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Music As Medicine: The Adyghes' Case [ Alla Sokolova]


[ / ] MUSIC AS MEDICINE:  THE ADYGHES' CASE

Alla N. Sokolova
The Adyghea State University, Maikop, Republic Of Adygheya

ABSTRACT

 

The Adyghes (Circassians) are natives of the North Caucasus. They speak a language which belongs to the Iberian-Caucasian (Northwest Caucasian) family. The Adyghes have a peculiar culture, preserved in numerous ancient rites and rituals, as well as traditional views on the magic force of music. In the course of history these views have remained virtually unchanged.

The Adyghe musical culture is essentially unknown to European ethnomusicology. Therefore the purpose of this paper is to present information about music as a therapeutic agent for the Adyghes throughout their history and to analyze the causes of preservation of ethnic views about the magic power of music.

The literary sources of the 13th to 19th centuries contain some descriptions of how the Adyghes used music as medicine. These data were studied and compared to our own material obtained nowadays during folklore expeditions to the Adyghe settlements (in North Caucasus). The so-called "systematic ethnophonic" approach has been used in analyzing the Adyghe musical culture.

Geographical landscape (mountains, mountain rivers), the specific flora and fauna of the Caucasus and climatic features have formed certain beliefs about the beauty of sounds and melodies and their capacity for medical treatment. Songs with heroic texts help a sick man to bear the pain and to identify with the images of heroes. Merry dancing tunes allow people to be distracted from pain, or to enjoy their youth. Medical characteristics are comprised not so much in tunes themselves or their melodic intonations and rhythms, as in people who regard them as curative. Music as a strictly adjusted system might reverse some of the damage to an individual's psycho physical system. The more elevated and refined the music is, and more integrated as an overall system of music then, the greater are its therapeutic properties. All elements of music (piece of music) are proportional and coordinated. A scale, rhythm, tune, timbre and a dynamic scale form in any composition a monolithic unity. The listening to music (especially natural, native) brings a person to an equilibrium state, harmony and proportionality. The interior of the body is adjusted to separate elements of musical speech and "is cured", harmonizing the state of health of the person.

The medical properties are not so much based on tunes, intonations, rhythms proper but rather on the attitude of people who perceive them as salutary and beneficial. Ethnic music may effectively encourage convalescence from some diseases and be a potent preventive agent in concrete areas, ethnic-cultural zones, and natural - climatic conditions.

 

1. BACKGROUND

 

The Adyghes (Circassians) are natives of the North Caucasus. They speak a language which belongs to the Iberian-Caucasian family. The Adyghs have peculiar a culture preserved in numerous ancient rites and rituals, as well as traditional views on the magic force of music. In the course of history these views have remained virtually unchanged.

The Adyghe musical culture is essentially unknown to European ethnomusicologists. The purpose of this paper is to present information about music as a therapeutic agent for the Adyghes throughout their history and to analyze the reasons of preserving ethnic views on music as a magic power.

 

2. MEDICAL PROPERTIES OF MUSIC AND THE UNIVERSE


Almost all peoples at the early stages of their development used to regard music as a special divine agent allotted by supernatural force, including therapeutic effects. Directly or indirectly, music has been used as medicine in all traditional cultures, for a variety of reasons. First, illness in the so-called archaic and traditional societies had been accepted as disequilibria, mismatch of harmony with the nature. A recovery of this equilibrium is possible only through Nature and Space. Music is a part of both, Nature and Space, and therefore it is capable of fulfilling medical functions. Secondly, music -- like a liquid remedy or decoction taken by sick people -- deeply penetrates the organism of a person, impacts on his somatic matter and consequently acts as a substitute for any other medicine.

 

3. CORRELATION BETWEEN CAUCASIAN NATURE AND MUSIC

 

The "systematic ethnophonic" approach or the system - ethnophonic method was developed by Russian ethnomusicologist Igor Matsievsky to study instrumental music. This method began to be used intensively in the Russian organology in the middle of the 1980's. The basic sense of this method consists in unity of a triad: the instrument - instrumental music - a musician (performer). Each element of a triad correlates with other. It is impossible to study the musical instrument in itself, without connection with instrumental music and bearers of tradition. The musical instrument defines features of folk-tunes. The contents of folk-tunes depends on the view of the bearers of folklore.

As is well known, features or elements of music are pitch, rhythm, timbre, tune, harmony, tempo, dynamics, etc. Any of these agents of musical expressiveness itself does not carry any special divine purpose. As a whole, the system of expressive means of this or that culture correlates with its geographical landscape and the ethno-social conditions rather than with certain divine ideas. Thus, there is a distinct correspondence between pitch, rhythm and timbre of the ethnic music and climatic conditions of the region where a given ethnic group lives. For example, Russian ethnic groups, traditionally living along the wide and open plains, have also an extensive tuneful development of musical tissue and wide melodic respiration. The Adyghes, in contrast, are mountain people; therefore, Adyghe ethnic music is characterized by rather short melodic respiration and a special type of performance which combines two components, namely a high man's voice (of the leading singer) and the low attending voices (for supporting vocal parts). The high voice carries on the meaningful part whereas the low male voices intone senseless syllables - e - rai - da, o - ri, o - ri - ra, etc. The timbre coloring of a high voice is bright, ringing, while supporting voices appear muffledly and dull, like a mountain echo (musical example figure 1).

 FIGURE 1. Mountain Echo from Shu, Sh.S. (1997), p. 32

Such singing gives the highest aesthetic pleasure to Adyghes. The Adyghes have a special form of polyphonic choral singing, so-called solo-drone. The scheme of traditional Adyghe songs resembles a mountain topography where the basement of mountains is a drone, that is a sustained supporting voice, and the pitch phrases of a leading singer resembles the pointed peaks of mountains of different altitudes (Figure 1). Conditions of the mountain landscape and the sound environment (mountain rivers, stones rolling down the hill, screams of birds and animals) seem to have an effect on the Adyghe language which contains 2 or 3 times as many sounds as, for instance, in the Romance languages, the majority of which are consonants. The verbal language has found its expression in musical language. Thus the original sound and structural model of the Adyghe conventional music has been formed.

 

4. MEDICAL IMPACT OF ETHNIC MUSIC

 

Observations over many years have shown that a given ethnic music exerts a medical influence on the given ethnic group. It means that Adyghe music can and should have favorable effects on Adyghes, as well as Russian music on Russians, Gipsy music on Gipsies, etc. Why is that so? The ethnos, as is known, has a centuries-old history of forming ethical characteristics. Any ethnos has been shaped in its own acoustical medium. Step by step, the external acoustical medium comes into correspondence with psycho physical data of the given ethnos. The acoustical medium generates characteristically ethnic phonetics and spoken language, and shapes views on the aesthetics of musical sound. Most important for ethnic music is the method of modulation, articulation, and timbre coloring of a sound. Music which possesses a specific timbre and articulation is nationally colored. It is capable of an impact on the Adyghes and of a beneficent influence on them.

However, the aforesaid does not mean that Russian ethnic music can delight only Russians, and Adyghe ethnic music can delight Adyghes exclusively. Any ethnic music can act positively on those ethnic groups which have similar sound ideals and close sound images. Those can be ethnic groups who live in similar climatic conditions and have similar types of economic and domestic activity. For example, the solo-drone type of polyphony is characteristic of the Basques in the north of Spain, Macedonians and Croatians in the Balkans, the Adyghe and Abkhaz peoples in the North Caucasus, the Svans in the Transcaucasia.

5. MEDICAL PROPERTIES OF MUSIC IN ITS PERCEPTION

 

Ethno musicologists investigating ceremonial tunes of the compliant "medical" rituals, do not see in them anything "supernatural" and prefer to speak of perception of these tunes in a particular ethno-cultural context rather than of their "salutary properties" (Zemtsovsky, 1986). Nevertheless, the immanent properties of music allow us "to see" in them something that distinguishes it from other kinds of art. Music is a distinctly organized system of rhythm, pitch, composition, structure, and coherence of the verbal and musical text. In music perception, that coherence arises between a listener's subsystems, namely circulatory, nervous, digestive, physiological, mental etc. and the system of the musical whole. Music as a strictly adjusted system might reverse some of the damage to an individual's psycho physical system. The more elevated and refined the music is, and more integrated as an overall system of music then, the greater are its therapeutic properties. All elements of music (piece of music) are proportional and coordinated. A scale, rhythm, tune, timbre and a dynamic scale form in any composition a monolithic unity. The listening to music (especially natural, native) brings a person to an equilibrium state, harmony and proportionality. The interior of the body is adjusted to separate elements of musical speech and "is cured", harmonizing the state of health of the person.

For the same reasons, probably, music influences not only people, but also animals, insects, birds, and plants. Yet, since the old days the Adyghes shepherds have remarked that rams grazing under a horn become healthier, fatter, and even more obedient (Chashba, 1998).

 

6. ADYGH RITES AND RITUALS IN WHICH MUSIC IS USED FOR THERAPEUTIC PURPOSES

 

The Adyghes did not know opium or any other drug widely used in ethno-medicine of many peoples. Their traditional medical culture developed different methods.

 

6.1. Rites at the Bed of Injured or Traumatized People

 

From most ancient times to the middle of the 20th century Adyghes performed a rite called "Chapsh" for people with bullet wounds, snake bites or bone trauma.

If the person concentrates on fun, pleasures, his consciousness "is disconnected" with a pain or alert. Consciousness shifts to other dominant accents of perception. The idea of this rite is that a sick person is not left alone during the night or the dark time of a day, and participants of this rite did not allow a patient to fall asleep, but entertained him with games, songs, jokes, and humorous performances. The girls and boys are invited, who dance and sing under accompaniment of an Adyghe's violin. The performer on the violin is always a man who knows the content and the order of the ritual well. The cheerful games are replaced by dances, then comes a sequence of songs. The songs with the heroic texts helped a sick person to tolerate pain, identifying himself with the images of heroes. Cheerful dancing tunes distracted a sick person from pain, while the young onlookers had a good time. The performance of a ceremonial tune during the period of recovery was obligatory. Legend assigns this tune to the musician who was invited to this rite by Kodgeberduko, hero of the Caucasian war. According to legend, a doctor removed a bullet from Kodgeberduko's leg while listening to a certain folk tune. Surgery was performed without an anesthetic, only with the sounds of an optimistic tune which played the role of an anesthetic. Since then this special tune has been used traditionally for this rite as the obligatory ceremonial musical text (musical example 2).

 FIGURE 2.from Shu, Sh.S. (1997)

Music performed at this rite had magic properties and a beneficent influence on a sick person. One song had a severe - heroic nature, other tunes a quiet - narrative tint, others again were sustained in a playful - dancing fashion. Almost all tunes (except for a tune special to this rite only) could also be performed outside the rite. If folk-tunes (instrumental tunes) are performed within the ritual, they are vested with therapeutic sense. But the same folk-tunes can also be performed beyond the ritual. In this case they are vested only with aesthetic or applied function. This is how bearers (representatives) of tradition perceive and conceive music. The tunes have become multifunctional precisely in the context of salutary rite. Not losing their primary function, they also started to fulfill the function of magic impact on a sick person, and therefore were raised above mere domestic songs or folk-tunes. A sublimation of the genre occurred in the context of the rite. A simple song has been turned into a ceremonial song. A common dancing melody has been turned into a magic dancing melody. The separate tunes with the function of the musical sign became the acoustical symbols of the rite. Thus, the medical power was also that the specific tunes were performed during special rites. These tunes became salutary because people perceived them as salutary.

6.2. Impact on the State of Mind and the Treatment of Somatic Diseases

Adyghes considered that music could treat not only the body, but also the soul. It has a special influence on a person before the beginning of a battle, invoking bravery. In Abkhaz-Adyghe fairy tales there are scenes that the musician could heal wounds of the warriors through tunes, and then the warriors were ready to fight again. Even in the 20th century, people wishing to praise a good player on the harmonica said that he played so well that paralyzed people rose from their bed and began to dance.

Examples of the perception music as a medical agent are numerous. Adyghes and Abkhazians are known to have songs intended for treatment of smallpox. According to legend, each disease had a special god, whose anger invoked the disease. A female researcher was invited to a sick person to discover the cause of a disease. At her instigation a special rite was held, involving a night spent at the bedside of a sick person, accompanied by songs in honor of the god who visited the patient. A song dedicated to the god of smallpox, Achi Zoschan - Golden Zoschan, was performed during this disease. Sometimes Achi Zoschan's marital partner, Chaniya White, was also glorified in a song (Chashba, 1998, p. 33).

Chashba (1998) points to the high significance of music in the treatment of burns. According to another folk legend, a song about a burn caused the wounds to skin over more quickly.

When children get ill with contagious diseases, the Abkhazians sing lullabies, in which they express a wish of mortality to the child. Probably, they contain a magic by contradiction (Chashba, 1998, p.34). Lullabies were performed at a difficult birth in the woman's room. In this case, conversely, the magic of a predicted successful birth has been affirmed (Chashba, 1998, p.34). Most of all, music influences the emotional state of a person, allows people to co-empathize pleasure or pain together. Already in the 20th century we recorded many testimonies of how sick people recovered much faster after surgery while listening to their native music; their desire to live and to work, to care about relatives, and so on was stimulated.

 

7. RESULTS

 

An interpretation of psychotherapeutic functions of music in the traditional culture of the Adyghes shows at least four "subjects" of research. The magic-salutary force is equally characteristic of traditional music, definite text, musical instruments and dance as the kinetic acts. Each of the enumerated "subjects" is worthy of a special analysis, because a sphere of its action and outcome can be different. Thus, contagious diseases are traditionally "treated" by songs, in which the verbal part plays the predominant role. The musical text in this case serves as "support".

Both songs and instrumental folk-tunes are of importance for an uplift of spirit and to create a militant heroic state of wine. Mechanisms of how a song affects a person through the text are predicted and more understandable. The musical instrument and the music performed retain the elements of ordinance coming from both a "secret" of the musical instrument and a magic of masterly performance. Ordinance of instrumental music gives rise to faith in healing (Sokolova, 1999, p. 177). Aerophones, by virtue of their own morphological characteristics, are capable to connect the earth and the unearthly worlds through respiration. Therefore they are used in rites of searching for a drowned man and perished under snow or rock falls (Kharaeva-Gvasheva, 1999, p. 43). In this case they were allotted only by that function which flowed out from a content of the musical text of tunes. The properties of public praying were assigned to ceremonial dances (Sokolova, 1998). The dance "Sandrak" was performed in the name of sending of the child. Women who are not having children dance around a sacred stone and ask the Gods to give them a child. The dance can last for 3-7-days while the women have enough forces. The people believed that after holding this ritual a long-awaited child would be received. The dance was a mean to drive away a malicious spirit then caused a person's illness.

 

8. CONCLUSIONS

 

Thus, historic and ethnographic data selectively presented in this paper show how widely music was used for medical purposes in the Adyghe and Abkhaz traditional cultures. The medical properties of music are not so much based on its tunes, intonations and rhythms, but rather in the attitude of people toward them as the salutary means.

In contemporary music of Adyghe culture, as in the past, has a public-sanitary function, preserving mental equilibrium and harmonization for society, and certainly dominates family rites (especially at weddings and rituals on the occasion of child birth, kid's first step entering school, etc.).

A special study on the impact of ethnic music upon the specific ethnos conducted by the integral efforts of physicians, ethnologists, cultural anthropologists and ethno musicologists might effectively encourage convalescence and recuperation and might also serve as a potent preventive agent.

 

9. REFERENCES

Baragunov, V. and Kardangushev Z. (eds). (1981). Folk Songs and Adyghe Instrumental Melodies. V. 1. Sovetsky Kompozitor: Moscow.

Chashba, M. (1998). The Abkhaz Musical Folklore. In B. Kagazezhev (ed), The problems of art and ethnography (V.2. pp. 30-39). Adyghea State University: Maikop.

Kharaeva - Gvasheva, F. F. (1999). The mysticism of the timbre (on the mythology of musical instruments). In A. Sokolova and R. Unarokova (eds). Etudes on Adyghe history and culture (V. 2. pp. 43-52). The Adyghe Republic Institute of the Humanity Researches: Maikop.

Shu, Sh.S. (1997) Musical folklore of Adyghes in notation of G.Mkontsevich. (Chief Editor and Compiler Sh.S. Shu) Maikop.

Sokolova, A. N. (1999). Mythological aspects of the traditional Adyghe instrumental culture. In Tatyana Rudichenko (ed), History and culture of the step pre-Caucasus and North Caucasus nationalities: toward the interethnic relations (pp. 175-183). The Rachmaninov State Conservatoire Publishers: Rostov on Don.

Sokolova, A. N. (1998). Sandrak. In M. Sementsov (ed) The results of folk-ethnographic studies on ethnic cultures of Kuban for 1997 (pp. 79-82). Kuban Kazak Chorus: Belorechensk.

Tkhagapsova, G. G. (1996). The Adyghe Folk Medicine. Meoty: Maikop.

Zemtsovsky, I. I. (1986). The theory of perception and ethnomusicological practice. Sovetskaya Musyka, 3, pp. 62-63.

 Alla Sokolova (PhD) is chief by faculty of the Theory, History of Music and Technique of Musical Education of Institute of Arts Adyghe State University. Adygheya Republic, Maykop