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Sunday, 12 July 2020

Oral Tradition and Musical Self-Expression by Jan Michael Looking Wolf

Most scholars agree that all indigenous cultures of the world were founded on oral tradition.  So, what is oral tradition, and why is it so relative to modern life?

Oral tradition can be defined as, “The spoken relation and preservation, from one generation to the next, of a people’s cultural his-tory and ancestry, often by means of storytelling.” (  It is the sharing of information and personal expression without a written language system.

For every one on mother earth, our indigenous ancestors paved a foundation for personal self-expression through the practice and development of oral tradition. It can include the sharing of words, movement, sounds, and illustrations.  Some examples are stories, dance, gestures, facial expressions, and art.  When applied to pass along information, making music with an instrument or voice and teaching how to make something (such as food, clothing, a tool, or hunting weapon) can also be forms of oral tradition.

Although indigenous people share this incredible practice in their daily lives, their specific cultures are diverse due to internal and external influences, such as their history, environment, and location.

 If one follows the path of their lineage back far enough, there is an indigenous ancestor who relied upon oral tradition for all forms of communication.  That is a deep-rooted connection that we  all share.  Individual musical self-expression is an inherent right passed down generationally and originates at the core of our very existence. 

The initial use of all indigenous instruments was for personal self-expression.  Meaning, it was from that intention those instruments began to evolve.  Among the first instruments known to humankind are the drum, rattle, and flute.  It is very interesting that though the design of those instruments varies due to specific cultural practices and available materials, they hold a significant role in the musical development for most indigenous peoples of the world.   


 Musical self-expression is linked to many health benefits.  Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression.

In all indigenous cultures and their resulting modern societies, musical self-expression is a foundation for healing practices of some sort.

Inside each of us there is a voice of an ancient ancestor speaking out to express ourselves through music.  Have you ever just started humming or singing a song on the radio and started to feel strong emotions tied to a real-life experience?  Of course, you have.  We all have done that at some point of our journeys.  Regardless of individual cultural heritage or ethnicity, that is something everyone understands. 

Musical self-expression is a common bond that we all share.  It is a part of humanity that can help us understand that while our differences are important and should be respected, underneath our need to express our feelings through music is a common connection that can help bring healing and unity inside our selves and with each other.


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