Between May 1956 and December 1958, John Blacking lived amongst the Venda of the Sibasa district of the Northern Transvaal, a lush, mountainous part of South Africa, directly south of Zimbabwe, which was then still called Rhodesia. During this period he documented the three phases of initiation for Venda girls: vhusha, tshikanda and domba. Though Blacking never produced a monograph based on this material, a four-part study he published in 1969, "Songs, Dance, Mimes and Symbolism of Venda Girls' Initiation Schools," in African Music, volume 28 (1-4), and several other independent articles of the same period provide detailed ethnographic descriptions of these institutions and of the expressive repertoire used in them. While his analyses hint at some of the directions his later research would take, these early publications are more akin to highly systematised annotated inventories of primary field data. Few ethnomusicologists have left such a wealth of accessible material at the disposal of subsequent generations.
Throughout his life Blacking drew upon his original research to formulate many of his ideas about the crucial role of music and dance in human society. Based upon this material he participated in practically every debate that emerged in the field of ethomusicological theory and method, from formal analyses of Venda musical systems to such issues as the biological foundations of music, the anthropology of the body, the study of affect and emotion in music and dance, the political implications of musical performance, music education and many other themes. The aim of this Website/CD-Rom is not so much to outline the way in which the Venda material marked John Blacking's work as it is to re-present his data on girls' initiation schools in the spirit in which it was originally published: as an invitation for further analytical readings.
We enter the Venda girls' initiation schools through the general overview Blacking provided of them in his article "Movement, Dance, Music, and the Venda Girls' Initiation Cycle," which appeared in 1985c. This texts does not only furnish the most concise and vivid overall description of the initiation process in Blacking's publications, it also highlights many of the themes that came to dominate his work on music and dance. This text leads into the early ethnographies, in which each stage of the cycle is described in detail. The final section, 'Venda Music', draws on texts from Venda Children's Songs (1967c) and an article published in 1970 in Ethnomusicology, "Tonal Organization in the Music of Two Venda Initiation Schools." Each section of the Website/CD-Rom is richly illustrated with the wealth of recordings, photographs and film footage Blacking made during his field-work.
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