Following is a paper written for a class called The Healing Ecstasy of Sound, led by Jennifer Berezan in spring 2009. In it, I explore the role of music in social healing and reconciliation, using two examples from southern Africa. The first is the healing rituals of indigenous African hunter-gatherers known as the Kung, and the second example is provided by the anti-apartheid movement in modern South Africa.
Since completing graduate studies this year, I’ve become ever more curious about the role of the arts in cultural transformation, and how artistic modes of expression may contribute to cultural renaissance and human awakening to the community of life. This paper represents some of my early explorations of this question.
Music and song in social healing and reconciliation
Musical sounds and vocalizations, from singing to chanting to glossalia, have been used throughout human history for the purposes of healing individual psychological, spiritual and physical ailments (Campbell, 1991, 1992, 1997; Gass, 1999), but what role has music played in community or social healing and reconciliation? I will describe two examples of music, song and community healing from southern Africa, and present a few ideas on the role that music played in healing.
All-night rituals for community healing and reconciliation are woven into the fabric of the lives of the traditional Kung society of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, who are one of the few remaining human groups to live by foraging, “which was, until 12,000 years ago, the universal mode of human existence” (Katz, 1982, p. ix).
The Kung believe that humans carry incipient illness at all times, and must therefore maintain their well-being through regular community healing rituals. The Kung healing rituals, and specifically the Giraffe ritual, function to build community cohesion and repair damaged or strained relations, as much as provide treatments for the physical, spiritual and emotional complaints of individuals.
For the Kung, healing is more than curing, more than the application of medicine. Healing seeks to establish health and growth on physical, psychological, social and spiritual levels; it involves work on the individual, the group and the surrounding environment and cosmos (Katz, 1982, p. 34).