The Sunday News
Cultural Heritage with Pathisa Nyathi
WE have elected to remain on the African continent to look at more experiences of a spiritual nature that we may glean and apply at Stonehenge. In the past three installments we unpacked water and deduced its links with spirituality resident at Stonehenge. There is one more aspect which is not yet fully researched at Stonehenge although there has been some preliminary research with hardly any definitive conclusions.
Seeing we are pinning down Stonehenge as a spiritual site, there is one aspect when it comes to African ceremonies and rituals that is almost always embraced. We are referring to sound and, in particular, to music. Ceremonies and rituals in Africa carry a musical dimension within their repertoire. For example, when supplicants went to the Njelele Fertility/Rain Shrine there is music that is played as part of requesting Mwali to offer rains. The two types of music are Woso (amabhiza) and Wosana, both of which genres are drum-based.
Chants directed to God have been performed at Njelele. Mwali’s chants are the same as the clan praises of the Malaba (Ncube) people who are believed to have brought the shrine to the Matobo Hills from across the Limpopo River in Vendaland. The chant includes, inter alia the following:
As shall be pointed out later, both sound and music do play a role in spiritual issues. Inxwala, that preeminent ceremony of the Ndebele that was conducted to bring about regeneration and unity of the nation was accompanied by energetic music that, it was believed, appealed to God and the ancestral spirits to bless the nation and rejuvenate it through the person of King who epitomized the state and nation. Healing has sometimes been accompanied by music. This is the case with Guta Ra Mwari (GRM) where singing may go on while a Holy Messenger goes on with the healing process. Drums have also been used to drive out evil spirits from afflicted homes.
Sound, it is acknowledged, has power. Ngoma Lungundu (Arc of the Covenant) has been perceived as power as having power to confound enemies and bring walls of buildings tumbling down. This may partly be due to the type of skin used in the drum. Human skins have been used. Equally responsible for the power of sound produced, is use of human bones, in particular the humerus.
There have been some indications that Stonehenge was created as an acoustic space where voices were amplified and sound being produced within the megalithic circles. Music being played for the people within the stone circles reverberated against stones and, in the process, increased the volume within the space created by the stones. Outside voices were kept at bay so as not to interfere with the intended internal voices targeted at spiritual beings, be they gods or the ancestral spirits. Questions have been raised regarding Stonehenge, that it was created to produce sound, but for what and why?
It is not my view that Stonehenge was created solely to produce sound. Sound may certainly have been produced, but not by Stonehenge, but by the usual sources of sound production, human beings singing and clapping, or the singing human beings in collaboration with musical instruments. Sound, in particular music, would have been produced for a purpose. It is for this reason that we remain on the African continent so as to imbibe the experiences that we may then apply to Stonehenge in the enduring effort to interpret Stonehenge.
In the last three installments we observed that perceived characteristics of waster inspired how it was used by the various African communities to forge links between it and spirituality. It is the same with regard to sound and music. The challenge though is that Archaeology makes use of physical/material finds. Music does not lend itself to that hence so far music and sound at Stonehenge have not yet been definitively investigated. It is as a result of the nature of sound. On the other hand, it is the characteristics of sound that have led to its use in spiritual phenomena.
For perceptions regarding the traits of sound and music we shall draw on the ideas and thoughts of Edward Foley, a Catholic Professor in the United States of America and Plato the Greek Philosopher who lived more than 340 years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. There is also Susanne Luger from whom we shall draw insightful snippets that help explain the link between sound and music and spirituality.
Music has a transitory nature. Both music and speech are impermanent. Sound exists only as it is being generated. It is temporal. Sound, be it music which is made of building blocks of sound, is different from other art forms. Susanne Luger argues that music makes time audible and renders its form and continuity sensible. Music is an expression of the intangible and manifests itself through one sense-that of hearing. This, for example, contrasts with sculpture in which material has been transformed and the resulting object can be touched, weighed and measured.
Plato posited that music was so engaging that listeners fail to detach themselves from the poetic event, the listener fails to distinguish the subject and object, between a poem and the listener, and between the poem and the poet Sound is invitation to engagement and has in it some inherent dynamism.
Ears have no equivalent of “eyelids.” This means human beings are born open to every sound, thus the ear is a metaphor of human beings born open to engagement and not just with sound, but the people who produce them.
With these traits of sound, it is easy to understand and appreciate the role of sound, especially music, in forging communication with the spiritual world. Indeed, across time and geography, people have known the power of music for evoking gods and acquiring spiritual insights. The music of Pentecostal churches, the Zionists and Apostolic churches is well known to us. Music communicates with the divinity, argues Edward Foley.
The elusiveness in form and content is part of the reason why music is so often used for communicating with the spirit world. Sound is an experience of the personal and helps us to understand how and why it is such an important element in religion and the spiritual life. Its intangibility and its insubstantive nature is the reason why sound has symbolised the mysteries and wholly other since the dawn of creation. Its elusiveness is the reason why it is used to communicate with the spirit world, a means of communicating with God who is both present and hidden. Music offers itself as a powerful symbol for the Divine Self who is recognised while remaining unnamable. Music thus enables us to encounter God without presuming to capture or contain the Divine Self.
The dynamic nature of sound is a reflection of music as metaphor for dialogue and communication which, in my view, are the very essence of expressions of spirituality. Sound has that power to resonate in two individuals at the same time, and has the capacity to strike a common chord. The image of God is the Word.
Engagement with music and not the clock which provides an experience of what could successively be called subjective, virtual and real. This is the time that soul needs to dwell in God. Music facilitates encounter with God.
Entry into musical time with length and volume is distinct from chronology of empty sequences of one upon one, and provides the analogy of the spiritual journey to God.
Within a cultural landscape there is a primary theme with feeder secondary themes which are congruent and complementary to the primary them.
What we have narrated above with regard to sound and music is one such secondary theme that adds to the theme of spirituality that we have identified as being resident at Stonehenge. It thus comes as no surprise given that sound has very little or nothing by way of finds that Archaeology deals with. Spiritual Thought, it would seem, is leading the way ahead of Archaeology.