Did you know that there was a civilization as advanced as the Mayas discovered in the desert of the Southwestern United States?
A recent article published in Nature Communications, reveals a great deal about this advanced culture that flourished in the area now identified as New Mexico. Matrilineal in nature, one of the most complete digs of this Chacoan culture is a burial chamber – called Room 33 – that consists of elite women rulers and their most treasured items. Not surprisingly, among these items are special pottery, ritual objects, turquoise beads and musical instruments. Although the site is probably hundreds of miles from an ocean, Room 33 includes a conch shell trumpet with a turquoise mouthpiece as well as several different flutes. Clearly music was an integral part of the most valued aspects of this society.
Want to learn more? Below are links to the complete article about the dig in Nature Communications as well as a blog post identifying all the objects in Room 33. Interestingly enough, conch shell trumpets are found throughout the world in a variety of diverse locations. Below we’ve included links on posts we’ve done so far about conch shell trumpets in Japan, Mexico, Hawaii and Polynesian Cultures.
Ethnomusicologist & Project Leader Violeta Ruano writes about Stave House in the Sahara early childhood music education project and the socio-cultural landscape of the Saharawi refugee camps in Southwest Algeria.
Anywhere I go, few people know what on earth I am talking about when I mention that I teach music in refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara desert. Wait, what? Refugees? Western Sahara, is that a country? But are they Algerians? Nevertheless, despite being rather unknown, the Saharawi is one of the longest protracted refugee stories in Africa. The country where these refugees come from, ex-Spanish colony Western Sahara, is still pending decolonization since Morocco annexed it to its territory after Spain left in early 1976, forcing more than half of the population to flee and seek refuge in the nearby harsh Algerian desert. And there, daily battling with extreme temperatures, sandstorms, dust and lack of resources, the resilient Saharawis have been building their own nation in exile for the past 40 years.
View of the Saharawi refugee camp of Boujdour, by Violeta Ruano
One of the most important survival strategies for the Saharawis has precisely been to preserve and bolster their traditional oral culture, which has always had music at its heart. Closely linked to the musical traditions of other parts of West Africa, especially Mauritania, traditional Saharawi music combines powerful poetry in Hassaniya – their local Arabic dialect – with a musical system based on modes, usually sung accompanied by instruments such as the tidinit (lute) and the tbal (drum). Throughout the past decades, the Saharawis have introduced many changes to their music, including revolutionary lyrics documenting their struggle and new instruments such as the electric guitar and the keyboards.
In addition, the Saharawis have also worked hard to provide as many varied educational opportunities for their children and youth to grow strong and independent. Since 1976, they have joined international grant schemes, built and managed local primary and professional schools, and supported a vast number of collaboration projects such as children’s libraries, art residencies, film festivals, concerts and much more. Stave House in the Sahara, officially launched last February 2016, is one of the newest additions to this list.
This project consists on the facilitation – and by facilitation we mean working collaboratively, without impositions – of early childhood music education through the English language in primary schools in the camps. Our methodology aims (we’re still developing it!) to combine oral traditions with innovative and fun music teaching method Stave House (www.stavehouse.co.uk), which has already been successfully implemented in many schools around the world. This method is based around captivating stories and light and portable teaching materials; it doesn’t need electricity nor fancy equipment, which is ideal for the living conditions in the camps.
Between March and April 2016 I worked alongside 3 Saharawi teachers – Gejmula Mohamed, Fatimetu Melainin and Tekwen Mohamed – to develop lesson plans and activities that link in with and enhance the Saharawi children’s daily study routines, while teaching a pilot project with a group of 30 children. It has been wonderful to see the children thrive with the stories in the lessons while learning basic music concepts and a few useful words in English. Apart from the music curriculum, we also aim to develop a full English language course that draws on poetry, stories, and song lyrics.
Stave House in the Sahara has a simple, but very powerful idea at heart – every child should be able to experience the joys of making music (any music!) no matter the circumstances.
Stave House in the Sahara is a collaborative partnership between Stave House, British charity Sandblast, the London College of Music, the Saharawi Ministries of Culture and Education, and the primary school of Lal Andala, in the refugee camp of Boujdour (although we hope to be reaching other schools soon!). If you want to get involved, visit our recently launched JustGiving fundraising campaign, and please consider making a contribution if you can!
Did you know that there is a special day earmarked for worldwide celebration and promotion of diverse languages and multiculturalism? International Mother Language Day was created by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and is held annually on February 21st. Made official in 2008 by the United Nations General Assembly, the chosen date marks an event in 1952 when students were shot and killed in present-day Bangladesh while demonstrating for the recognition of their national language, Bangla. Currently gathering momentum around the world, IMLD is the subject of many world-wide activities as well as a variety of great features from Multicultural Kid Bloggers whose posts can be found here at the special Facebook Page below.
Using Music To Encourage Language
Along with being a great way to celebrate world cultures, IMLD is an excellent opportunity to focus on world languages and to use music and the arts as a way to encourage diversity and multiculturalism, especially with young children. Although learning a new language can seem difficult at first, using music and games is a great way to connect with new sounds, words and phrases. In the process of singing or simple music activities or games, kids (or people of any age) begin to make sense of phrases and words and can build their competency and enjoyment of speaking another language.
Would you like to learn a bit of Quechua – the language used by the Incan Empire of South America? Here’s a little song or rhyme popular in Peru:
What Does The Song Say?
Essentially this is an “I’m gonna tell on you” song. Here’s what the words you’re hearing mean.
“Yaw”, means “Hey!”
“Puka” is the color red and a pollera or polleracha (little pollera) is a traditional skirt.
So the first phrase is
“Hey, girl in the little red skirt”.
The next verse asks “What are you doing?”, in Quechua “Imata ruwanki?”
It also talks about a corn field – and the word “sara” means corn.
The song then says “I am going to tell your mom and your dad” and you can easily hear the words “Mamayki” (your mom) and Taitayki (your dad).
Although it takes more then one song or game to learn a new language, it’s a great start and a fun way to build bridges between cultures – especially in languages like Quechua that may be in danger of being left behind or lost.
E-Book and CD About Quechua Culture
Want to learn more about the Quechua culture? Check out the E-book and companion CD below. And if you are a classroom or homeschooler with limited budgets, please contact us as we would be happy to get you a free copy for your use. To get a free copy, e-mail dariamusic at yahoo dot com and put “Free E-book” in the subject line.
Wishing everyone a happy International Mother Language Day!
Resources And Links
Wikipedia’s International Mother Language Day entry
Although there’s no formal written history of early indigenous cultures in the region of Southern California, a variety of resources give us a glimpse into the music and ceremonial life of these various tribes. While visiting the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, I was allowed to photograph and share a few of the beautiful music-related artifacts from their vast collection that reflect the early life of Native American tribes in this region.
Ringing Rocks or Bell Stones
Similar to Chumash culture, which originated north of the museum’s Santa Ana location, the pre-1600 AD tribes of this area also discovered, used and revered “ringing rocks” or bell stones. Pictured here (left) is a huge bell stone identified with Tongva/Agaemen(Gabrieliño/Juaneño) cultures with several man-made areas which were probably used for striking particular notes or for grinding medicinal plants. Most often, these large boulders were positioned on top of other rocks to give them more resonance and were “played” by tapping with smaller stones in different areas. Each area that is struck produces a slightly different tone.
Soapstone Instruments And A Fish “Pipe”
Also attributed to the early “Channel Island” peoples were an abundance of soapstone whistles and flutes of various shapes and sizes. Found throughout this area, soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a softer rock related to shist that has been used as a medium for carving in many cultures for thousands of years.
Displayed among the musical instruments is also this large and beautiful soapstone pipe (below) that was excavated from a location in Malibu. Shaped like a fish, it could have been used as a sacred pipe or as a musical instrument. It’s design and decoration share many similarities with the more northern Chumash people’s ceremonial items.
Gifted artisans and basket-weavers, it may be hard to know exactly what the music and dance from this time and place were. However, these important and beautiful items can help us piece together many valuable details of these meaningful and important cultures. To learn more about Chumash music or to see how stones and rocks are used as musical instruments, check out the related posts below.
Resources And Related Links
Bowers Museum, 2002 Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706 (714) 567-3600
Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers– Instruments From Chumash Culture
If you’re near the Los Angeles area, you’ll have a rare chance to see some of the world’s most fascinating Pacific Island drums on display as part of an exhibit on the art and culture of Papua, New Guinea. Currently at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California (USA) is an exhibit entitled: Spirits and Headhunters, Art of the Pacific Islandsthat shares impressive cultural artifacts including many that reflect the music and dance of this region.
So what’s so different about drums from New Guinea?
The first thing you might notice is the impressive size of the slit drums featured in this exhibit. In fact, the two large slit drums on display (pictured right and below, left) are each the size and shape of a large canoe! Hollowed out partially inside, both slit drums are struck with beaters, put on a type of cart and moved from place to place while being played. The smaller drum (below) was created and decorated with the motif of a crocodile, who is considered to be an ancestor spirit in the Sepik region. In this area, the drum is played near a river and it is sometimes considered that drum itself is a spirit and that it’s tones reflect the voice of the ancestors or the divine.
In addition to the “horizontal” slit drums, there are also several large standing wood sculptures that resemble 10 – 15 foot totem poles (pictured above left). Remarkably, these are also slit drums and are played with beaters as well, often used as methods of communication between tribes or groups of people.
Of course, there are also the more traditional looking drums like those seen here as well as an example of a finger-drum which which would have had a lizard skin “head” from the Massim culture of the Milne Bay province of Papua, New Guinea. All in all, this relatively small exhibit is an amazingly deep journey into the musical, spiritual and artistic life of this important world culture.
If you’ve ever seen authentic traditional music or dance from Hawaii, you’ve probably been struck by its beauty, grace and uniqueness. Although some of the instruments and traditions share roots in Polynesian culture, the islands of Hawaii have developed musical traditions and instruments that are deeply distinctive and singularly beautiful. And so many of the instruments are truly unusual – such as a knee-pad drum covered with the skin of a unicorn fish, gourd nose flutes, coconut bullroarers and even pairs of smooth river rocks used in a manner similar to castanets.
For a wonderful exploration of the percussion instruments used in Hawaiian music, check out the book: How To Make Hawaiian Musical Instruments, by Jim Widess. The book has detailed explanations of each instrument, historical background and many photos of the instruments being used by traditional players. Although the book is set up as a series of tutorials, the information is so good and so beautifully photographed that it serves as an exceptional introduction into the world of Hawaiian music.
What are the instruments detailed in the book? Take a look at the names plus brief descriptions below and hopefully it will make you curious enough to delve deeper into traditional Hawaiian Culture.
Ipu heke ‘ole and Ipu heke – (single and double) gourd percussion
‘Uli’uli – small gourd rattle
Pu’ili Split – bamboo rods split at one end and struck together
‘Ohe ka’eke’eke – stamping tubes made from bamboo
Ili’ile – river rocks used by dancers as percussion
Kala’au – hula sticks
Papa Hehi – footboard or treadle board (stepped upon to play)
Bell Stone – large stone which resonates like a bell when struck
Puniu – coconut knee drum
Ka – beater for coconut drum made from ti leaves
Pahu hula – large standing drum from a coconut palm
‘Ukeke – musical bow
Oeoe – bullroarer made from a coconut
‘Ohe hano ihu – bamboo nose flute
Ipu hokiokio – gourd nose flute
Pu kani – conch shell trumpet
Links And Resources
Make Your Own Hawaiian Instruments Book – New Or Used on On Amazon
But who would guess that cultures all around the world would not only admire it’s beauty but also figure out that – with a few minor modifications – it becomes a completely functional, natural trumpet! Among others, there are conch trumpets heard in music from the South Pacific, Tibet, Korea and pre-Incan cultures. Archeological finds and older documents also place it in Aztec culture and ceremonies as well. Here’s a bit more about the Aztec conch shell trumpet.
Pictured here is a musician called a “quiquizoani” playing the conch shell. The name is in the Nahuatl Indigenous language of Mexico and this specific image can be found on page 23 of the Aztec Codex “Magliabecchi”, currently preserved and archived at the University of Utah in the United States.
One of the best sites for information on Aztec instruments, including great pictures from archeological sites and historical references is Mexicolore.com (see resources below). Their research shows that there were 7 different types of conch shells and that the largest was called the ‘quiquiztli’. As you might imagine, the shell trumpet was highly symbolic and associated with the breath of life as well as the rhythms of the sea. Similarly, it was associated with the call to prayer, marking time during the day and during the night, the moon, fertility and Ehécatl – the Aztec God of the Wind.
Research also shows that conch shell trumpets were used by the Aztec military in a manner similar to modern day bugles.
Conch Shells in The USA
Closer to home, conch shells are part of a unique contest in the Florida Keys. Although the tradition of blowing the conch trumpet dates back over 200 years, it was originally used mainly for maritime signaling. Recently, however, the contest is a lot more colorful with contestants that vary in age from 3 – 83 and even perform with unique outfits, hula hoops and other novelty approaches.
Want to find out more about this modern conch contest? Check out the link below for some amazing variations on this ancient musical theme
What Does A Conch Trumpet Sound Like?
Check out this short video where a young buy demonstrates how to cut the conch shell and how to practice getting the trumpet sound.