MUSIC OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
"AMONG OTHER THINGS, historians search for origins. But if we take history to mean stories about the past that can be supported by fact, the origins of music will always be elusive" (Crawford 2001). The music and dance of Indians that were indigenous to these islands will always be one of speculation. Music, much like dance, is older than the practice of notation that has been adopted by Western civilization, or the techniques of audio and video recording that are now carried out routinely. It is therefore impossible to truly know the characteristics of the music made by the native Indians that lived in these islands.
However, areito is one of the traditional and ritualistic dances accompanied by song that is said to have been practiced by the Indians that settled these Bahama Islands. This same practice is said to have been found in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and Santo Domingo, perhaps indicating that the Indians were quite a social people, trading within the region with other tribes such as the Caribs and Siboneyes.
The song and dance of the areito seems similar to that of the ring dance that is still done by children here in the Bahamas. "The religious ceremonies that took place at gatherings and festivals were accompanied by music and dance. In the arieto people would sing and dance, in a circle with their arms intertwined, to the sound of a drum. One member, either a man or a woman, guided the group" (Sanjuro, 1986). Similarly to the ring dance, the singing would be in choral fashion and be accompanied by the drum as found in early practice of ring and fire dance in the Bahamas.
The music and dance of these natives were passed on to subsequent generations through these ritualistic practices. Therefore, the survival of the music in its truest form could have only lived through the life of the people themselves. Herein lies the dilemma.
In 1492 when Christopher Columbus arrived in The Bahamas, the peaceful natives that readily accepted him were brutally extinguished from an estimated 300,000 in 1492 to about 500 in 1550 (Claypole, Robottom 2001). These deaths were not only attributed by the wars that ensued for control of these Islands by the Spaniards, but in large part to smallpox and other diseases that they brought with them.
These events therefore leave us only to speculate as to the nuances that might have been a part of the musical and ritualistic practices of these particular natives. In addition, the study and preservation of Indian music by Western scholars have only uncovered rare and anecdotal evidence. Therefore, we can only conclude that there must have been some close resemblance in the music of the natives to those few tribes that survived in other parts of the Americas.
Below is a copy of an areito that survived over the years and is secured in the National Archives of Cuba. Its origin is unclear, but the use of our musical system gives us a glimpse of the past.