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Comment by danzon2003 on September 19th, 2011 at 4:17 am

Is there a historical relationship between the Indonesian gamelan, and the sets of Chopi xylophones from Mozambique? What is the origin of the xylophone?

I / Overview of the problem

Note : This text is a translated version of a text originally written in french. This is why the bibliographical references are books in french, but most of them are available through Amazon France.

Before answering to the questions above, we must first recall that the African continent is the one whose understanding of its history has been blurred by the interference of myths and misconceptions related to the theories of “racial inferiority”. Among these myths, there is the well-known example of the so-called « Afro-Asian », « afrasian », or « hamitic » family language perpetuated from generation to generation, but which has never been shown by a scientific methodology (this myth has been permanently destroyed by the monumental work done by the very briliant linguist Jean-Claude Mboli in his outstanding book : « Origine des langues africaines » (available in french)

The music world was not spared by the impact of these myths. Thus anthropologists such as Hugh Tracey, Kunst, M Jones, Hornbostel, etc…, claimed, without evidence, linguistic or archaeological, that the xylophone was invented in Indonesia and brought to Madagascar through migration, then in east Africa (Mozambique), and from there was distributed in Central Africa and West Africa, and to America with African slaves.
Is it because the « Timbila » music of the Chopi people of Mozambique was (because it has been relatively deteriorated due to civil war) an extremely complex music that those anthropologists believed it to have been invented in Indonesia? What are the myths that structured the vision of those anthropologists, and which have significantly biased their work? The great African historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo, in his book « Histoire de l’Afrique noire, d’hier à demain », reminds us in his introduction, the origin of these myths that are barriers erected against the history of Africa:

« The most radical position in this regard is that Black Africa has not got a history. In his course on the philosophy of history in 1830, Hegel said: “Africa is not a historical part of the world. It has no movement, shows no developments or historical movements in it. That is to say that its northern part belongs to the European or Asian world, precisely what we mean by Africa is a ahistorical mind, undeveloped in mind, still wrapped in natural conditions and which must be presented here only as the threshold of world history. »

Coupland, in his « Manuel sur l’Histoire de l’Afrique Orientale », wrote in 1928 :

« Until D. Livingstone, one can say that Africa itself had no history. The majority of its inhabitants had remained, during ancient times, plunged into barbarism. Such was apparently there, the order of nature. They remained stagnant without advance nor retreat. »

Another quote feature:
« The African races themselves – that of Egypt and parts of Minor Africa aside – have little part in history, as understood by historians … I do not deny accept that we have in the veins a few drops of African blood (presumably of African yellow-skinned) but we must admit that it may still be difficult to find. Thus, two human races living in Africa have only played an effective role in world history: first and a significantly, the Egyptians and the peoples of North Africa. »

In 1957, P. Gaxotte writes unflinchingly in the « Revue de Paris »: « These people (you know who i mean …) have given nothing to humanity, and there must be something in them to have prevented them from doing so. They have produced no Euclid or Aristotle or Galileo, Lavoisier, or Pasteur. Their epics were sung by no Homer. »

These are the prejudices that have shaped the thinking and writings of Hugh Tracey, Kunst, M. Jones, Hornbostel, etc … It is pathetic to see that such renowned names in the world of ethnomusicology, had a profound lack of methodological rigor, only making unsubstantiated claims, claims of authority, but never supported by evidence. However, Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo reminded everyone the methodological requirements that any serious historian must respect, if one wish to invoque the diffusionist theory in order to explain phenomena with some common characteristics:

« In ethnology or anthropology (anthropology we prefer), the method is to build on compared cultural traits in order to track the evolution of societies and relations between them. Indeed, there are only three possibilities when in presence of related forms: double autonomous invention, common origin or borrowing. For example the « rule of four women and a maximum of five daily prayers » (of Islam) exist in Senegal and Indonesia and does not offer any difficulties of interpretation because the bridge of Islam is so well known that there are doubts. But what about the xylophones of Senegal and Indonesia especially if both offer the same musical scales? Some say that given the complexity of the instrument and especially the fact that different traits are combined in the same object, this excludes the double invention. And they conclude hastily that it is the Africans who borrowed the xylophone to Asia.
There is in this respect in the minds of some researchers a permanent « one direction » way of thinking. However, it is difficult to isolate the cultural traits of a whole, to disentangle the successive impulses from the current reality. Diffusionism can not be invoqued from a few scattered features, it requires us to take into account the entire cultural picture of the people in question, not only stiking to the social aspects. It implies comprehensive monographs. Moreover, to attempt a hypothesis of diffusion or borrowing, the anthropologist can not be satisfied with a static cut at time t in the cultural life of a people. The analysis must be synchronous, that is to say full, but also diachronic, that is to say dynamic. We can then not only try assumptions broadcast but also, as did Murdock, in some cases, however contested, attempt to extrapolate past the curve of the evolution of this people. »

After these historical reminders, we now tackle the myth of the Indonesian origin of the xylophone and Timbila music of the Chopi people, respecting the methodology referred to above, to demonstrate that:
– The xylophone is of African origin
– The Timbila music of the Chopi people is native and indigenous to Mozambique

Let us first present the mapping of the relations that existed between East Africa, Indian Ocean and Asia from the 9th century AD. According to Wikipedia (France) : « Javanese inscriptions and Arabic texts show that in the ninth and tenth centuries, Java, and probably other parts of Indonesia today, maintained trade with the Indian Ocean and the east coast of the Africa. The archeological registration of « Kañcana », found in East Java and dated 860 AD, mentions a list of dependents, the word « jenggi » is to say, « Zeng ». A Persian captain Ibn Shahriyar, in his Book « livre des merveilles de l’Inde », reported the testimony of an Arab merchant named Ibn Lakis who saw in 945 the arrival on the Mozambican coast of « a thousand boats » mounted by some « Waq Waq » people coming from some islands « located in front of China », and who came to search for products and « Zeng » slaves. In Arabic, « Zeng Zenj » meant at the time people of the east coast of Africa near the Indian Ocean. It will, by extension, designate blacks taken into slavery. . A later inscription refers to black slaves offered by a Javanese king to the imperial court of China. »
If the presence of the road from the kingdom of Zimbabwe to the Indian Ocean supported the establishment of many trading posts by Indian, Arabic, Indonesian and Chinese traders and navigators, we note that unlike in Madagascar, Mozambique maintained only trade with Asia, with no settlement. Mozambican and Zimbabwean Archaeology has never revealed any evidence or trace of an Indonesian human settlement in these countries. A historian and eyewitness as Masoudi, born in Baghdad, died about 956, was a tireless traveler endowed with a burning curiosity that led him to Iran, India, China, Indonesia … He recorded the results of his observations in « le livre des Prairies d’Or et des Mines de Pierres Précieuses » in which some chapters are devoted to East Africa. Trad. : C. Barbier de Meynard et Pavet de Courteille — Le Livre des Prairies d’Or et des Mines de Pierres Précieuses, Paris 1861-1877, Impr. Impériale, 9 volumes». Masoudi confirms trade relations, but does not confirm any Indonesian peopling. The Indonesian peopling or settlement had concerned only the island of Madagascar, a fact confirmed by archeology, linguistics and cultural evidences.

According to archaeologists exploring the island, the Indonesians arrived in Madagascar around 800 AD as part of an expedition, and a prosperous maritime traffic, between India and Egypt to the coast of East Africa, but also an active maritime traffic from India to the east to Indonesia. The ethnomusicologist André Schaeffner noted that: « Madagascar is populated by both black and indonesian people, and it’s common language is Malagasy, which is related to sumatra Bata к. However its musical instruments are from – in descending order of importance – black Africa, Indonesia (Sumatra but precisely not from where they speak Batak), the Islamic world and Europe. As for the music itself it seems absolutely not to derive from that of Indonesia. Its flavor is African, European or even Arab. Once again it is true that the anthropological, linguistic and technological data for a particular region does not necessarily overlap. From Malaysia only came some archaic type of instruments, and G. Sachs suggested that the transfer took place during a first migration, the second has prompted the « Hova » people themselves. But – we might add – while some instruments of Madagascar are evidence of a previous Indonesian layer, why would Malagasy music not also have some common ground with an Indonesian music now cleared? »

André Schaeffner faced important methodological issues that have never been asked by Jones, Tracey, Kunst, Hornbostel. What do we find in Madagascar as musical instruments, the island conclusively colonized by the Indonesians? André Schaeffner tells us we find there:
– The valiha, tubular zither: its etymology comes from the Sanskrit meaning Vadya sacred musical instrument. Although its geographical origin is south-east Asia, its melodic style is sometimes similar to the music of the countries of West Africa.
– The sodina, a straight flute: its etymology comes from the Indonesian « Suling ». However, its technology as well as its playing technique are those of the Arab flute.
– The hazolahy, sacred drums of cone: their geographical origin is Melanesia but their symbolism is the same as the drums of West Africa and East Africa. Some names of instruments are consistent with the probable origin of these objects, or at least they are for us the surest way to fix this origin: thus a rudimentary type of xylophone and most of the rattles of Madagascar have the same name , of Congolese origin, Kayamba. The valiha (in lîetsileo: ladihaňa) evokes the Sanskrit term Vadi (= musical instrument). The zither called dzédzy onjéjy stick, which is found in East Africa as the « zeze » may come from the Egyptian harp « dede ». The short lute kabosa reminds the qàwuz qubuz of Turkish origin and which in the Islamic world means an instrument of the same type. The Sobàba flute evidently derived from the Arabic Sabbah piccolo flute, etc..
– The « Lamako » and « atranatrana » are the only xylophones found in Madagascar, but their form and structure are very different from those of the Indonesian xylophones. Note also that these instruments, endangered, is found only in the coastal region of Madagascar, whose inhabitants are deemed to be of African origin.

How then is it that the Indonesians, who colonized Madagascar in an indisputable way, did not introduced into this island their own models of xylophones, but went to “transmit” it far away , to the Chopi people (where not a single evidence attests to their presence, at any time)? We shall see that there are major technical differences between the African and Indonesian xylophones, and we will see that the Chopi people’s xylophones (and those of Madacascar) follow an authentic African tradition. Regarding the Gamelan itself (the xylophone being a part of the ensemble), it is worth noting that the Gamelan was introduced in Indonesia by a culture which came from India (Hindu) and was found in various islands in Indonesia, while the « Rampak kendang » originated from West Java, and seems to be the result of the evolution of music in the Islamic culture (drums). After asking the general framework of the problem of the origin of the xylophone, we will now present the arguments that make virtually impossible an Indonesian origin of African xylophone in general, and Timbila music in particular.

II / The case for an African and Aboriginal origin of the xylophone and Timbila music of the Chopi people

We will see that the diversity of types of African xylophones compared with those of Indonesia is a sign of the priority of the African xylophone. This technique is obviously used in human genetics, and applied to our work, we will see that no African xylophone can be explained by those of Indonesia, while it appears likely that the Indonesian xylophone derives from African ones.
-Africa is the continent that has invented the largest number of musical instruments, and the xylophone is a very important instrument and is very common in Black Africa. The xylophone is found there in a great variety of forms (one hundred), and its names are very diverse. Unlike Indonesia, where the « gender », the « gambang » or « Gangsa » of the Gamelan has only 8 forms. This argues for a very ancient and endogenous development in Africa, and allows us to fully imagine that it is the Indonesians who have borrowed from Africa the idea of xylophone and its forms, precisely that of the Chopi people of Mozambique. There is indeed a relationship between the “Mbila” of Mozambique and the “Mbira” of Zimbabwe, which belong to the same cultural area, the phenomena of cultural exchange between African peoples having always been massive.
-A major weakness in the works of the partisans of an Indonesian origin of the xylophone, is that they seldom quote Radiocarbon 14 dating, maybe just simply because it is lacking. Those who venture to propose dates do not cite verifiable sources, and this suggests that the proposed dates are fanciful. This fact is a major methodological weakness.
-At the linguistic level, there is no conceivable relationship between the Indonesian words (for xylophone) « gender », « gambang » or « Gangsa », and the Mozambican word « Mbila ». We have the Bambara word for xylophone « bala » which is semantically and morphologically close to the Bantu word « Mbila ». The rules of correspondence between the Bambara and the Bantu can assume that it probably has a Negro-Egyptian root, dating back to ancient times. We just have to find another non-Bantu language that has a word for « xylophone » dating back to the same period. This job has to be done by competent linguists.
-When you ask the people of Africa, we realize that the origin of the « bala » (xylophone) is often related to paranormal phenomena, with the evocation of supernatural beings, the « jinns », for example. Also with another constant: they often evoke a pit, wood and water. There are many legends like Mansa Kourou Nani, King of the four bumps. We see perfectly well that the African oral traditions (in Mozambique and West Africa) invoke specific cultural phenomena from their own mythology to explain the origin or source of creation of the xylophone, but not Indonesia. Never.
-Mozambique has only been a place of trading (as well as the Indian Ocean) for Indonesia. No material or archaeological evidence have ever attested an Indonesian location in Mozambique. Indonesians have settled only in the island of Madagascar, and archaeological discoveries attest to that facility. It is almost impossible to prove that the Timbila Chopi music (and instruments) were brought or influenced by Indonesia.
-Also, it is in Egypt of the Pharaohs where is found the oldest traces of xylophone (see Mustafa Gadala, « Egyptian Rhythm: The Heavenly Melodies »), that is thousands of years before Indonesia ( part of Indonesian musical culture is due to the influence of India.) Lets also remind here that ancient Egypt was a people of black African civilization, culture and language as already demonstrated by the greatest African historians (professors Cheich Anta Diop, Theophile Obenga, Babacar Sall, etc…), a fact confirmed today by genetic studies (see: http://www.geocities.ws / nilevalleypeoples / index.htm), even though thousands of authentic mummies (with kinky hair) were destroyed or exported to Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries for medical consumption, as mummy powder.
-It is therefore in Africa (ancient Egypt) that the oldest trace of xylophone is attested.
-As for West Africa, the oldest xylophone found to date, is the “soso bala,” dating over 800 years back, and the first Arab travelers of the 12th century witnessed the existence of this instrument, which was present there centuries before they travel in the empire of Mali.
-August Schmidhof, a researcher in musicology, perfectly demonstrated in the collective work « Kabaro2-3: Diversité et spécificités des musiques traditionnelles » devoted to the musics of the Indian Ocean, that the Malagasy xylophone, which is a rare instrument , present a very similar material, and structural design with those of east Africa, but NOT with those of Indonesia. I recommend this book also for those who wish to improve their knowledge of the mapping of musical influences (African, Arab, European, etc …) in the Indian Ocean. If Indonesia did not leave a trace of xylophone in an island that its inhabitants have colonized and left their mark on its culture, it is absurd to try to look in the far away Mozambique the supposed traces of Indonesian xylophones.
-Enslaved Africans have always influenced the music of the places where they were transported, or reinvented their traditions (like in Cuba, for example). Why do we never consider the possibility that the Indonesian xylophones may have been created by African slaves transported to Indonesia? Yet their presence is clearly demonstrated in this country. These slaves were able to adapt their skills in their new environment. Wherever the African slaves were transported, they recreated their musical traditions, adapting them to local realities (see the excellent collective book: « Heritage de la musique africaine dans les Amériques et les Caraïbes » by Alpha Christmas Malonga, Mukala Kadima -Nzuji). In places as far as Mexico, where most slaves came from Angola and Mozambique, they created instruments such as Marimba (following the African tradition of tuning), and African heritage is present in words like Chamba, Fandango, Morong Mojiganga or designating these giant puppets used during the festivities. One could multiply the examples. Why do we not find a trace of Indonesia in Mozambique, if really they had inhabited this country?

Technical aspects

There are great technical differences between the “Mbila” xylophones and Indonesian ones, which make impossible the idea of an Indonesian origin of African xylophone:
-The “Mbila” xylophones of the Chopi people deeply belong to the practice or tradition most prevalent in Africa, which is to use the gourds as resonators, whereas the « gender », the « gangsa gantung », the « gangsa « or the « gambang » use either the bamboo tubes as resonators or, more frequently, use an open area as resonant cavity.
-The sound vibration of the blades is very important in African and Indonesian traditions, but the techniques used to achieve it are radically different:

a) The African drill small holes in the gourd that serves as a resonator, and covered with a fine cobweb

b) The Indonesians use two techniques:

* they put a shock absorbing material on the main body of the instrument so that the keys can rest on. It preserves a direct key contact with the hard “body” of the instrument. Otherwise, the vibration of the key would be killed or disturbed.

* They hang the keys (the blades) with straps or cords, causing them to be floating above the body of the instrument.

-Unlike Indonesia, Africa is a world in itself by the vastness of its area (three times greater than that of Europe), the originality of its form and location. All climates are represented, offering natural environments with their possibilities and constraints, which play an important role in the musical activity and the instrumental material.
* The Saharan space bar the continent from the Red Sea to the Atlantic. A such binding natural environment has a profound impact on the minds of those who live there with their range of values and their aesthetic sense.
* the Sudanian zone with West Africa and the Horn of Africa. Gives way to the Sahara Sahel and the savannah.
* the equatorial zone with its large forest of Gabon in Rwanda, is the field of Pygmies who manufacture ephemeral instruments and engage in elaborated musical performances (vocal polyphony).
* East Africa, the Great Lakes region, southern Ethiopia to Mozambique is relatively separated from the rest of the continent by a mountain barrier.
* The South of the continent is divided between the plates along the coast of the Indian Ocean and the deserts to the west.
All these facts explain the great genetic, linguistic, cultural, musical, etc…, diversity found in Black Africa, and it is in this context that the origin of Timbila music of the Chopi people must be understood.
As a matter of fact, the great variety of symbolism found in this continent is inevitably linked to ideological, sociological and aesthetic reasons. They are part of the foundation of the identity of these peoples and directly influence their musical productions. Islamized, Christianized or animist, each company takes a different view of music:
* In the Muslim population, music is considered a work of pure entertainment, prohibited, and separated from the normal religious life. Its practice is tolerated, however, during times of celebration.
* In Christianized societies, the main musical activity is related to rites or communication with the divine spirits through transcendent music. These rituals are performed in order to heal those whose disease is attributed to a possession, but also to ensure the survival of the community in areas such as daily hunting, fishing or agricultural activities.
* In animist society (as in Shona or Gnawas), it is customary to gather the family to make the ancestral rites of possession. Music (and sounds of the instruments) are supposed to draw the spirit of an ancestor who returns by taking possession of the body of a medium during a ceremony varying periods of time. Usually, the role of a medium is played by members of the family. At one point, the music (and sounds) draws the spirit of the ancestor and invites him to possess the body of the medium through which he expresses himself, gives advice, helps, warns. When the medium falls into a trance after dancing to the music, the transfer process begins. The spirit is gradually replacing the medium whose personality disappears. The family members then present their grievances to him and seek his wisdom. In Shona culture, for example, the deceased members of the family are part of the society to which they belonged physically. They often use these rites to try to solve problems such as droughts, diseases …
This work was intended to be synthetic but rigorous, facing the unbearable injustice done to the Chopi people by the violence of the racist ideology that wanted to rob this people of his own musical genius.

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