Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Song Lines

Ten years ago we traveled from Montreal to the Maritimes pretty much every month. We had regular workshops in several cities of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It often meant driving ten to fourteen hours in all kinds of weather. We literally had the pleasure of journeying through the Maritimes during every single season. One thing that we noticed is that we could basically divide the territory across Quebec and the Maritime Provinces just by impression. Everyone who traveled with us agreed that certain regions were heavier to handle than others. There was even some landscape that we called “vicious, angry and vengeful”. When we mentioned our experience to Maliseet, MicMac and Passamaquoddy elders they often confirmed us with stories which were handed down to them by great-grand-parents. What was fascinating is that the lines we identified across the land were often identical to the lines that were drawn by our First Nation ancestors. After a few years of recording our dreams, impressions and insights on the topic I couldn’t help but wonder if what we were experiencing wasn’t similar to what Aborigines in Australia call Song lines?

The idea of “song lines” can be found in many different cultures across the World. It’s not unlike the Medicine Wheel. The Celtic, the Eskimo, the Mayan people and even the Hebrew were said to be able to listen to the landscape. There are stories and legends even in Africa which suggest that people could detect knowledge from the landscape in order to survive. The beauty of Japan and the ancestral Japanese culture obviously also suggests that they too understood that the landscape told a story that could be heard and translated by man. I personally like the idea of creating a map of the World with words and sound. Maybe it’s the dreamer in me that picks up on the humming of the Earth and what it means?

The idea behind song lines is that people could capture with the help of song the impression of the land. Song lines were meant to be useful. They were meant to capture the events, feelings and experiences which had occurred in a particular territory; informing others of the signature of the land: The dangers, the assets, and the possible exchanges etc… Today we have traveling agents who can advise us where to travels according to the adventures we seek to experience. Still … I don’t know about you; but I get tired of seeing the World from a tourist point of view. What is inspiring about song lines is that they offer some deeper consciousness of Mother Earth and its inhabitants.

We tend to explain the different human languages, human cultures, human traditions, and human behaviours according to human sociology; but what if humans were influenced by nature and the stars; and humans simply manifested the story of Mother Earth? What if the Chinese language was somewhat influenced by the landscape. Could dialect, accents and different perspectives on pretty much anything that exists be influenced by the land we live on?

Don’t you remember wondering as a child why the home of your friends and family members smelt and felt differently than your own? If you could detect different impressions between your home and the home of others then, you can probably pick up on different impressions from people to people, cities to cities, provinces to provinces, country to country etc… If you wrote a poem, a song, or chose an image to represent these different feelings and stories then, you would be doing like our ancestors and manifesting a song line. Remember a song line is intimate knowledkge of the land. I brings people, places and events together in order for people to understand the region they visit.

This morning I was remembering the first few years of my life. I was born in 1965. For the first two years of my life I lived in a PSC, in Montreal. As I recalled the apartment building and the way it was divided I suddenly remembered the people who lived downstairs. They were a large family. For a moment, the souvenir allowed me to feel the times. 1967 – Expo in Montreal. There was a vibration of sorts that I could identify through the fashion, home decorations, and events of the times. For example the over sized, thick glasses the couple wore and the flowery, knee high dress my babysitter had one when she played with me in the back yard. The metal, out of ground pool, the metal shed, and the sedans helped me feel something that was completely different than what I felt when I had my children and our own wooden shed, our plastic out of ground pool and compact car. I moved through the dream slowly and picked up the details one by one. I suddenly remembered the park across the street with the steel monkey bars and the day my mom came home with my brother. I even remembered the day we moved away from the big city. These memories gave me access to a song line that I could only share if I put it into words and gave it a sound.

Everyone will agree that during Christmas time the music is often what allows us to get in the spirit of the holidays. Halloween sounds are very different than the love songs we listen to during Valentines or the Happy Birthday tune we sing during our birthday. Try interchanging this music and it feels weird. With this exercise you should get a step closer to understanding the idea behind song lines; except rather than identifying celebrations, it identifies places --- landscape.

For as long as I can remember PSC, in Montreal has always felt the same to me. It’s as if my childhood memories define this landscape. Today, PSC is nothing like the town I used to know as a toddler or even as a teenager visiting my grand-parents who lived and died there. Still ironically it attracts the same kind of people who have always lived in the area. The kind of people who are culturally and artistically devoted. It’s interesting to see that the land manifests still through the people the same kind of vibration I picked up on when I was a child.

What can you tell me about the land you live on? What are the song lines in your area?


Ally said...

I love this blog entry! My area sings of physical labor, it sings of making things, selling things, and shipping things. There is a "busy" sound to it, although that doesnt seem to manifest so much any more. Over the "tune" of all of this physical stuff, there is also a sort of "lazy day" tune here as well. I find a lot of conflicting songs here, and that is probably why my area IS conflicted. I wonder if it has always been this dis-harmonious. Knowing the history of my area, I'd be willing to bet that is true.

Wapeyit Malsom said...


Song lines are meant to also capture history.
Glad you picked up on that...


Anonymous said...

Not so much the songlines in my area i will comment on but to share with you that i have been reading a book recently called Gwion Gwion. It speaks of the Ngarinyin tribe in Australia and how they have fought ( and continue) to regain the lands that holds their history.
They have to prove that the land was once theirs. The ancestors of the Ngarinyin tribe have artwork that is painted upon the rocks surrounding the land...it speaks of the blood, the sacredness, the laws, the history and ancestry that is held within the land itself.

I am not sure if this connects with Songlines as such but as i read your words i was brought to this process.

Love lea

Anonymous said...

As for Wales..wow ... it brings up many things for me...ancestry is important here..there is a proud cultural love. Love of the land and of its heritage. A sense of unity...
i can feel it. I am drawn to it. I find it a powerful song that it sings, one song i wish to part of.

My grandmother speaks fondly of this land and i feel i can understand why.

Lulu said...

((((((ALLY)))))..I LOVE your picture


Juanita said...

I've often wondered about the connection we can have with a territory. I remember when I first landed in Costa Rica, years ago. I immediately was touched by the land...even on the busy freeway I could feel, smell and hear the land. It's like I could hear the land and the land could hear or recognized me. It felt like home. Other places, including Quebec, I found it more difficult to recognize the sound of the land...like I had to "train my ear" to pick up all the sounds. Even in Alberta, it took awhile for me to appreciate its sound, likely because I had heard the song of the prairie all my life and taken it for granted. It's interesting too because often when I am truly alone out in nature somewhere, I will be inspired to sing and I have often felt like I am singing to the land. Maybe I've been singing with the land :)

Wapeyit Malsom said...


It sounds like you've touched the experience of the Song Lines.

Sometimes we live through phenomenon that we can't explain. Often it's just because it can not be explained in Western society but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist and can't be confirmed somehow.

I love the excitement in your comment.
I'm glad you've found a confirmation.
Keep on singing and keep on exploring the Song Lines.