Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Noai e mauri:  Noaia e mauri is how we greet each other on Rotuma, a Polynesian island 300 miles north of Fiji, and my original homeland. This greeting literally translates as “Thank you for your life.” Let me change that to “Thank you for your lives”, all of you attending this important conference. Your presence brings much prestige, and your knowledge has enriched, and will continue to enrich, our discussions at this conference.

I want to thank the organizers and funders for bringing us all together, from far and near, and for all their hard work in putting together this landmark event. I also want to thank June Lee in particular. She has been in touch with me over several months now, and I must admit to being impressed by her negotiation skills. Without her tenacity, efficiency and diplomatic skills, I wouldn’t be here. June – Faiaksia, which means thank you, in the Rotuman language.

In this short presentation, I want to reflect upon the work and the words of the late Professor Epeli Hau`ofa of Tonga, the man whose job I have now inherited. In my opinion, Epeli was, and still is, the most influential thinker in the field of Pacific Studies for the past twenty years or so. He didn’t write all that much – a comic novel, a collection of satirical short stories, a slim volume on his research, and a number of essays – but whatever he wrote was remarkable because of its perceptive and inspired visionary take on Oceanic life. Although his fiction is more entertaining than his other works, I want to highlight his essays, most of which have been published under the title: We are the Ocean: Selected Works.

Alternative (for readers in China)

If you are not familiar with Epeli’s writing, I would encourage you to buy yourself a copy of We are the Ocean and read it before you go to bed at night, and as soon as you get up in the morning. I did that last night and this morning as well, and I am the better for it. But be careful, it is the kind of book that could possess you, which is what happened to me this morning. My alarm went off, I jumped out of bed, showered, and got ready for breakfast, only to realize that my iphone was still in Fiji time, and that the correct time in Taiwan was 1 a.m. Yes, one in the morning. So what was I to do? All dressed up and nowhere to go. I took out my speech, and in rereading it, found myself rewriting it like a man possessed by Epeli’s spirit. Well, they say in parts of Polynesia that around two or three in the morning is when the spirit world is most active, and I can vouch for that. According to my abstract, I was supposed to talk more about the arts, but Epeli wanted me to talk more about himself (how could I refuse the man?) Epeli took me in a different direction. But being a spirit he knows more about what our needs are in this conference than I do and I am quite happy to be guided by him.

I should remind you that Epeli passed away about two years ago now, and that I get no royalties for recommending his book. Just in case you are wondering . . .

In 1997, Epeli founded the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. Epeli’s vision for the Centre is that it would become a safe and protected space where artists – painters, dancers, woodcarvers, sculptors, and musicians particularly – could come together to create original works of art without fear or prejudice. Thirteen years later, the Centre has acquired a reputation for the development, creation, and promotion of innovative and original art, particularly in the area of contemporary dance, music, and painting. It has also grown in terms of its physical and human resources, and now it has become a vital and dynamic Centre, not just at USP but increasingly for the rest of Oceania as well.

Owned by 12 nations within our Sea of Islands, a phrase made popular by Hau`ofa in his influential essay of the same title, USP is one of only two universities in the world (the other being the University of the West Indies) that can be said to be truly regional, with 14 campuses spread out over an ocean that covers one-third of the earth’s surface. Students at USP are drawn mainly from USP’s owner countries -- Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu – and the result is a very diverse student body.

It is no surprise then that since its humble beginnings in 1968, the creation of a regional identity at USP, instead of a narrow and nationalistic one, has always been a challenge. Ugly incidents of brawls between certain ethnic groups, such as Tongans versus Samoans, ultimately led to USP’s leaders abolishing its once popular Pacific Week when cultural groups on campus performed their dances and demonstrated aspects of their cultures with pride and sometimes with defiance. Today, although ethnic dances can still be seen on campus and students still tend to hang out and socialize according to their own cultural groups, the ugly brawls of former years seem to have disappeared. Instead, what has emerged is a regional identity, based firmly on traditional cultures of our ancestors, but free of their shackles, as well as those of former colonial powers. This has come about mainly because of efforts to encourage students to form social groups according to interests rather than culture.

Leading the creation of this regional identity was, and is, the Oceania Centre where students from different ethnic backgrounds can be seen working and playing together. The Oceania Centre therefore provides a model for the creation of identities that are open and fluid, instead of closed and unchanging.

Taking its cue from the vast and ever flowing Pacific Ocean whose waters wash and crash “on the whole Pacific Rim from Antarctica to New Zealand, Australia, South East and East Asia, and right around to the Americas,” the Oceania Centre in Fiji draws its inspiration not just from within Oceania, but also from East and West. In Hau`ofa’s words, the Oceania Centre promotes the kind of identity “that transcends all forms of insularity島國性質, to become one that is openly searching, inventing, and welcoming.”

Hauofa’s vision focuses on the vast ocean, and not on the small islands that our colonizers and our detractors tell us are too small and will always be dependent on the largesse of larger nations. By encouraging us to mentally shift our perspective, Epeli liberates our minds to recognize that the world of our ancestors was as vast as the Pacific ocean and that Oceanians traversed its highways long before the arrival of Captain Cook.

It is in this spirit of expansion that we welcome and launch the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies, the newest Pacific Studies organization in the world. Like a new canoe that has taken years to build and has just been completed, the Taiwan Society for Pacific Studies is about to leave the safety of land and venture out into the wide open ocean, where seas can be rough, and the weather stormy. This, however, is a journey that our ancestors took thousands of years ago when they left these shores and ventured out to find new and unknown lands in what we call today the Pacific Ocean. Our ancestors must have been brave men and women, for there was so much more that was unknown then than is the case today. But this doesn’t mean that this new journey is going to be less difficult, because like all long canoe journeys, successful arrival at destination will depend on careful preparation and planning, physical and intellectual prowess, and when necessary, sheer determination and tenacity when the seas become rough and hurricanes or cyclones threaten to destroy the canoe and every brave person on it.

On the eve of your departure into the blue continent, may I make a few suggestions that might help you on your maiden voyage. Please take whatever you feel might be useful, and discard whatever you feel will only burden and weigh you down. And since you want your canoe to skip along the surface of the Ocean blue with speed and ease, let me suggest then that you take with you just three baskets of sand. I call these baskets of sand because in our mythology, it was sand poured on rock that created Rotuma.

Please fill your first basket, let’s call this the responsibility basket,  with this quote from Epeli’s essay titled “The Ocean in Us” in which he wrote: “Our most important role should be that of custodians of the ocean: as such we must reach out to similar people elsewhere in the common task of protecting the sea for the general welfare of all living things” (55). It is this feeling of responsibility toward the Ocean that led Epeli to use the term Oceania instead of Pacific for the name of his Centre. Given our sea-faring heritage, I think we would agree with Epeli’s emphasis on the importance of the ocean to all of us, particularly now that sea-level rise has become an issue of pressing concern.

In your second basket, let’s call this the inheritance basket, and this is a big one, please fill it with this quote, from Epeli’s essay titled “Pasts to Remember”: “To remove a people from their ancestral, natural surroundings or vice versa—or to destroy their lands with mining, deforestation, bombing, large scale industrial and urban developments, and the like – is to sever them not only from their traditional sources of livelihood but also, and much more importantly, from their ancestry, their history, their identity, and their ultimate claim for the legitimacy of their existence. It is the destruction of age-old rhythms of cyclical dramas that lock together familiar time, motion, and space. Such acts are therefore sacriligeous and of the same order of enormity as the complete destruction of all of a nation’s libraries (think Library of Congress), archives, museums, monuments, historic buildings, and all its books and other such documents” (75).

In your third basket, let’s call this the identity basket because it deals with the arts, this is what Epeli wrote in his essay titled “Our Place Within”:  He wrote: “We begin with what we have in common and draw inspiration from the diverse patterns that have emerged from the successes and failures in our adaptations to the influences of the sea.  From there we can range beyond the tenth horizon, secure in the knowledge of the home base to which we will always return for replenishment and revision of the purposes and directions of our journeys. We shall visit our people who have gone to the land of diaspora and tell them that we have built something: a new home for all of us. And taking a cue from the ocean’s everflowing and encircling nature, we will travel far and wide to connect with oceanic and maritime peoples elsewhere, and swap stories of voyages we have taken and those yet to be embarked on. We will show them what we have created; we will learn from them different kinds of music, dance, art, ceremonies, and other forms of cultural production. We may even together make new sounds, new rhythms, new choreographies, and new songs and verses about how wonderful and terrible the sea is, and how we cannot live without it. We will talk about the good things the ocean has bestowed on us, the damaging things we have done to them, and how we must together try to heal their wounds and protect them forever.”

These three baskets-- baskets of responsibility, inheritance, and identity-- will be enormously helpful as you carry out research in Oceania and among Oceanians, people of the sea. When you make landfall, pour these baskets liberally on the rocks along the coastline, and new islands will form.

Let me conclude then with Epeli’s observation that the ocean connects us all, you here in Taiwan, to the rest of us in the Pacific, and that at one time, before our colonizers arrived and carved up the Pacific into Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia (leaving out Taiwan altogether), and required us to have passports and visas before we travelled among our sea of islands, our ancestors traversed the seascapes like highways that connected one island to another.

Epeli exhorts us to free ourselves from colonial thinking, and reconnect with the larger reality of our seafaring ancestors whose world was anything but small: This is his conclusion to the most influential essay in Pacific Studies ever written. Titled “Our Sea of Islands”, this is what Epeli wrote in his conclusion:

“We are the sea, we are the ocean, we must wake up to this ancient truth and together use it to overturn all hegemonic views that aim ultimately to confine us again, physically and psychologically, in the tiny spaces that we have resisted as our sole appointed places and from which we have recently liberated ourselves. We must not allow anyone to belittle us again, and take away our freedom.”

Thank You again for your kind invitation to address this esteemed gathering tonight. I look forward to the rest of this conference, and to everything else you have planned for us during this time we have together.

Ma ta ma maria’ ma of sia. And that is the end of my speech.



Wednesday, 23 March 2011 10:09

Music as a Marker of Human Migrations

Debate on the question of how and why music varies cross-culturally was recently reawakened by the provocative claim that traces of the ancient migration of anatomically modern humans out of Africa can be heard in contemporary songs (Grauer 2006). Grauer‟s claim drew on data from the landmark Cantometrics Project (Lomax 1968), which remains the only global scientific study of human song. At the time, Lomax‟s causal interpretation of the correlation between culture and music – for example, male dominance causing nasal singing – was highly criticized even by other members of the Cantometrics Project (e.g., Erickson 1976).

While Grauer‟s recent migratory interpretation avoids Lomax‟s pitfall, many of the original criticisms of the Cantometrics Project resurfaced in skepticism about music‟s time-depth as a migration marker (e.g., Stock 2006). Could the acoustic surface of music really reflect ancient connections between cultures? If so, are these reflected in performance features (“singing”) or in the structural features (“song”) traditionally emphasized in Western musicology?

Lomax himself was highly critical of the use of Western musical notation in ethnomusicology, which he saw as emphasizing surface structural features at the expense of deeper performance features. He spent his life developing a performance-oriented approach that was concerned “not with songs abstracted from the stream of vocalizing we encountered on the tapes, but with the stream itself, with „singing‟” (Lomax 1980). Nevertheless, the Cantometric classification scheme that Lomax and Grauer (1968) developed contained roughly equal numbers of features devoted to “songs” and “singing”.

Our own view differs from both Lomax‟s and his critics‟ in that we propose that the structural features of song should have the greatest time-depth to track migrations, especially when applied to group performance in choral songs. Our reasoning is that structural features such as melody, texture and form require greater consensus among singers than the more idiosyncratic variation that goes into performance, such as timbre or ornamentation. Hence, features like scales and rhythms should be more stable over time than features like nasality or rubato.

These claims are testable. As a case-study to examine music‟s time-depth in the context of human migrations , we have examined the traditional choral music of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, who have been well-studied in terms of music, genetics, and migrations. (Loh 1982; Trejaut et al. 2005; Diamond 2000). Our primary aim, therefore, was to use existing information about the relative patterns of genetic and musical similarity among the Taiwanese aboriginal tribes to empirically test for the first time whether song structure or singing style has the time-depth required for studying human migrations. Our basic method was to compare music – a marker of unknown time-depth – against the best available marker with a well-established time-depth, namely mitochondrial DNA (Oppenheimer 2004).



Of the 14 officially recognized tribes of Taiwan, eight had a sufficient number of both genetic and musical samples to permit comparative analysis: Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tao (Yami), and Tsou.


Genetics: Partial mtDNA sequences for 531 individuals from these eight tribes were taken from the dataset of Trejaut et al. (2005).

Music: YW and SB obtained 364 traditional songs from these eight tribes from commercial and archival ethnomusicological recordings. Restricting our sample to adult, choral songs left 222 songs for analysis. Sample sizes were: Amis=56, Bunun=31, Paiwan=28, Puyuma=32, Rukai=33, Saisiyat=14, Tao=13, Tsou=15.


Distances between samples: Pairwise distances between individual a) genetic, and b) musical samples were calculated based on the number of pair-wise differences between a) mtDNA nucleotide sequences, and b) Cantometric classifications. This is the simplest possible distance measurement, as it makes no evolutionary assumptions about how those differences arose. We reserve more complicated methods that incorporate models of musical and genetic evolution for future studies.

Cantometric classification of the songs was done by VG. Two separate musical distance-matrices were calculated: one using the 15 song-structure characters from Cantometrics, the other using the 14 singing-style characters (see Figure 1 for details about these features). Eight Cantometric characters related to instruments alone were excluded from this analysis.

Distances between populations: For both genetics and music, the 28 possible pairwise distances among the 8 tribes were calculated using an Analysis of Molecular Variance (AMOVA) framework (Excoffier, Smouse, and Quattro 1992). These distances were measured using a statistic called FST, which represents the proportion of variability among individual samples that is due to among-population differences. Thus, it explicitly incorporates within-population heterogeneity, avoiding the assumptions of within-

population homogeneity that plagued Lomax‟s original statistical methodology (e.g., Henry 1968; Leroi and Swire 2006).

Figure 1. Organization of the 15 song-structure (red) and 14 singing-style (blue) Cantometric classification features used in this analysis. Note that our method focuses on the vocal component of the music and therefore ignores 8 classification features related to instruments.

Correlations: The statistical significance of the correlations between musical and genetic distances was tested using the permutation-based Mantel test (Mantel 1967) using 10,000 permutations, with the threshold for significance set at p < 0.05 (one-tailed). This test controls for the fact that the 28 pairwise distances among the eight tribes are not independent of one another.


Correlations between genetic and musical distances were highly significant (see Figure 2), suggesting that patterns of genetic similarity among the 8 tribes were matched by corresponding patterns of musical similarity. This observation makes a strong case for music having an ancient time-depth in analyses of human migrations.

To examine the “song” vs. “singing” comparison, the two panels of Figure 2 show the correlations between genetics and either song structure (Panel A) or singing style (panel B). Both correlations were significant. However, features of song structure accounted for twice as much variance in genetic distance as did features of singing style (song structure: r2=0.27, singing style: r2=0.13).

Figure 2. Scatterplots of the 28 pairwise genetic and musical distances among 8 Taiwanese aboriginal tribes. Genetic distances (y-axis) are based on an Analysis of Molecular Variance (AMOVA) of 531 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. Analagous musical distances (x-axis) were calculated from 222 traditional choral songs using Cantometric characters of either A) song structure or B) singing style (i.e., performance). Statistical significance of distance-matrix correlations is based on Mantel‟s (1967) test.


Our main finding was that musical similarities among the 8 tribes were significantly correlated with genetic similarities. This provides the first empirical support for Grauer‟s (2006) claim that music has the time-depth required for use as a marker in studying prehistoric human migrations. Consistent with our predictions, the correlations with genetics were stronger when calculated using features of song structure compared to singing style, contrary to Lomax. However, the differences between these features were not nearly as striking as we had predicted. The simplest interpretation is that both singing and songs are useful as migration markers, which makes the overall case for using music as a marker even more persuasive. It allows for a pluralism of musical features that Lomax discounted, most especially with regard to structural features.

Our findings in Taiwan lend strong provisional support for music‟s time-depth in the case of a relatively recent (~6,000 years ago) migration. Whether music‟s time-depth reaches as far back as Grauer‟s Out-of-Africa claim, however, remains an open empirical question.



Diamond J. (2000). Taiwan‟s gift to the world. Nature, 403, pp. 709-710.
Erickson E.E. (1976). Tradition and evolution in song style: A reanalysis of Cantometric data. Cross-Cultural Research, 11, pp. 277-308.
Excoffier L., Smouse P.E., and Quattro J.M. (1992). Analysis of molecular variance inferred from metric distances among DNA haplotypes: Application to human mitochondrial DNA restriction data. Genetics, 131, pp. 479-491.
Grauer V. (2006). Echoes of our forgotten ancestors. The World of Music, 48, pp. 5-59.
Henry E.O. (1976). The variety of music in a North Indian village: Reassessing Cantometrics. Ethnomusicology, 20, pp. 49-66.
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Lomax A. and Grauer V. (1968). The Cantometric coding book. In A. Lomax (ed.), Folk song style and culture (pp. 34-74). New Brunswick: American Association for the Advancement of Science.
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Stock J.P.J. (2006). Clues from our present peers? A response to Victor Grauer. The World of Music, 48, pp. 73-91.
Trejaut J.A., Kivisild T., Loo J.H., Lee C.L., et al. (2005). Traces of archaic mitochondrial lineages persist in Austronesian-speaking Formosan populations. PLoS Biology, 3, pp. 1362-1372.


Patrick Savage(1), Tom Rzeszutek(1), Victor Grauer(2), Ying-fen Wang(3), Jean Trejaut(4), Marie Lin(4), and Steven Brown(1)

(1) Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Canada
(2) Independent scholar, Pittsburgh, USA
(3) Graduate Institute of Musicology, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
(4) Transfusion Medicine Laboratory, Mackay Memorial Hospital, Taiwan

Photo: Cathy Chuang

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