Development, Modernity, and Dissolving ‘Traditional’ Culture
As a context for illustrating how perhaps all of humanity is being detrimentally impacted by capitalism related phenomena, “Sacred Sound of Indigenous-Deep Meanings: The Traditional Ethnic Lahu Flute” brings you somewhere rarely seen by the public eye, into the high mountains of northern Thailand.
There, communities of indigenous ethnic peoples have for generations been living fairly traditional lives. They use indigenous knowledge for maintaining what could be considered a fairly natural interaction with their surrounding environment, and with each other.
This is rapidly changing, however. Aspects of their cultural roots are vanishing as capitalism-driven ‘development’ and technology-centered ‘modernity’ is perforating their socio-fabric. This has been transpiring particularly since the 1950s, when top-down-government land use regulations began strictly dictating what villagers can do upon the soil underneath their feet.
Centuries of learning and indigenous knowledge is hence being shifted aside, replaced with homogenizing modern national and world culture; a form of ethnocide is ensuing.
What does this mean for Us all?
Indigenous Knowledge as a Societal Binding Mechanism
Jalae Jamuu, this video’s star-performer, resides in “Pumuen” village, a 58-household 300-person community of ethnic Black Lahu peoples. His quaint locale, comprised of bamboo constructed houses encompassed by villagers’ livelihood supporting cash crops (e.g., tea and fruit), was established in the 1970s. Around 1880 is when the earliest inhabitants of this highlands area immigrated from Myanmar to this location.
A cultural facet their ancestors brought with them, and still in-part practice, is folklore that they originate from the gourd. This is why the Lahu traditionally use the bamboo and gourd constructed flute (kaen namtao) as their cultural heart-center. This vitally important instrument is hence utilized as a mechanism for facilitating aspects of their socio-ecological functioning; this includes connecting with ancestral spirits and with each other on Earth.
Largely due to ‘development’ impacts, Jalae is the only remaining local Lahu villager who can skillfully operate this sacred device.
Culture Preservation, and a Moment’s Pause
“Sacred Sound of Indigenous-Deep Meanings” offers a meaningfully layered glimpse into this instrument’s nuanced sounds. This is while preserving some of this practice’s root indigenous-deep meaning … before it’s too late.
Three segments, supported with subtitled video footage and song-meanings, reveal how each tune pertains to aspects of the Lahu’s community resilience building traditional “jukuu” dance, the harvest cycle, and overall livelihood. It also touches on the Lahu flute’s usage for courting, marriage, and calls for leadership communion.
This media is part of a research, culture preservation, and social capital building initiative that — during a global era of increasing political tension and societal unrest — is tending to this world We all as a global community share.
This is about taking a moment’s pause in order to contemplate the importance of our varying cultures and the intrinsic value of our heritages. This is to become reminded of the socially binding commonalities that all humans share. These are our intrinsic needs to be loved and accepted, to be accepting and loving, as well as our necessity for having a nourishing natural environment that includes familial and community connections.
While this grassroots campaign has many aspects, its root and ultimate goal is to collaboratively address conflict and environment related issues that are impacting Us worldwide.
* Author Jeffrey Warner is a media artist, researcher, and documentarian who focuses on development impacts and social change patterns. His website is https://www.jeffsjournalism.com/.