whoa! this is a funny, in an unfunny sort of way, and deeply disturbing read… I’m reading along thinking, “oh this is nice… I wonder why I need to be reading this.” Then I get to the final quote and feel I have been punched in the gut!   

From “Noticias de Nutka, an Account of Nootka Sound in 1792” by Jose Mariano Mozino

Jose Mariano Mozino was a young Spanish scientist accompanying Bodega de Quadra on his five-month stay at Nootka Sound in 1792.  He had degrees in medicine and theology and was an expert in botany.  He learned the Ahousat language well enough to act a translator and wrote a diary of his experiences with the natives.

On Indigenous singing, pg. 58:

“They are generally fond of singing, either because the music enters into part of their rituals, or because it constitutes one of the demonstrations of their courtly ceremonies.  Their natural voices create the harmony in unison on the octave.  They are accompanied, in place of bass, by a noise which the singers make on some boards with the first solid object they find, and by some wooden rattles whose sound is similar to that of the Mexican gourd rattles.  One of the singers constantly gives the tone and all the others follow it successively, forcing their voices unevenly, in almost the same manner customary in the Gregorian chant of our churches.  From time to time one of the musicians abandons the chant and gives enormous shouts, repeating the theme of the song as if in summary.

“These are ordinarily hymns to celebrate the beneficence of Qua-utz, generosity of their friends, and good relations with their allies.  This noble purpose of music and poetry ought to serve as an example to us, who flatter ourselves that we have been born in cultured countries and educated in the bosom of the true religion. 

“One day Quio-comasia (chief (tais) over 70 years old) heard some stanzas sung at a certain meeting which we had with the English and the natives.  At the conclusion of the song, he asked me what had been its subject, to which I replied that it was the absence of a lady.  Afterward other Spaniards and Englishmen sang their respective songs, and the gathering was brought to a close with a beautiful anacreontic ballad, the grace of which enhanced the soft and melodious voice of the young Irishman who sang it.  The tais kept asking me the meaning of each piece.  The first were purely love songs (I told him), and what he had just heard was a eulogy to wine and pretty girls.  To this he replied, “Do not the Spanish and the English have a God, since they celebrate only fornication and drunkenness?  The taises of Nootka sing only to praise Qua-utz and ask for his help.” 

Isn’t it strange that even 200 years ago, we Europeans seem to have pretty much abandoned a spiritual view of the universe! 

No wonder we face an uphill battle today, in the cultured “civilized” western world, trying to reignite a vision of the universe that includes the mysterious ephemeral more subtle dimensions of life! And how deeply tragic, that in our arrogant myopic worldview, we were unwilling to open to the wisdom of the indigenous peoples of this land and learn from them when we arrived. How different might history have been if we had been willing to take on board a vision that included “the beneficence of Qua-utz.”

How on earth might people awaken to the numinous who for so long have been desensitized to the sacred?