Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest

Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest

Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest

Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest

Synopsis

Cultural tragedy often accompanies the death of biological species in the South American rain forests. As fragile as the ecosystem is, however, the culture of the Warao Native Americans (inhabitants of the lower Orinoco River delta in Venezuela) continues to thrive. In this lively blend of musicology, anthropology, and environmental awareness, Dale Olsen shows that music holds together much of their existence. For the Warao, who live in a rain forest habitat that remains relatively undisturbed by outside influences, nearly all aspects of life include music; it offers diversion, stability, protection, and power. Olsen divides their musical genres into three categories: music for pleasure, such as dancing; music for utility, including lullabies; and music for theurgy - the largest group, which includes all songs pertaining to cosmology or calling upon supernatural forces. These may include shamanistic songs for curing illnesses or for causing illness and death, as well as songs for love, dreaming, making rain, healing wounds, or for cutting down sacred trees to build large canoes. Olsen provides musical and textual transcriptions of many songs, which are translated, explained, analyzed, and included on an enclosed compact disk. He presents detailed information about Warao musical instruments, relating them to mythology, describing them (with numerous photographs), and placing them in their circum-Caribbean context.

Excerpt

The ideological intent of this book is to extol an important yet often slighted aspect of the South American rain forest--the traditional music and music making of its native inhabitants. the traditional rain forest (that is, undisturbed by outside influences), wherever it is found in South America, is musically as well as ecologically rich. the lower Orinoco River rain forest in Venezuela, for example, is alive with music that enables its primary inhabitants, the Warao native Americans, to maintain their traditional culture. As fragile as the ecological system itself, Warao music survives because the Orinoco Delta habitat remains relatively undisturbed. This could change almost overnight, however, if non-Indian intrusion suddenly determined that the rain forest should serve a purpose other than to support the Warao. in August 1993, for example, the world witnessed the worst type of intrusion in the Amazon rain forest, when Brazilian gold miners (garimpeiros) reputedly massacred many Yanomamö Indians. Media coverage of this tragic event reached the West almost overnight; but numerous indigenous musics and other cultural expressions in the South American rain forest, like thousands of biological species, disappear without the world's knowledge. We will never know what those cultural expressions could have taught us about the people who made them.

Ethnomusicology is the study of a culture's music undertaken to learn something about how that culture thinks about itself and the world in which it lives. Music can be defined as a form of humanly organized sound communication (other than speech and telegraphy). the ethnomusicologist must ask, What can music tell us about a civilization, a nation, a tribe, a village, a person that nothing else can tell us? While approaches to ethnomusicology vary, they usually include some attempt to be interdisciplinary. To "write" the ethnomusicology of a people or a locale, for example, the ethnomusicologist must think of the subject of study as akin to the hub of a bicycle wheel, with many spokes of information and knowledge leading to and supporting that hub. These spokes can include music as sound, music as . . .

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