I want to tell you my favourite definition of ‘soul’: it is the ‘seed of singing’, etai-eken in the Dani and Lani languages spoken in the West Papuan highlands.

The seed of singing.

Some scientists now believe that we humans sang before we spoke; it is an exquisite idea. So important is singing that in some spiritual traditions, the world was sung into being: Om was the ‘seed syllable’ that created the world.

West Papua is resonant with song. Everyone is a singer. Some years ago, I visited West Papua for my book Wild. I spent weeks crossing part of the Highlands with local people who sang day ...


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