Friday, February 10, 2012

Commuck's Indian Melodies

In routine searches for data about the Brothertown Indians an item known as Indian Melodies by Thomas Commuck (himself a Brothertown), had flashed on my computer screen before but I'd not paid any attention to it until recently after Myron Paine sent it to me in digitized format.

One of the melodies caught my interest:

The fine print on the bottom reads:

The Narragansett Indians have a tradition that the following tune was heard in the air by them, and other tribes bordering on the Atlantic coast many years before the arrival of the whites in America; and on their first visiting a church in Plymouth colony after the settlement of that place by the whites, the same tune was sung while performing divine service, and the Indians knew it as well as the whites. The tune is preserved among them to this day and is sung to the words here set.
Commuck himself had what we might call a "scientific" mind and doesn't actually assert that the Narragansett tradition is a proven fact. Perhaps the Indians and the whites really did have melodies that were similar enough to claim that they were one and the same. I'd be interested in getting some feedback on that idea from a musicologist or cultural anthropologist.

No matter how you look at it, people of different races do have a lot in common. One possible take-away from the story is that the Narragansetts - despite their decimation during King Philip's War - managed to maintain some of their pre-contact identity, even if their memory of that identity has human imperfections. The story that claims the two races had something in common musically might have made living in a "white man's world" a little less unpleasant.

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