Before any major hunt the women of the family group will sing "yelli". This they will do in the early morning before dawn and while the men and children are in their huts. One voice starts - a beautiful, haunting melody reverberating through the trees. After a few minutes another voice joins in, then another. Each voice will sing their own repeating melody, each one with its own rhythm and cycle, and yet all of them sitting together as one song composed of magical polyphonic harmonies that carry far into the forest, blending in with the unending night-time songs of the insects.

LISTEN to yelli from album Heart of the Forest

Since returning to England we have heard several explanations of "yelli", that it enchants the animals or that it makes them weak and easy prey for the hunters' spears. Mokoloba was the leading hunter in the family group where we were staying. He was being prepared for the hunt one night by Dhaweh, the eldest of the sisters who formed the core of the family group. He had been given some kind of plant drug and that night "yelli" was sung. He told us that the singing would draw the animals back to our camp and that in two days time there would be meat to eat.

Sure enough the next morning the children were catching lots of fish in the river and later in the day a family of monkeys (the first we had seen in that part of the forest) moved into a tall tree right next to the camp. The next day Mokoloba arrived with a large deer, enough meat for everyone to eat well. So whatever the explanation the singing of the "yelli" resulted in the success of the hunt just as we had been told it would. The women are held in a certain amount of awe by the men who understand that the singing of "yelli" is just as important a part of the hunt as the setting of snares and the throwing of spears.

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