Primitive Song – C.M. Bowra

Primitive Song
C.M. Bowra
World Publishing Company, 1963
284 pages

Since paleolithic cultures fascinate me, I was really excited about reading this book. The author uses anecdotes and information about modern hunter-gatherer cultures ranging from Eskimos to the Andamanese to Australian aborigines as a way of attempting to trace the roots and development of song. He weaves his theory with samples of song lyrics and his analysis thereof, and explains how day-to-day life in such a culture affects the role and subject material in songs. The material is well-balanced in this regard, and I felt that the author had really done his research thoroughly.

The book is a product of its time; while it’s not as heavily Euro-centric as some older (or even contemporary) anthropological texts, there’s still a subtle bias in the writing. Additionally, Bowra makes some assumptions about hunter-gatherer cultures across the board, though he does do a good job of trying to back his theories up with examples. And the writing style is rather dry; I found myself sometimes having to reread something because it simply didn’t register.

Still, overall it’s a good resource even despite its age. Anyone interested in paleolithic cultures, particularly paleopagan religions or music, may want to check this out. Those experimenting with shamanic techniques may also find material of interest here, particularly if song is a part of their practice.

Five pawprints out of five.

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