In these times of extreme xenophobia, we desperately need to understand those who are different. When my brother recently shared his discovery of The HU’s album The Gereg, I was at first a little concerned. That deep-seated childhood evangelicalism suggests anything that unfamiliar is bound to be satanic. How unfamiliar? Mongolian throat-singing unfamiliar. Songs sung in Mongolian, unfamiliar. Album art that could be heavy metal. I’d never come across anything like it. I suppose it’s a natural, knee-jerk reaction to say anything so unfamiliar is potentially demonic, and it shows just how paranoid a culture can be. We think of 1950’s America as “the norm.” I wasn’t alive then, but I’ve seen pictures. Buzz cuts still give me the willies. I trust Mongolians more.
I don’t know if The HU is a deliberate play on The Who or not, but the word roughly translates to “human.” Like many ancient practices, nobody thought to write down the origins of throat singing. Traditionally it was what Inuit women did when men were out on the hunt. Like many aspects of hunter-gatherer society, it fascinates. Some cultures reported that when Christian missionaries came, with their cultural imperialism in tow, they suppressed throat singing. It looks like I wasn’t the only one raised to be suspicious of that which is different. I learned, however, of my own cultural biases. I learned that ones’ own assumptions must be interrogated. If humanity is to survive, we must learn to try to understand one another.
Although the actual roots of throat singing are lost in unwritten times, I strongly suspect it has a religious, or if you prefer, spiritual, origin. When women gather it isn’t the same as when men consolidate power and institutionalize violence. I’ve read that when women rule there is a strong impulse to cooperate, to suppress aggression. Men can learn this. Indeed, as those white, male missionaries took up their positions in far-flung parts of the globe they spread the idea that men alone held the divine right of, if not kings, priests. Conversion, you see, is seldom gentle. Making the world in your own image, if you’re a man, runs into certain obvious problems right away. HU means human. When I feel the cold paranoia of my own government creeping up on me, I cue-up the soundtrack of my life. I’m no longer a young man, and I don’t fear the different as much as I used to. I need to hear something different, something human.