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Monday, September 10, 2012

The Outsider

I watched the N/um Tchai: Ceremonial Dance of the !Kung Bushmen on YouTube a couple of times and on different occasions. I wished I could have watched the complete video since the site on YouTube presented only a 3 minutes and 20 seconds preview of the documentary and I found that I could not completely immerse myself on their medicine dance. I wanted to feel like an “insider,” a part of the ceremony so I tried to look for similar videos that are possibly longer on YouTube but so far this video seemed the nearest to being authentic. There were even videos that showed “Bushmen” performing for tourists that lack “their spirit” of the ceremony, like it was just another performance for them… another day’s work! It somehow made me sad, thus I found myself going back to the original video forced to watch it as an outsider.

This documentary of John Marshall was shot in black and white in the 1950’s. The sound was asynchronous. They were recorded while filming and reconstructed during editing so that the animated voices of the Bushmen did not completely match some of their performance in the said clip. I am sure my feeling will be different watching from my old computer than if I was actually part of that ceremony. I could say this because I attended a Sinulog Festival once in Cebu, Philippines after watching some previous coverage on TV and the feeling was entirely different. On TV, the parade is just a parade of music and dance but when I was there I was caught up with the music and dancing, feeling the sound of the drums like electricity running through my body removing all the negative vibes therein. Of course, the feeling would also have been different if instead of my small computer, I was viewing the documentary in colour with high fidelity sound or watching it in an IMAX theatre or in 3D and it would seem that I was actually there with the !Kung performing their ceremony.

What the preview achieved, however, was to give me a better understanding of the ceremonial dance, a better understanding of the people and their culture as I just didn’t get to watch the ceremony but read and listened to the explanation of the purpose and nature of this ceremony. As in the other cultures we have studied in this course, it drove me to search for more resources for better understanding of their culture and also compared them with the culture of the other indigenous tribes in my country. It made me ponder on several questions -- would it have been better for them to have been left on their own? Can their culture and people survive without intervention from others? Are their lives better now than they were before? Are they happier now? Although I was able to have a sympathetic reading of their practice, as an “outsider”, it is still just my own judgment. It is still not my life and culture and in the end what is more important is their judgment, their take on things that are happening to them.

So many other “outsiders” have shown interest in this and similar vanishing cultures. Some have exploited the people and their arts, some have appropriated their arts and music as their own but there are others who have taken their cause as their own and have shared these cultures, arts and traditions with world not just for better understanding but for preservation and protection of the people and their culture. They have used new technologies and different media to capture these traditions – the music, dances, arts, rituals, beliefs with some traditions more easily captured than others. These efforts have given access to the world. Outsiders no longer have to be in the actual surrounding of these people to have an “authentic taste” of their culture. Now it is for these outsiders to decide whether they enjoy this “taste” or not. They could have an understanding of the culture, be sympathetic and appreciate the people and their music, arts and traditions but unless they have actually “enjoyed the flavour” and want that flavour as part of their life then they continue being an outsider. Thus, I remained an “outsider” from this ceremony and all the music and culture we have “listened” to in this course so far. I could say that I have a better understanding and appreciation of the culture and their music and I now go to sites that offer world music and quite enjoy the experience. But for most part of the day, I go back to my normal routine, my own culture, knowing that on certain occasions I could go back and get a taste and experience of other traditions I have come to learn and appreciate, which I could say are added spices of my life.

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