Banjo Origins: The Pleistocene

banjo hand

They say the banjo evolved here, like the horse & the cheetah, only to go extinct after the first influx of human immigrants. Siberian hunters would’ve known the use of a taut hide for calling ancestors, but add strings & perhaps the other world gets too familiar, like a mammoth looming out of the fog or a short-faced bear, the sudden bone knife of a moon — things best kept at arm’s length. Imagine calling hai ai ai & hearing plucked strings respond with a hee and a haw, dancers turning from a shuffle to a caribooted tap. Maybe the spirits started joining in instead of waiting for a properly trained shaman to come visit.

No one knows exactly why the first banjos died out, but unaccustomed to humans & our devious forms of disguise, the way we wear others’ skins & paint ourselves the color of life when we mean to kill, the banjos would’ve been easy prey, ripe for the picking. Picture that last & most furtive banjo, its store of songs incomprehensible to anyone but itself, how silence must’ve made it taciturn & given it the uncanny ability to hear, by pressing its one enormous ear to the earth, whatever might’ve been coming on the lone prairie.

Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

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