Shift: Journal of Alternatives - Alternative Music: Aboriginal Sounds
Summer 2002 (images are links)

Exploring the foundation of dance and song, we discover the roots of what it is to be human. And exploring that foundation, we discover thunder in the dirt between the roots.

Jane Goodall, the primatologist famous for her work with chimpanzees, more than once observed her forest informants engaging in ritual. Only now is it becoming known that different chimpanzee tribes vary in their cultural nuances. What Jane Goodall observed one African afternoon as the sky drummed with rhythm of thunder and light, was a group demonstration by the males of a chimpanzee band. Together they engaged in a display, breaking branches, running, exulting, accompanying the thunder with their own behaviors.

At a different time Goodall observed the following as several chimps approached a roaring waterfall.

"All at once Evered charged forward, leapt up to seize one of the hanging vines, and swung out over the stream in the spray-drenched wind. A moment later Freud joined him. The two leapt from one liana to the next, swinging into space, until it seemed the slender stems must snap or be torn from their lofty moorings. Frodo charged along the edge of the stream, hurling rock after rock now ahead, now to the side, his coat glistening with spray. For ten minutes the three performed their wild displays while Fifi and her younger offspring watched from one of the fall fig trees by the stream. (Goodall, Jane (1990) Through A Window. Houghton Mifflin: Boston p. 241)

Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, has surmised that human beings evolved according to the dictates of sexual selection. In other words, certain behaviors were noted as highly valued, and members exhibiting those behaviors were chosen as procreation partners, with the skill and tendency to engage in the behavior being passed on genetically to their young. Miller and others suggest that if those behaviors were successful in enticing a mate, for example the chimpanzee displays noted above - evocative, creative, or unusual in some way - then that may have been the primary engine behind the exponential growth in human brain size and creativity. For example, males may have been selected by females for the novelty of their displays, novelty that may have evolved from a variety of throat noises and especially frisky body gyrations into proto-song and early dance.

Anthropologist Christopher Knight depicts a cultural context that describes how this evolution may have occurred. He suggests that humans over the last several million years up to the last 100,000 years, were organized around female centered tribes with males participating in rituals of hunting, dancing, and singing that resulted in the females picking males that most deeply satisty their sexual aesthetic. Integral to his view of how humans evolved, is percussion, dance and song.

It is not an ill conceived notion to consider that the original arts are the body arts: dance and song. It is only one more step to hypothesize that if we did indeed evolve according to the demands that a male exhibit eloquence in the arts for a female picking a mate, then almost everything else in science, culture and contemporary society is an indirect or direct result of this sexual aesthetic. It starts to become more clear why sex seems to behind most cultural communications - be it popular cultural, conventional or sub cultures. Also noted is how the gathering of material possessions to establish status may be directly related to how little creativity the collector of possessions has. Unable to rely on his own virtues to snare a prospective female, he buys the virtues, hence cars with massive stereos or clothing that mimic rock stars.

Early in my life, when I noted that sex and status seemed to motivate most people that I knew, I was deeply disappointed. Now, fascinated, not dismayed, I see sex, dance and song at the center of what drives the engine of contemporary culture and at the psychological source of friends and family. And now, at 50, a deeply satisfying experience is my life is listening to the thunder with my wife, windows open, the great oak swaying, the rain beating a rhythm on the leaves in the early morning hours of the night.

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