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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Uke Collecting,and Ethics (moderated) (65* d) RE: Collecting,and Ethics (moderated) 09 Jun 07


hi Jim, sorry for misunderstanding!

I had a few things in mind regarding my point about not collecting everything.

Firstly, in New Zealand, when collecting was being done in the 1950s and 1960s many traditional Maori singers would not sing all their songs to the collector. The thinking was that unless you held onto a few, you were effectively giving something spiritual away forever, almost part of your soul.

The other case was regarding Paul Berliner's book 'The Soul of the Mbira'. I don't know if anyone has read this, but Berliner spent many years researching this instrument (also known as a thumb piano) in Africa. The secret spiritual meaning of the different keys was finally revealed to him by an elder, saying this knowledge could now be entrusted to him. Berliner then goes and publishes the information in his book!

Now I'm sure we'll all richer for Berliner's work, but I found this slightly disturbing. Did the elder know he was going to publish this secret information for all the world to read? I don't know the answer and perhaps Berliner didn't divulge all he was told. But it seems to me though that collectors should be under some obligation to keep 'special' cultural knowledge and songs 'special', or at least consider it, when dealing with their informants. Perhaps this happens more than I am imagining; certainly collectors can often end up acting as advocates for communities in other ways.

A collector doesn't "get anywhere" without their informants - perhaps that is who their first obligation should always be to, rather than to a paying public, scholarly community, 'national heritage' or a vaguely-defined 'common human interest'. In a perfect world all these interests could be reconciled, but it seems they rarely can be in the real world.


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