EOL 3: Music, Myth, and History 5 (Bohlman)


5. Promised Lands on the Borders of Myth and History

Diaspora brings about a radical shift in the direction of history, for it repositions the location of the promised land. For Europeans who chose diaspora during the past 500 years, the promised land was no longer Europe. It was elsewhere, and for many it was the New World. In the New World, the individual or the community had the responsibility of not just entering the promised land but of making it, that is of constructing it from the beginning, of transforming its myths into history. The themes of modernity and postmodernity rush in upon us. Beginnings, sacred journey, constructing history, and border-crossing. As Europeans embarked on their diaspora in the Early Modern Era, they turned to music for many reasons. More than anything, music provided a way of representing the promised land and of transforming its promises into realities. Music made the journey to the New World sacred.

The paths of musical diaspora were many and varied, displaying different responses to Europe and its history. I should briefly like to look at two models, one in North America and the other in South America, to introduce the paths that sacred journey took in the Early Modern Era. I shall also introduce a third model, namely the African diaspora, which however serves as an entirely different kind of metaphor for modern history.

Model 1. The first major colony to be sustained in North America was that of the so-called "Pilgrims," English Protestants who settled in New England. By choosing to give themselves the name "Pilgrims," these early settlers made it clear that they had embarked upon a sacred journey and that they understood themselves to be living in diaspora. These colonies and religious groups retained a strong sense of independence, and whereas they interacted among each other, they followed historical paths determined by themselves. The Protestants, especially Calvinist denominations, in these colonies--there were also Catholic and Jewish colonies--deliberately employed an ideology of return to the traditions of the Old Testament, which reached beyond Europe and across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, to the Land of Israel. And so, their sacred journey followed a path away from Europe, through diaspora, and to the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Model 2. The Jesuit missions that dominated the Early Modern landscape of South America until the end of the eighteenth century suggest a different model of diaspora. The Jesuit mission was one of conversion, one of gathering souls for the heavenly kingdom in South America. Catholic missions in South America created new boundaries that could and should be crossed. A different type of political shift occurred in South America, with the Church as a whole achieving more power than the colonizing countries (that is Spain, Portugal, England) and the other colonial Europeans. The sacred took on new forms, indigenous forms, which then found their ways into new musics (Aracena forthcoming). Both of these models, the Pilgrims in North America and the Jesuits in South America, were so powerful that their sacred elements survive in the politics and ideologies of modernity in the New World. The independence and resistance so essential to the Pilgrims continue to undergird concepts that separate religious and civil law in the United States. The ideologies of Catholic missionaries in South America, such as "liberation theology," have widened the gulf between European and South American forms of Catholicism, fragmenting the sacred journey of the Catholic Church itself.

Model 3. There is one more sweeping model of diaspora that emerged in the Early Modern Era and continues to be a part of world music today, namely the African diaspora. Many scholars, particularly Paul Gilroy (1993), have theorized a diasporic black Atlantic, the movement back and forth between and along the coasts of the Atlantic, first through the slave trade but then in many other forms of trade, until the present when the trade of international recording industry has been a powerful form of moving black musics around the world. Beyond its importance for bringing us to the late twentieth century, this model is further important because it reveals a metonymic transformation of the Atlantic Ocean into the diasporic functions of the Mediterranean.

The African diaspora represents the extent to which world music histories have been set upon new sacred journeys at the end of the twentieth century. The sacred return to Israel was transformed by Rastafarianism and reggae into a sacred return to Ethiopia, that is to Africa itself. The path of that return, however, is easier to imagine than to make the journey itself. In this sense, the diaspora implicit in "Deuteronomy" and the other books of Moses still serves as a root metaphor for the African diaspora and all diasporas Mediterranean history has unleashed. The goal of the journey has not yet been achieved; the conditions that make wandering in the desert necessary remain embedded in the musical landscapes of Europe.

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