest represent possible back migrations by “beachcomber” stragglers retreating to Beringia in the wake of the developing glacier. According to Oppenheimer, Beringia may have afforded a refuge to such groups, and other late arrivals, for thousands of years, prior to the glacier’s melting, during which time they would have had the opportunity to interact and presumably intermingle into a single “proto-Amerindian” population. Meanwhile, as indicated by the red arrows to the south, those “beachcombers” whose momentum had carried them beyond the reach of the glacier would have continued on their journey down the west coast of both continents, possibly all the way to the tip of South America.

The third map represents the repopulation of the Americas from Beringia in the wake of the now receding glacier. The red globs represent various “Beachcomber” colonies in Central and South America that would have already been in place for some time. It is, of course, these groups that would still be maintaining African traditions long lost by their distant cousins to the north.

A Mystery Solved?

The complex, but nevertheless convincing, scenario offered by Oppenheimer accounts not only for the distribution of hocketing wind ensembles and canonic/echoic singing but also the proliferation of instruments generally in Central and South America. According to this theory, the Out of Africa nomads would have maintained ancestral traditions rooted in HMC as they traveled north along the coast of East Asia, passed quickly through Beringia and made their way along the eastern Pacific coast down to Central and South America.

The paucity of instruments in the north could be explained by the effects of the Ice Age maximum, which would have covered most of North America, thus wiping out most of the groups living there and forcing the survivors back into the only relative warmth of Beringia. According to Oppenheimer, life would have been brutally difficult for those survivors, in an environment that would have offered very few materials from which to build instruments. Thus, when the descendants of these groups were finally able to move down into North America proper after the Ice Age, it makes sense that they would have lost most of their instrumental traditions.

This explanation is both a bit complicated and necessarily speculative. But what we know about the musical aspect does seem to fit. Oppenheimer’s theory, for better or worse, does offer a  meaningful explanation of how musical traditions bearing the “African Signature” could have made it all the way to Central and South America but not survived in the North.

1. Much of the evidence, pro and con, is reviewed in the book Trans-Pacific echoes and resonances: listening once again, by Joseph Needham and Gwei-Djen Lu (World Scientific, 1985).

2. For a definition of Breathless Style, see references to haplogroup B2 in Appendix B.

3. Oppenheimer’s notion of a “Beringian refuge” is supported in a paper by geneticist Erica Tamm et al., Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders (PLoS ONE 2(9), 2007: e829. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000829), whose research “suggests that ancestors of Native Americans paused when they reached Beringia, during which time New World founder lineages differentiated from their Asian sister-clades” (p. 1).


  1. The genetic evidence is squarely against a direct trans-Pacific demic event. South American populations have a subset of the combined North and South American population gentic traits. There are no distinguisable traces of Austronesian genetics in indigeneous South America and no distinguishable traces of South American genetics in indigeneous Pacific Islanders, despite the distinctive character of each due to founder effects.

    An isolated instance of trans-Pacific agricultural exchange is supported by the Polynesian Kumara, which could have led to music exchange in the other direction. But, there is no indication of regular trans-Pacific trade or genetic impact.

    There is also no credible evidence of American inhabitation by hominins of any kind prior to 15,000 years ago. Oppenheimer's scenario is starkly counterfactual.

    There is, however, an established link linguistically between Paleosiberians of Siberia (via the Yenesian languages) and the Amerindians of North America, specifically, the Na-Dene of North America. Relying on current Paleosiberians as a marker of what Paleosiberian culture was like 15,000 years ago is questionable - unlike Amerindians, they have experienced massive outside cultural influence and contact in the interim and have had their numbers reduced to a point where sustaining their historical cultural norms may have provided impossible.

    There is plausible evidence for a theory that has one group of Beringians heading down the Pacific Coast directly to South America, while another group goes across Canada and down the Atlantic Coast and works its way inland, and it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine Pacific Coastal Amerindians experiencing areal influence from their Eastern branch fellow Amerindians that distorts or diminishes their original culture in a way that was not the case further South. The two groups were not genetically identical and could have reflected some slight population structure among Beringians.

    One should also not discount the possibility that a lot of musical influences on Central and South Americans has been post-Columbian.

  2. "There are no distinguisable traces of Austronesian genetics in indigeneous South America and no distinguishable traces of South American genetics in indigeneous Pacific Islanders"

    Yes. Thank you. Agreed. I see no reason to derive any S. American populations from Polynesian ones and the genetic evidence reinforces that. However there does remain the possibility of cultural influence, and in some cases that seems to make sense -- although, as I've written, I see no such musical evidence.

    "An isolated instance of trans-Pacific agricultural exchange is supported by the Polynesian Kumara, which could have led to music exchange in the other direction. But, there is no indication of regular trans-Pacific trade or genetic impact."

    Agreed. It's possible, I suppose, that the panpipes found in the Polynesian archaeological record could be the result of trade with some S. American (or Melanesian) group. That would explain why we see no evidence of panpipe performance anywhere in Polynesia today. They may simply have been treated as "collectibles" with no other function.

    "There is also no credible evidence of American inhabitation by hominins of any kind prior to 15,000 years ago. Oppenheimer's scenario is starkly counterfactual."

    Here I disagree. Archaeological research has serious limitations for historical reconstruction. Not only is it almost invariably controversial and correctable, but it is also fragmentary and incomplete, providing us only with the sketchiest sense of what might have happened and when.

    The large-scale patterns revealed by the sort of research Oppenheimer is doing make much more sense to me, although much of that evidence is admittedly circumstantial. (Many a criminal has been convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and usually for good reason, imo.)

    We have good reason to believe that the earliest wave of "paleoindian" migration would have been a continuation of the original "southern route" out of Africa. And if that's the case, then there's no reason to assume the Americas could not have been populated by as early as 20,000 or even 30,000 years ago, or even earlier.

    Don't forget -- there's a very high degree of linguistic diversification in S. America, second only to Melanesia. Such diversification takes time.

  3. "There is, however, an established link linguistically between Paleosiberians of Siberia (via the Yenesian languages) and the Amerindians of North America, specifically, the Na-Dene of North America."

    Interesting. All I can say is that there appears to be no corresponding musical link. The music of NaDene speaking Indian groups fits pretty neatly into the picture for N. America generally, and has no features I know of that would link them to paleosiberians any more strongly than any other N. American group.

    "Relying on current Paleosiberians as a marker of what Paleosiberian culture was like 15,000 years ago is questionable - unlike Amerindians, they have experienced massive outside cultural influence and contact in the interim and have had their numbers reduced to a point where sustaining their historical cultural norms may have provided impossible."

    Yes, that's a good point and I agree. But Amerindians have also experienced massive outside intrusions and influences as well. When you keep the big picture in mind and look for large-scale patterns then as I see it such gaps in the record become less significant than they might seem. Nevertheless, it's true that much of importance could have been lost, and certain elements of the current picture could be misleading, agreed.

    "There is plausible evidence for a theory that has one group of Beringians heading down the Pacific Coast directly to South America, while another group goes across Canada and down the Atlantic Coast and works its way inland, and it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine Pacific Coastal Amerindians experiencing areal influence from their Eastern branch fellow Amerindians that distorts or diminishes their original culture in a way that was not the case further South. The two groups were not genetically identical and could have reflected some slight population structure among Beringians."

    If N. America were more like Australia, i.e. relatively flat and relatively easy to traverse on foot (and also smaller), then I'd be more inclined to agree that the homogeneity of N. American musical style could be due to significant doses of cross-cultural influence, even from one coast to the other, as you imply.

    Under the circumstances, however, I think it much more likely that the main features of the style had already been established prior to the point that all the varoius groups and subgroups diverged. And Beringia is the most logical place to center that particular "kulturkreis."

  4. As far as post-Columbian influences are concerned, these are very well known and understood, at least as far as music is concerned. Most of the Central and South American groups with P/B related traditions are located in very remote regions that would not have been accessible to outsiders until relatively recently, and most of those contact histories have been well documented. More recent types of African influence, stemming from traditions brought to the Americas via the slave trade are well known and have a completely different stylistic profile.

  5. well this is quite interesting because I've heard the solomon island panflutes and thought the same thing about the striking similarities.. and infact.. in 1975 they discovered the oldest skeletons in south america over in brazil.. and they turned out to be black! not only that but related to the melanesian/australoid type as well.. not only that but there's many examples all the way through up to mexico connected to the afro/olmec culture which now with the evidence available, is no doubtedly responsible for these anomalies. there's even DNA evidence suggesting a westward migration from the americas to the eastern islands of New guinea... and unlike our mainstream historians would like to believe.. there's no reason that the africans, or melanesians were unable to island hop across the pacific or atlantic, as they had quite sophisticated vessels. Even coloumbus himself and other explorers wrote about their encounters with dark/frizzy haired tribes that seemed to already b there.. from California, mexico, guatemala, Panama, Venezuela, and brazil. And the most fascinating thing is that the musical similarities seem to defy time and space.... it speaks for itself!

    1. I was unaware of any evidence suggesting a westward migration all the way to New Guinea and I must say I'm skeptical.

      As far as island hopping across the Pacific by Melanesians, there is no evidence of that. By Polynesians, yes, but only relatively recently -- and that's a very different type of culture with a very different type of music, as I stated in the text.

      As I see it, there is only one explanation for the evidence we both see, both musical and otherwise, and that is via a very early migration up the east coast of Asia and down the west coast of the Americas. While a trans Pacific migration might look much simpler on a map, a gradual migration along the Pacific coast would actually have been far easier in terms of both navigation and access to resources, such as food and fresh water. What we're talking about is simply a walk along the beach, albeit by a great many generations over a very long time period.

  6. I did some research for you and I found that already in 1952, the book "Rassentypen und Biodynamik von Amerika" describes some Amerindian groups as follows: "The absorption of a local australiform strain, the presence of which predates the Mongolid immigration, may be involved."

    At the risk of taking physical anthropology more seriously than it merits, you might want to take a look at this thread:http://anthrocivitas.net/forum/showthread.php?t=1948 it has pictures, but take it with a grain of salt of course. Strikingly, whereas most groups are described as having straight hair (which is characteristic for both Native Americans and East Asians), some of them are described as having "wavy" hair, and all of those are in South and Central America - none in North America.

    Some groups are also described as "without Mongolid characteristics", but this doesn't seem to be geographically distributed. In any case, whatever Mongoloid or Mongolid element was present in Amerindians must have been of a very old and generalized type, with long noses and not such strong epicanthus, which must date back to shortly after the "Mongoloid" and "Europoid (Caucasoid)" types diverged. This type can in fact still be found in Japan and Korea for those with a keen eye, but not so much in China, which might be a result of more (recent) Central Asian influence in China (Huns, Manchus, Mongols...). It is notable that Na-Dené and especially Eskimo-Aleut-speaking peoples seem to have a more "modern", "specialized" Mongoloid phenotype closer to the ones found in East Asia/Siberia. That doesn't align well with the musical evidence, but of course genes are not music, and I would reckon that the original musical style of the palaeo-indians would have "stewed", or rather "crystallized" in Beringia for long enough as to become quite different from its Siberian root.

    If it's really true that "australoid" preceded "mongoloid", i.e. that the first population of South America wasn't mixed from the beginning, you might want to look for more than one migration from Beringia: one with "old" mongoloid phenotypes and a later, more "modern" one giving rise to Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dené speakers. Or maybe the former could have come from an expansion of people who were already in North America during the ice age, there seem to have been some small places where there was no ice.

    At any rate, this stuff about the Olmecs being supposedly "black", which up until now I've only ever heard from Afrocentrist sources, is becoming all the more explicable. By the way, lately I find myself using these "physical anthropology" terms more than I would like to...

    1. I prefer "morphology" to "race" when discussing such features and one thing I've noticed is that the morphology of many Amazonian Indians seems closer to Melanesians than other Amerindian groups.

      A problem with the Americas is that so far there doesn't seem to be much correlation between the genetic evidence and the history proposed by Oppenheimer, at least nothing I've found thus far. It's possible that the original paleoindian lineages simply died out and all that's remained is their cultural influence, as expressed in the greater musical complexity found in S. and C. America. The borrowing of ritual elements, including musical instruments in both Melanesia and S. America is well documented.

      As I see it, the most promising genetic results are those discussed by my old professor, Johannes Wilbert, back in the 60's -- see the opening segment of Chapter Two.