Play, Music, and Taboo in the Reproduction of an Egalitarian Society
An examination of musical participation and taboo among the egalitarian Mbendjele BaYaka illustrates how cultural learning can be organized without recourse to figures of authority. The chapter describes two complementary pedagogic processes that accompany BaYaka as they move through life. One acts on groups of people playing together (massana), the other on individuals as they are differently affected by taboos (ekila). Both serve to lead growing BaYaka into opportunities for learning more abstract cultural knowledge at salient points in the life cycle.
In successfully performing the dense polyphony of BaYaka music (massana), people experience what BaYaka consider to be desirable emotions, ideal relationships, and interaction. They participate in an enhanced learning environment that promotes peer-to-peer imitation rather than direct instruction with its concomitant implication of authority and status. Key economic strategies and political orientations are experienced during massana in ways that stimulate their application to non-massana contexts. The ethnography of ekila demonstrates how counterintuitive explanations of striking hunting and reproductive prohibitions stimulate a learner-motivated pedagogic process that does not depend on defining any individual as a focus for learning important knowledge. These taboos anchor key areas of cosmological knowledge, gender, and political ideology in the physical and biological experiences of human growth and maturation making gendered practices and cultural values take on a natural, inevitable quality.
Together, massana and ekila provide major avenues for BaYaka children to learn and to reproduce a distinctive and remarkably durable cultural system. The chapter finishes by suggesting some structural features of these culturally embedded pedagogic systems that contribute to their efficacy, durability and ability to adapt to, and incorporate change.
KeywordsPlay Cooperation Imitation Music Prohibition Cultural transmission Pygmy Hunter-gatherers Polyphony Song Dance Ritual Initiation Myth Egalitarianism
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