Of dances, drums and DNA….

Recently, Cultural Crossroads presented an exhibit of “Drums of the World” at a global celebration at a local school.  Cultural Crossroads stresses cultural commonalities among people, starting with ancient man, who created the first music with the human voice and percussion instruments.   The first instrument was likely a drum – and that “drum” was a hollow log (or a stone) that gave off a pleasing sound when hit with a stick.  The first rattles were gourds that dried naturally, causing the dried seeds within to give a pleasing sound.

From those humble beginnings, humans experimented with different shapes and sizes and materials, eventually creating a wide range of percussion instruments – ranging from a tiny triangle with a “tinkling” sound to a huge drum with a “booming” resonance.   The incredible imagination thus expressed is based in diversity and is yet another “proof” that humans benefit from diversity…and, yet, even in this diversity, there are common elements in all drums and, indeed, in all percussion instruments:  each requires a “surface” on which to shape the sound and an “implement” to strike against that surface to produce the sound.  The “surface” may be a negative one, like the hole in the ipu heke drum of Hawaii, a curved one like the inside of a gourd, or even an added surface (like when man discovered that a animal skin stretched over a pot meant for the storage of grain gave a deeper dimension of sound); the “implement” can be human hands, a shaped object like a drumstick or even the dried seeds inside the gourd.  In all cases, however, the same concept underlies the vast diversity of percussion instruments.

In similar fashion, although there is a wide variety of dance movements across cultures (from the simple side-step of a village culture to the complexity of a Bolshoi ballerina), there are really a limited number of individual movements.   Ethnomusicologists find that there is a basic movement pattern of two steps in one direction and one step in the opposite direction that underlies the folk dance patterns of cultures across the world.   The human body is the same across time and space (bipedal, with the ability to balance on one leg while moving the other leg, with two upper limbs and a head which can move independently in various configurations). The physical human body thus determines the movement, from an early hora to the Swan Lake ballet, from a village lad to Nureyev.

In the same way, human DNA, indeed, primate DNA, is similar across time and space.  (It has been found that the chimpanzee, our closest relative, shares 98.8% of DNA with humans.)  What can we learn from this percentage?  That human beings are not all that different from other animals on the Earth and that humans are a part of the entirety of Earth life?  That is certainly one lesson.  That human beings are unique on Earth?  Yes, that, too.

So, we are the same and we are different – is this, then, an inexplicable dichotomy?  Not at all – it is just as possible to be “the same and different” from other creatures as it is for an individual human to be “the same and different” from other humans.   This is the awesomeness of Life: that we can revel in our unity with each other and the creatures of the Earth, while also celebrating our unique qualities – realizing that our “sameness” gives us community while our “differences” give us vision.

Use your vision to soar –

use your community to be grounded –

use your humanity to be both!


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