Category Archives: Anthropology

Mento Music: Reggae’s Granddaddy

Mento music is a little known style of folk music and dance native to the island of Jamaica that saw its commercial peak in the 1950s.  Sometimes called Jamaican Calypso, it is closely related to that Trinidadian musical form.

Mento bands usually consist of small groups of musicians. Acoustic guitar, fifes, maracas, and the rumba box are all typical elements in the musical production. Banjo however, seems to be central in traditional Mento. Particularly rural groups often featured hand-made instruments such as the bamboo clarinet and saxophone.

A unique style of music, mento is the lineal forebear of reggae, and like blues it is a blend of European folk musics, especially of British Isles and Spanish influence along with many elements of traditional West African music.  For reasons that are more intricate than this blog-post is prepared to delve into, Trinidadian Calypso was more marketable than Jamaican Mento, and by the middle of the 20th century it had become the music of the Caribbean.

After Calypso lost its commercial appeal record companies decided to make jazz the new music of the Caribbean and began importing jazz musicians into the islands.  Jazz didn’t take root like they had hoped but this injection of fresh blood mixed with the rootsy sound of the Jamaican shanty towns and the new sounds coming from the United States over short-wave radio resulted in the creation of Ska.

           

Below is my cover of “Miss Constance,” a traditional Mento tune available for download here.


Midsummer

Midsummer is a traditional holiday celebrated throughout many of the world’s cultures, with ancient origins.  It is the celebration of the summer solstice, an important astronomical date on the annual cycle.  It is celebrated on or near the 21st of June. In many Celtic communities it is commonly celebrated on June 24th.

Due to its connection with the agricultural cycle, Midsummer is most often celebrated on the 21st of June by modern Heathens and neo-pagans as one of the eight sabbats. In Revival Druidry it is called Alban Heruin and is one of the four high holidays.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, with the sun at its strongest, therefore Midsummer represents the triumph of light over darkness.  The solar hero born at Yule and celebrated as the child of light is now at his peak.  He overthrows the oppressive king of winter and takes his rightful place upon the throne of the earth.  Just as in our time today, in ancient days marriages often occurred at Midsummer.

                    

As an agricultural holiday, in many parts of the world this is the earliest time that a harvest can be made since the springtime sowing; therefore it is a festival of first fruits. Traditional Midsummer rites are often centered on bonfires.  New fires would be kindled and offerings of flowers were made to them.  In many communities an effigy of a person would be burned in the bonfire.  Similarly to Beltane, cattle would be driven through the smoke of the fires as a means of blessing, protecting and enhancing the livelihood of the tribe and community.  Torches were lit from central bonfires and carried home where the hearth was lit.  Participants would dance around these fires and tend them throughout the night.  This all-night affair was commonly called “the watch,” and it was an integral part of the festivities.  Near the early morning when he fires had died down some, some of the revelers would jump over the flames for good luck and to encourage the crops to grow.

Midsummer Bonfire in Freiburg im Breisgau

Similar traditions are found on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Native American communities such as the Creeks, Seminoles, Cherokee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and many others of the Eastern Woodland traditions celebrate the Green Corn rite: the new fire ceremony, the New Year, the greatest fast culminating in the first feast of the year.

At this time in the environment, the wild flora is also at its peak, especially of the medicinal variety, so this holiday also has a focus on gathering and honoring medicine.  Blackberries and wild plums are also ripening, making for natural symbols of this season. On the Muskogee calendar, June is Kvco Hvse or “Blackberry Sun.”

In many Germanic countries the Maypole is celebrated at Midsummer.  In some communities the Maypole was left up from Beltane and burned at Midsummer. Midsummer is the height of the spiritual year.  Medicine is strongest at this time.  Spirits of nature and of the ancestors, both good and malevolent are very active on a Midsummer’s night which inspired one of Shakespear’s most classic works; A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Imbas Fire

I got fire in the head!

Imbas on the inside, so red!

A cauldron of poetic frenzy brewing the content of the universe

Translating, melding it down, an inspired stew-in-verse

More than a measure of grammar, meter and rhyme

Through head, heart and gut, universal space and time

Twisting like a whirlpool spinning mastery of words

Spitting reddening satire – the kind that really burns

But it’s just prophecy in motion, the wisdom of a bard

Passing judgments with clarity till you know who you are!

(This poem was originally written in 2004 as a final exam for an undergraduate anthropology class. – I got an A. – I was looking through some old writings and it just felt relevant again.)

These Woods

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On a quest to find my healing rock. #river

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These woods are like home to me.  Whenever I return it is as if I have come back to my spiritual center.  This is where it truly began for me.  I was a misguided youth full of angst and hostility, disillusioned by the world, and spiritually injured. But these woods are a place of healing and renewal, and they changed me. Over the years I’ve seen other people changed by these woods as well.

The medicine is strong along this creek.  The waters are crisp, clear and purifying, and I swear I can hear the voices from generations of spirits echo through the clay-bank valleys, enticing me to release the stresses and pains of my mortal existence, bringing my spirit back to light.

I had my first powerful vision here, where I was healed and transformed into something that could be of better service to my people; something I’m ashamed to admit I had strayed too far from over recent years.

I have experienced giving, sharing, and loving in these woods that is too rarely found in the outside world.

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Fairy Altar in the deep woods. #woods #spirit

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We’ve had gatherings of great souls, teaching circles, solstice and equinox festivities.  Barefoot hippies, country kids, urbanites rediscovering themselves and an assortment of other wanderers have met here as family to share in each other’s good graces.  Bonfires and drums, maypoles, and moonlight dancing bringing people together in love and laughter.  Here, we are free.

         

I remember a stew once made.  A dozen camps contributed to it.  The missing ingredient to tie it all together, an onion was nowhere to be found. Then down the trail came some new arrivals for the evening, and packed in their gear was just such an onion which they gladly contributed. “I don’t even know why I packed it.” He said. “I just grabbed it and threw it in my cooler because I thought it might come in handy.”  So into the stew pot it went, to simmer over the open flames.  A dozen camps were fed from this stew and there was an abundance that never seemed to end.  It was like a true “loaves and fishes” story.

Here we were free to be in our spirits, and the only law was love. Not a law to be rigidly enforced, but simply lived. This is where I learned to love openly.  I felt the darkness I carried with me lifted and I was made new.  It was beautiful.  It is beautiful. And it is where I learned to see beauty in this world that I had for so long been so cynical about.

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Still is still moving to me. #river #woods #nature

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This is why these woods and this river are the place I return to when my spirit needs healing, or if I just need to get away from the noise and distractions that cloud my visions and confine my inner light.  Meditation is stronger here.  Prayers become reality and love can be embraced.

Though I have experienced many great lands and beautiful environments, I’ve never known another place quite like this.

 

We all need something like this in our lives.

 

This is sacred space.

 

 

 

 

Pub Songs on Palafox by Lojah

Pub Songs on Palafox is a four song, lo-fi EP recorded in the raw as a live-air production that captures the energy and sound of a Lojah solo performance while busking downtown Pensacola, Florida in competition with the various sounds of a bustling city street.

Lojah begins with a rowdy Irish pub tune, Dicey Reilly, about a lush of a woman who spends her life crawling from pub to pub; a sailor’s favorite. The Black Velvet Band is another classic Irish ballad about infatuation, deceit and injustice which takes us out of the pub and away from the Emerald Isle to a penal colony in Australia. Following up is Looks Like Jesus, a rockabilly-blues styled piece and a Lojah original tells the story illustrating the conflict between despair and ambition, shroud with esoteric imagery, set in the Southern atmosphere he calls home. Miss Constance concludes the record, a naughty Caribbean-styled tune about the perils of younger women.
Lojah’s Creolized Roots Music is a style deeply influenced by Caribbean rhythms, Celtic melodies, and blues.

Download Pub Songs on Palfox here.


Denver Airport Murals Decoded

Back in 2006 a friend of mine handed off a bunch of conspiracy “exposés” and badgered me to watch them. Along the way he acquainted me with the Denver Airport conspiracy theories that led me to youtube videos and web pages on the subject.  I was especially captivated by the artwork present in the airport, large colorful murals that are the subject of much speculation by fans of conspiracy stories.

I did my own research because so few of the conspiracy enthusiasts could provide me with any facts.  At the time I could not even find a conspiracy fan who could provide the name of the artist who painted the murals.  His name is Leo Tanguma, a very talented Chicano artist.  It wasn’t hard to look up, but it only began appearing on other conspiracy videos after I posted the original upload of the video below.  After doing a bit of research into the matter, gathering data and contemplating the artwork I came up with my own assessment of the situation at the Denver International Airport.  I was learning how to use video software at the time so this was the subject of my first youtube video, Facts Behind the Denver Airport Conspiracy.

                   


Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

Today, January 20, 2016 Donald J. Trump placed his right hand on the Lincoln Bible and a bible from his childhood and swore his oath of office as the 45th President of the United States. It was an emotionally charged and patriotic event for the country that took up arms and won our independence from England 241 years ago.

In his inauguration speech, President Trump recapitulated the messaging that won him the presidency in a hotly contested election process. He began by acknowledging the significance of the peaceful transfer of power that defines the democratic process of the United States, and he thanked the Obamas for their help during the transition process.

The President repeatedly made reference to this being a transfer of power from a small group of elites in Washington DC back to the American People who have born the expense and suffered the cost of a faltering economy, impoverished inner-cities and a failing education system under their rule.

        

He promised “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” and that “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” He issued a strong criticism of business as carried out by Washington over the past that has “made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

Trump stated unequivocally that “from this moment on, it’s going to be America First,” explaining that “we will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” He assured us that “we will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

In a plea for a unity in the nation the President told us his oath is one of allegiance to all Americans. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” He reminded us of “that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.”

          

He assured us in classic Trump fashion that America will start winning again like never before, and concluded his remarks with “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.”

A new day dawns in the United States that will be felt throughout the world. The era of Obama is in the rear view. Today begins the era of President Trump.

The future is ahead of us.

Yuletide and the Real Reason for the Season

Candle on German Christmas tree. Creative Commons, Wikimedia

Yule is an ancient Germanic midwinter celebration better known today by the name Christmas.  Being associated with the winter solstice, Yule is traditionally a twelve-day festival centered near the days of December 21st.  Although Yule is a holiday of Germanic origin, the traditions and symbolism associated with it have been absorbed by the Christmas holiday and practiced in variations throughout the world.  Similarly the Romans celebrated the Saturnalia: a festival of great significance on December 25th, the date that was adopted as the official date for Christmas.  Due to Christianization, these similar holidays are now united throughout most of Western society as Christmas, but many of the traditions associated with it are of pre-Christian, and Heathen origin.

Over the centuries through colonialism, missionary infiltration, and technological development unrelated and often foreign mythologies were grafted onto the significant dates so that the original meanings and reasons for our oldest holidays have been all but forgotten in popular culture.  It’s not just coincidence that the Yuldetide falls at the solstice time.  That is precisely the point.

Solstice time is significant to human society for a number of reasons.  Since the beginning of autumn as the earth has tilted on its axis, the sun’s rays have begun to hit the earth’s northern hemisphere less directly causing the air to cool off and the seasons to change into winter.  Winter in Northern Europe was a perilous time for the ancient tribal peoples of Northern Europe with average daily temperatures consistently below freezing.  Crops will not grow. The herds are thin and wild animals that were so abundant in the summer are scarce.   The grass is brown with death and trees stand naked, stripped bare save for the evergreen which has taken on the symbolism of everlasting life.  For our ancestors, the people fared little better.  We have a term for this time of year, “the dead of winter.” Since the harvest, death has seemed to surround the tribe.

During winter the daylight hours appear dimmer and get progressively shorter and the nights longer and colder.  Winter solstice is the shortest day of the year.  It is the longest night and symbolically at least, the coldest of the winter nights.  It sounds depressing doesn’t it? For a lot of people it is. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real winter-induced condition that has otherwise been colloquially called the “winter blues” and has been documented in Northern Europe since the 6th century.  Recommended treatments include Light Therapy, exposure to bright light.  And what is Christmastime without Christmas lights? These LED bulbs that we cover our houses, yards and Christmas trees in are easily traced back to festive Christmas candles and most anciently and significantly the hearth fire, the social and spiritual center of the traditional Western home.

          

Notice the Yuletide is the annual time for good cheer. Why the middle of winter instead of any other time of year?   Because during no other time of year are people in need of such uplifting sentiment and behavior than in the dead of winter in Northern Europe.  Of course it is the darkest and often most depressing time of the year that the people would choose to lighten the mood with shimmering lights and “making spirits bright.” This ages old Yule tradition of decorating the house with lights, wreaths, ribbons, and shiny, joyous symbols is a wonderful way to lift the mood when it’s needed most.

And these festivities center and culminate around these particular dates in December for specific astronomical reasons.  At this point the Earth begins to tilt on her axis in a manner that allows for more of the sun’s rays to shine directly upon the northern hemisphere, allowing the days to grow longer and the frigid nights to grow shorter.  These are the first stirrings of the coming summer.  In contrast with the atmosphere of death that has surrounded the people through the autumn, we can now look forward once again toward spring and summer, the time of life and abundance.  It is almost as if the new year has been born again and we are saved.

Joseph Campbell took great effort to document the depth and breadth of the solar hero motif in its various forms from the divine child to the dying god, and metaphorically, poetically it’s a powerful image. This distinct relationship between the earth and the sun is likened to a procreative act that bares life and provides the conditions for abundance. The winter solstice bares the New Year sun like a child who will grow into a hero and eventually die before being reborn over and over again.  The hero’s life is a personified metaphor for the annual cycle.  The birth of the solar hero, the sun god, the god of the tribe is the first step toward the fulfillment of an annual prophecy: a divine promise that the summer will come again, that life will flourish once more on the earth.  The passing of these last days of the most deadly time of winter is celebrated with revelry at the birth of the sun, the personification of the sacred year.

Over thousands of years the prominence of one mythology over another distanced the people more and more from the astronomical significance and the agricultural affects associated with the winter solstice.  Depending on the region of the world different characters are associated with the holiday. For many people today Christmas is about the birth of Jesus.  For others the central figure is Santa Claus, a popularly marketed fusion of an old Christian Saint Nicholas and Odin, the Nordic Allfather.  In other countries there a witches, demonoid monsters, and logs that represent the winter holiday.  Otherwise the oldest and most traditional symbols of the Yuletide remain pretty consistent with their seasonal significance.

When we consider the Yuletide and are faced with deciphering the meaning of it all, or the reason for the season it’s important to remember it is the astronomical relationship between the earth and the sun which has caused the northern hemisphere to experience conditions antagonistic to survival.  It’s cold. It’s dark. It can be depressing.  So we light up and try to spread good cheer to each other during these times.  At the worst part of the year is the winter solstice and for the most part the worst of the winter is behind and we have the joys and abundance of summer ahead.  That is something worth celebrating.


Dee Snider’s Powerful New Video in Honor of Standing Rock

dee

Dee Snyder rose to fame in the early 1980s as the front man of the Heavy Metal shock rock group Twisted Sister.  He has never been shy about championing justice whether in his lyrics or in Washington, D.C.

In 1985, Snider along with acid rocker Frank Zappa and folk legend John Denver took on the censorship efforts of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and testified before Congress in opposition to their attempts to legislate morality and creativity in music.  Throughout the 80’s, 90’s and on to today, Dee Snider has been the sort of unofficial spokesman for rock and roll.

Recently he has been disturbed by the events taking place around the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.  The Morton County Sheriff’s Department and Energy Transfer Partners (owners of the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL) have actively engaged in numerous human rights abuses against peaceful demonstrators representing the Standing Rock community’s struggle to protect their sacred places and their fresh water supply.  When DAPL workers were confronted while actively destroying Sioux grave sites and spiritual centers their hired mercenaries attacked peaceful demonstrators with dogs and teargas.  The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has done as much and more by shooting unarmed and nonthreatening protectors with rubber bullets and water cannons in below freezing temperatures.  There have been clear attacks on the First Amendment as officers from North Dakota and Morton County have tried to create an atmosphere of intimidation in order to suppress the people’s right to assembly, and by specifically targeting members of the press for arrest in order to prevent news of the human rights abuses from coming to light.

Now in the face of the Standing Rock efforts to protect their cultural resources and their clean drinking water from an inevitable oil leak by the infamous Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Snider along with other celebrities have begun to put their media resources to work in support of the #NoDAPL water protectors.

Snider has released his new video “So What” entirely produced with footage from the Standing Rock #NoDAPL protection effort as a testament to the people putting their bodies on the line to protect the few remaining cultural and ecological resources of the Sioux Nation which once dominated the Northern Plains.

Aggressively solemn (if that’s not too much of a contradiction), “So What” is indicative of a much more mature and introspective Snider, but still carries the thunder of I would expect to hear from the mind that gave us such classic rebellious anthems as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” over thirty years ago. “So What,” is less about youthful rebellion however, and more directly about defiance in the face of tyranny.

 


US Veterans at Standing Rock Apologize for History of Genocide

standingrockvets

The demonstrations ongoing at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline have brought a wide assortment of passionate supporters committed to stand with them against the destruction of sacred and historical sites, and to protect the fresh water supply of the Missouri River.

It began with a small group of Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation and eventually attracted supporters from many of the over five hundred federally recognized tribes in the US as well as countless members of the numerous state recognized tribes across the country. Grand entrances of delegations from the Oglala on horseback, processions of Hopi, and a fleet of canoes from various northwestern tribes just to name three were broadcast across the internet almost every day for weeks. They have been joined by a delegation of over 500 religious denominations, and the Redrum Motorcycle Club and Black Lives Matter. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (for whom Morton County Sheriff’s Dept issued an arrest warrant), and actress Shailene Woodley (who was arrested and strip-searched by Morton County officers along with 26 others) also took part in direct action during the #NoDAPL opposition.

After months of abuses at the hands of DAPL private security who have assaulted the protectors with pepper spray and attack dogs, and by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department who has committed numerous human rights and treaty rights violations, shooting people with rubber bullets, mace, tear gas and using water cannons against them in freezing temperatures, targeting journalists and the press for arrest, it has become obvious that there is just a complete lack of humanity in the ranks of the MCSD and DAPL.

Then on the weekend of December 3 over 2,000 US military veterans arrived in an organized show of support, pledging to act as human shields for the protectors against the aggressiveness of the MCSD, to give a break to the people who have been there struggling for the past months, and to help draw mainstream media attention to the cause. On the first night of the arrival a small group of veterans engaged in an operation that returned the canoes that had been stolen from the people by Morton County deputies and DAPL personnel.

Then on Monday, December 5 in what has been dubbed a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a large group of veterans led by Wesley Clark Jr. addressed Leonard Crow Dog, a Chief among the Oglala Sioux. Clark asked for forgiveness on behalf of the United States for the past centuries of genocide and abuse by US military. Clark led about a dozen others in the front of the congregation as they knelt in a penitent fashion, one man bowing all the way to the ground. Crow Dog accepted the apology, expressed forgiveness and then offered an apology for of all things the Sioux victory against the Americans at the Battle of Little Big Horn, popularly known as “Custer’s Last Stand. History is being made at Standing Rock right now.

To be certain, these veterans are doing a good thing, performing noble deeds, and maybe I’m just too much of a skeptic, but something doesn’t sit well with me about this forgiveness ceremony. For starters no one in the video seems old enough to be guilty of historical military crimes against Indians. I don’t believe that a son is guilty for the deeds of his father so I don’t hold today’s veterans accountable for events they had nothing to do with. Secondly, an apology on behalf of the United States only has any real merit if made by an elected and currently presiding Commander in Chief of the United States. Wesley Clark Jr. isn’t exactly of much consequence as a representative of the United States, and even if he was, an apology doesn’t guarantee the real needed reform in Indian affairs. Someone else might say “it’s a good start,” and I’d hope they are correct.

I get it. A lot of Americans feel guilty for the genocide against Native Americans that occurred in the past and continues through less direct methods into the present, and the United States as a corporate body is guilty of these crimes, but not every white American alive today is responsible. Certainly there are people, organizations, state and federal governments and departments who are guilty for various crimes and assaults against Indians today, but I can’t see any validity in holding today’s veterans responsible unless they themselves were engaged in these assaults. I don’t like this white-guilt approach to allying with Indian struggles. I don’t want to see white Americans prostrate themselves in a supplicating ritual for atrocities in which they did not take part. There is nothing that can be fixed about the past. The present is where we must make change for the future.

I think these veterans were already engaged in admirable acts of great compassion by showing up and putting their bodies on the front lines beside the Natives defending their land and their culture. For that, they should all be commended along with everyone else who put their body in the line of duty fighting against the Black Snake. From here we need to continue to make noise and make allies until Washington DC can’t ignore the movement any longer. The treaties must be restored and respected like the Supreme Laws of the Land they are. The Bureau of Indian Affairs needs to be reformed. Sovereignty must be respected on Indian land by state and federal authorities, and self-determination must be at all times the forefront of the cause. When this is accomplished, then the United States as a body will have atoned for her past misdeeds against the Indigenous of America. Then real healing can begin between our Nations.