Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder, and Carol Kulig discuss the slow acceptance of Cantometrics findings, Black funerary customs, and suggestions for cultural curriculum of pan-American Black studies (part 2)
Date recorded: 1970
Contributor(s): Contributor: Kaye, Andrew; Contributor: Del Rio, Michael; Contributor: Paulay, Forrestine; Contributor: Elder, Jacob Delworth (J.D.); Contributor: Kulig, Carol; Contributor: Lomax, Alan
Contributor(s): Contributor: Kaye, Andrew; Contributor: Del Rio, Michael; Contributor: Paulay, Forrestine; Contributor: Elder, Jacob Delworth (J.D.); Contributor: Kulig, Carol; Contributor: Lomax, Alan
Subject(s): Choreometrics; Dance and Human History (Film)
Tape number: T5333
Track Number: 2
Archive ID: T5333b
Belongs to: Elder/Kulig/Lomax, 1970
Note: J. D. Elder: The griot and his drummers are there. Drums are carried. Big drums have wheels. Male relatives will dance for about an hour. Female relatives follow the coffin, carrying large photographs of the deceased. The women carry large photographs, which they later tear up sell the pieces as relics to admirers of the dead man. They dance through the town, finally ending up in a Christian church where there is a regular service and beautiful Christian hymns are sung. The griot and his orchestra sit at a respectful distance from the church drinking beer and schnapps. Alan Lomax: Does the griot have a sacred character’ J.D. Elder: No, no, his business is purely adulatory. Muslims do nothing of this sort, have no images. Under Islam, you don't even say the name of Mohammed. Alan Lomax: In New Orleans, people who come at the end are called the second line. At the borders of the neighborhoods there were sometimes fatal fights. J.D. Elder: Really’! The breakup of the tribal system allows for that sort of thing. In Africa, the moment you talk of someone, you have to talk about his lineage. There can be no clash. You can't say anything negative or his relatives will carve you up (something humorous might be allowed). In Nigeria everyone would be wearing the same clothes. Are there eulogies in the church’ Alan Lomax: Yes. J.D. Elder: But, imagine, in Nigeria, seven days and nights, griots going to all the houses, everybody contributing anecdotes about the dead man, exaggerating his good qualities. The Ogboni are a masked, secret order, something like your Ku Klux Klan. No woman can look into an Ogboni's face and live. If a woman wants to die and be buried with the man, she might look at his face. They also remove misrulers. The Ogboni would take over and officiate at the funeral of a man of very high standing. They sing very solemn songs. Also, for a person of very high standing, an old woman will sing very ancient songs in an obsolete language to send you on, but ordinary people rely on orikas. The dancing (done by the males preceding the coffin) is full of praise and respect: "He had many children, defeated his enemies, the king gave him favors," and so on. Afterward they say, " We are happy to think such a great person was associated with us, we will tell how people danced for days." The following year at Igongu, the ancestor's feast, the whole ceremony must be repeated, and the next and the next, as long as the descendant is alive. Sanctions for not doing it are fearful. (Alan Lomax exclaims: When do people have time to do anything else’) Alan Lomax: In New Orleans when coming back from the funeral they sing "The Ram of Darby": "Didn't he ramble all around the town’ / He rambled till the butcher cut him down." J.D. Elder laughs and asks what that has to do with death. Alan Lomax: There is a saying, "Cry at the birth and rejoice at the death." J. D. Elder: In Nigeria, the dancing associated with the funeral is regulated, celebratory. After you bury him you are free to blow of steam. The griot has been paid, and has left. The relatives will not be there. In the third line, the acquaintances, a wild bacchanal begins. It is not physically connected to the funeral. Alan Lomax thinks that that is incorrect, that the community is reacting: In New Orleans in the old ceremony you got him to the grave and then you had the bacchanal, but now it can start a few blocks away. Now they have cars. Not like the old days. J.D. Elder: What you are seeing is a variation of Nigeria. Alan Lomax: Exactly. Now the emphasis is on the fact that this many had many friends. The biggest funeral recently was for a man who never worked, but there were three bands at his ceremony. He invested his savings to pay for it. The community celebrated this man's charm. He was a street character. J.D. Elder [surprised]: I see! Alan Lomax: They don't have this for the upper class. People who like these things come to every one to drink and celebrate. J.D. Elder: From a social point of view, this is a group of people who have come to celebrate the funeral of someone. Not like Nigeria, where it is his family. The New Orleans group is not structured| they don't wear the same clothes, as in Nigeria. Alan Lomax [asking about the change in levels in African dancing]: Have you seen people dancing on poles’ J.D. Elder: Stilt walking is very popular among the Hausa people in the north and Idoma. Gymnastics is a constant feature of tribal dancing, and is highly regulated. Timme (chief) is subordinate to Oba (king) of Yoruba. A great, Oxford-educated musician used to put on shows, even though he was a king. He climbed to the top of a pole and lay across the top. Alan Lomax: Have you seen people shimmying on their bellies’ J.D. Elder: Yes. Alan Lomax: Piling up’ J.D. Elder: Yes. A man crawling along the ground could be a retention of African customs. Bongo cult of Trinidad [recording cuts off]. T6593 (conversation taped in a restaurant): Alan Lomax: I’ve become convinced after my teaching experience this summer and after probing into why so many of my very nice colleagues in ethnomusicology - people whom I like and adore - have not really been won by Cantometrics. There are three reasons. The first and most important is that all of those people are oriented to some classical musical system. That’s what’s in their hearts, and Cantometrics forces you to take yourself out of that perspective and really allow yourself to be in other systems. J.D. Elder: You think that is the blockage’ Alan Lomax: That’s the blockage. Because I experienced that this summer ‘ I had thought ‘ even though this girl is a very smart woman and she’s very- Man: The Chinese girl’ Alan Lomax: The Chinese girl. Even though they know that this is not so, that Beethoven was a creature of his times, you know, they still have this idea. Because the fundamental orientation to creative expression, to social achievement, is the solo performer - the champion, and that’s just the whole of Europe and the whole of the Arctic world - the single hunter who adventures out into the cold and brings back the knowledge of where the walruses are, you see’ We are a solo people and not a group. Now, that’s foreign to the black psychology. Really, blacks, even the champions feel - the griot needs his setting. He doesn’t want to be there without his whole setting, you see’ And that’s a very big thing, because Cantometrics is oriented to the idea that art is a function of the audience and of the performing group. That’s the whole orientation of Cantometrics from the start. It’s not about the solo performance. Solo is just one little tiny part of the whole range of human possibilities, most of which are group. That’s very much disliked [by musicologists]. And the reason that is pertinent, is in relationship to the subject we are talking about. These tendencies are the baseline for the education system. In Africa and in America and everywhere, people went to school and they absorbed these European points of view about creativity as the fundamental aspects of them, and also that culture was linguistic and not also paralinguistic. If you’re focused on Europe in terms of its actual content, if you’re focused on solo geniuses and on linguistics instead of the whole range, which includes, basically, the body, then you really can’t learn other systems. You can’t be sympathetic. You can say you like them but you can’t. And this includes the people who carry the systems themselves, because by now they have been educated in the European tradition. And so we have the absurd spectacle of the West Indies, which has one common Afro-American culture with of five or six languages, split up into little islands that compete with each other and fight with each other instead of making a great new Afro-American nation here which speaks five languages, like the Garufina [of Honduras, who] speak five languages. And there’s the blockage, it seems to me. It’s not hard to see, and it seems to me, therefore, it’s not hard to deal with. Because the fights are not about money, but the fights are about a viewpoint that goes with one area of the world, i.e., Europe. And I don’t think that blacks who are working in the cultural field see this at all. They say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to become African’ and that’s the most terrifying assignment that can be possibly imagined when you have in Africa 5,000 cultures that you might have little pieces of in the West Indies. They are not oriented to an Africa which has any unity, although there is unity in Africa. There not taught black African unity| they’re taught about black African diversity - the Ibo and the Yoruba and the Hausa - and forever. So that's why the discovery by American blacks that they’re African ends up confusing them more than ever. They’re looking for traces of Yoruba, traces of Ibo and so on. There’s no way that the thing can work. Nobody has said to them that black Africa has the following general models - these two or three basic models that they can orient themselves to. And nobody by all means has said to them that there are a couple of good models in the New World. J. D. Elder: My problem is this: what is the future of African religion in Latin America and the Caribbean’ [He tells how he had made a film about Shango that was censored for heresy, although the charges were later dropped.] There is no consensus among the leaders. Stories about Shango's beautiful wife were good dancing material, but they said no, it must not be used for secular purposes. Alan Lomax: I am concerned with the artificial introduction of black African religion into the American scene. I think it will make an enormous problem. J. D. Elder: But look, politically, the future of the prospect of a federation depends on educated elites having a unified view of our relationship with Africa. Alan Lomax: Otherwise it will split the countries into even smaller pieces. J. D. Elder [vehemently]: It will destroy it! Alan Lomax asks what J.D. Elder thought of the conference: Is the aim to make the world aware of the continuity of Shango, Candomble, and other African cults on this continent and to show that it is quite proper for them to go on’ J. D. Elder: I get the impression that that is the aim. I put the question: What is the future’ And there is no answer. It could be that after 25 years the problem is just opening up. After 25 years people are still asking what is the future’ Until they can answer that question there is nothing that I can put in the curriculum of black schools in the Caribbean. Alan Lomax: I think the requirement of basing these educational systems on history in the European document sense is wrong. For instance, it has perverted oral history, which I got started. Now they use oral history only as a way to get material for written history. J. D. Elder: What you say suggests a new approach, not starting with geography and history as they did 50 years ago when the aim was to Europeanize these people. In history the first thing they taught you was geography, what were the main rivers, towns, bays, ports. Then they taught you history. Does the argument not mean, if we want to teach about Africa, we have to teach its music or its religion’ Alan Lomax has made a film showing the peopling of Africa, from the Sudan southward, through dance style, that can be used to explain the big outline of the history of Africa, but he hasn't had the money to finish it. Africa was cut off from other continents and its history is relatively simple. Four groups emerged: the Bushmen, the Sudan, West Africa, and Nilote| and a fifth group comprising a mixture of Bantu and Nilote. The key to Africa is performance in all its aspects: ritual, music and dance, carried out in the most flamboyant manner. Africans are privileged in the cultural sense. Human beings left Africa 60,000 years ago and colonized the world. African traditions are the source of all humanity. Alan would like to start the teaching of history with the Bushmen and Pygmies, all human cultures are derived from theirs, including the Arctic ones. The origin of breakdancing in Philadelphia when some teenagers viewed a film that some ethnologists had brought back from South Africa. What happened with jazz’ The most talented black American musicians took the whole European classical tradition and wore it out. They explored all the harmonic ideas that had ever been thought of, played with them until there was nothing left to do with them. That's the way an African educational system could begin, you see’ He suggests that J. D. Elder teach Cantometrics. J. D. Elder: I never gave it a consideration. In fact, the common man in Trinidad knows that the educational system is not working: 90 percent of our students fail. The man in the street asks: Is it the system’ Is it the teachers, the students, what is wrong’ Alan Lomax: It must be cultural history. The problem of the history of Africa is that it becomes a history of nations, not people, Ibo or Nigeria. J. D. Elder asks about black visual art in North America. Alan Lomax: They had great manual artists, did all the iron work in Louisiana, but in the European tradition. African visual traditions didn't travel as well as auditory tradition. Alan Lomax complains that scholars are not listening to oral traditions right here. There is great folklore right out on the street, but it is not seen as prestigious. Discussion about the Garifunas over lunch. A tradition that the runaway maroons of Jamaica were shipped to Central America by the British exists both in Jamaica and Honduras. J. D. Elder: What do Garifuna retain of Africa’ Alan Lomax: This is the limitation of the linguistic view of culture. It misses the point. Culture is largely non-verbal. It travels in the constant streams of behavior, so that you find Africa alive today right on the street corner. From the Cantometric and Choreometric point of view they are the same: in the bush people of Surinam you have a total survival of the non-verbal system without any shift. Although the Garifuna people speak Arawak (as their first language), not a creole. They look African and their culture is African. J. D. Elder: But they talk Arawak. Alan Lomax: They all speak five languages. A discussion of language, creoles, and bi-lingual education, in the U. S. A., Great Britain, and the West Indies. Alan Lomax complains that the moment for black education has come and gone. The situation is a mess, he says. He tells of lecturing a class in black studies at Harvard where the students were smoking marijuana. He feels that instead of developing a solid curriculum the movement has been used simply to get power. They watch clips of Carol Kulig’s film about the Garifuna. A man explains what makes the Garifuna special: ‘The food we eat, our concept of God, our feeling about our religion. The Garifuna are American Negroes. We are not only African| we have a mixture in us. We mixed with Caribbean Indians.’ J. D. Elder: What a statement, powerful, strong, positive! They watch a clip of Garifuna women dancing in a circle around a man lying on a beach, fanning him. J. D. Elder recounts anthropologist Louise Bennet showing him a dance in a village at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica, in which transvestite women with huge dildoes danced in ring around a transvestite man, with female painted sex organs. Alan Lomax saw a similar dance in Sardinia. It is a healing dance. He thinks it might have a European background. J. D. Elder has never seen it elsewhere in the Caribbean, but the arm and pelvic movements (known as "wining" or "winding") are very African, swinging the bottom from side to side. A Bishop down in Brazil once excommunicated a whole congregation for doing it. We have it all over, in Pembroke, in Tobago. They come together but don’t touch. It seems to have been sleeping, but they dug it up and some old people revived it. At first they didn’t touch, now they do. Alan Lomax: In the South we have a dance called the slow drag. Crosstalk as Alan advises Carol about her film as J. D. Elder talks on the phone. A painter from Trinidad, who paints women doing laundry in the traditional way, is having a show in Nyack, N.Y. They discuss songs about reincarnation. An example is a song about a man who wants to come back as a bedbug and climb up a woman’s thigh. Alan Lomax: We have that in the backwoods tradition. The bug says he is ‘heading to the promised land.’ Carol’s film will be called ‘The Promised Land.’ Song, ‘The Promised Land’ is the big hymn of the American pioneer tradition. Settlers thought God had promised them the land that belonged to the Indians. J. D. Elder: In the underworld of Trinidad, when a woman asks you for money and you disappoint them, they say, ‘J. D. Elder has put me in the promised land." Tradition that the maroons of Jamaica were shipped to Central America by the British exists both in Jamaica and Honduras. J. D. Elder speaks about the conference and African culture in Brazil. Alan Lomax: The big problem as I see it is going to be how to get the American black, including the West Indian, to see himself as having created a new form of African culture in the New World| and that this culture which had been almost entirely déclassé up to now, is just as good as that of his African ancestor and of his European ancestors, because he is a person who has roots in both continents. What has happened is a total syncretism at the non-verbal level. An example is the ballad ‘Frankie and Johnny.’ The ballad form is West European| the melody is a remarkable use of African style in relation to the strophic form. But what people are looking for in these acculturated situations are pure survivals. You don’t find these unless you go to Brazil or the Yoruba cults of Trinidad. You get Yoruba melodies where you have the Yoruba language, because language and melody go together. When you’re speaking Creole, you get Afro-Creole melodies. Reggae gets a big play, but the actual everyday culture carriers, grandparents| low-class alley street people are getting put down. You have a million black people saying ‘reggae is it.’ These same people would hate the music that you and I like, the reels, for example, because it hasn’t attained the same modernism as reggae. J. D. Elder: I have been working on a manifesto about secondary education, cultural retention, and the distinctive new African-American creations that have been made by the Island peoples on different parts of the island. He recalls how he and Alan heard a fantastic old French ballad sung by an old woman at two a. m. by the light of the moon (hums and sings in French).|
Rights: The rights to the audio, photographic, and video materials contained within the Lomax Digital Archive are administered by various publishers, record labels, collectors, estates, and other rights holders. Any uses, commercial or not, must be cleared by the specific rights holders. For questions regarding the use of any material on the LDA, please contact Permissions.
About the session: Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder, and Carol Kulig discuss the slow acceptance of Cantometrics findings, Black funerary customs, and suggestions for pan-American Black studies curricula
Do you have something to add, or do you see an error in this record? We'd love to hear from you.