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Ancient Voices

Ancient Voices

“Humming and singing, she shaped them. Humming and singing,
Placed them where they belonged. This was how the directions
came to be. How the seasons came to be.”
Paula Gunn Allen 1

The Keres people believe the world began with Spider Woman singing. Humming and singing she shaped the world. Everything that is came from Spider Woman’s song.

According to the Athabascan people of Western Canada, the world began when Asintmah wove songs into the Great Blanket of Earth. Everything that is began when this first woman sang.

Ancient Egyptian culture believed that the world began when the singing sun sang its cry of light. Everything that is was brought forth from the singing sun.

For the Aborigines of Australia life began in the Dreamtime when the world was sung into existence. Everything that is came from the song of the Dreamtime.

In the Bible the world was created when the Spirit of God moved across the face of the waters and said, “Let there be Light!” And there was light and the world was created. Everything that is was brought forth from the sound of God.

Everything begins with song. Earth, ocean, mountain, river, forest, whale, mackerel, buffalo, woman, man, rabbit, hawk, chickadee, rose, grasshopper, spider, corn, beans, peach, plankton, cell, atom. Everything is created from the singing breath of the mythic beings, the gods and goddesses in all cultures of the world. What song does the sperm sing when it enters the egg?

Singing is thought to be the oldest art. Before we could speak, we sang, perhaps not in the same way we think of singing today, but a communication through sound and tones. The evidence is literally in our bones.

“There is anthropological evidence that music came before speech. Ligaments that attach muscles to bones leave traces on the skeletal frame which tell us much about how those muscles were used and make possible reconstructions of the prehistoric creatures from scanty evidence. Our vocal mechanism is complex – for chanting, the lungs and vocal cords are enough; when we speak, the mouth and tongue are drawn into play. Early human skeletal remains reveal signs that the use of the voice to produce speech goes back some eighty thousand years while also suggesting that chanting began perhaps half a million years earlier.”2

All around the world people sing. The Tohono O’odham people of southern Arizona sing to bring rain to the dry desert. They sing to the feathery red spider, to the sky, to the corn. They pull down the clouds with their song.

People sing. The Eskimo people of eastern Greenland resolve their disputes by singing. They enter the tribal circle armed only with a drum and vent their anger at their opponent through song.

All around the world people sing. Kaluli women of New Guiena weep songs when they suffer the loss of a loved one. Grief and remembrance are contained in song.

Apache people sing songs for a young girl’s initiation into womanhood. The songs are sung through the life cycles of being a woman from maidenhood to motherhood. They lead a girl through a beautiful life with their songs.

The people of Classical Greece sang and chanted in the healing temples as they attended the sick. Song was administered along with medicine.

All around the world people sing. Hopis sing up the sun at dawn; Oglala Sioux create prayers in the sweat lodge; Hawaiians record oral history through chants; every morning Islamic muezzin cry prayers to Allah from atop mosque minarets; in the Philippines farmers work and sing as they harvest rice; African fishermen sing while pulling in their nets; merchants in India sing their wares; Buddhist monks recite sutras; we can follow singing everywhere from household to street to continent.

In another time singing was not separate from life, when voices were raised in song over harvested grain…a time when infants were presented to the sun with song…a time when keeners cried at funerals to open the doorways of grief and everyone would wail and sing at the passing of a loved one…a time when song was used to heal…a time when the earth was blessed with song--- on the land, in the lane, in the village, in the plaza, in the home… a time when all the earth sang.

How did we become singers? How was the first song created? For what purpose was it created? What did the first songs sound like? We don’t know. Our jaw bones are the only artifacts left. We can only wonder, and realize this ancient tradition.

Excerpt from Song and Silence: Voicing the Soul, La Alameda Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1995. Copyright Susan Elizabeth Hale 1995

1 Paula Gunn Allen, Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman’s Sourcebook, Beacon Press, Boston, 1991, p. 35.
2 Yehudi Menuhin and Curtis W. N. Davis, The Music of Man, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1979, p. 7.

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