Sunday, October 18, 2009

Early account of Aboriginal Music

I am enjoying reading Jack Egan's Buried Alive, in which he has given us extracts of accounts of 1788-92, the first years of colonisation of Australia by Europeans.

I enjoyed reading Captain John Hunter's February 1791 letter about witnessing Aboriginal singing and dancing. Hunter was a trained musician, as this extract shows:
Their dance was truly wild and savage, yet in many parts there appeared order and regularity; one man would frequently single himself out from the dance and running around the whole of the performers, sing out in a loud voice, using some expressions in one particular tone of voice which we could not understand; he would then join the dance, in which it was observed that certain parties alternatively led forward to the front, and there exhibited with the utmost skill and agility all the various motions which, with them, seemed to constitute the principal beauties of dancing…
Their music consisted of two sticks of very hard wood, one of which the musicians held upon his breast in the manner of a violin and struck it with the other in good and regular time; the performer, who was a stout strong-voiced man, sung the whole time and frequently applied those graces in music, the piano and the forte; he was assisted by several young boys and girls who sat at his feet, and by their manner of crossing the thighs, made a hollow between them and their belly, upon which they beat time with the flat of their hand, so as to make a kind of sound which will be better understood from the manner of its being produced than from any verbal description.
These children also sung with their chief musical performer, who stood up the whole time, and seemed to me to have the most laborious part of the performance.
They very frequently, at the conclusion of the dance, would apply to us for our opinions, or rather for our marks of approbation of their performance, which we never failed to give by often repeating the word boojery, which signifies good, or boojery caribberie, a good dance. These signs of pleasure in us seemed to give them great satisfaction and generally produced more than ordinary exertions from the whole company of performers in the next dance.

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