Songs Of The Cocopa

Recorded and Edited by Frances Densmore
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L24
Two distinct cultures are represented in this series of songs. The Yuma and Cocopa belong to a group of tribes known as the Yuman, whose early home was the valley of the Colorado River. On either side of the river are sandy stretches, high mesa rims and barren mountains, while beyond is an expanse of arid desert. This geographical region shut in the tribes of the Colorado River and made them a unit, so that their culture, or civilization, is different from that of the Pueblo or the tribes of California. This is seen in the form of their melodies, while the words of the songs often mention the crossing of high mountains. The Yaqui are the principal members of the Piman family of tribes living chiefly in Sonora and Sinaloa, Mexico. Certain groups of these Indians live in Arizona and carry on their old customs but are not enrolled as United States Indians. The study of these interesting tribes was made in connection with the writer's research in Indian music for the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution,* in 1922.
The Yuma Reservation is on the California side of the Colorado River, opposite the town of Yuma in Arizona. The United States Indian Agency and School are on a high promontory overlooking the river and are on the site of Fort Yuma which was established after California was acquired by the United States. The Yuma Indians were living in the region at the time but offered no resistance to the coming of the white man. The Cocopa live south of the Yuma, on the Colorado River, and the Mohave, the third member of the group, live above the Yuma on the river. The Mohave were included, to some extent, in the regional study but on none of their songs are in the present series. The river civilization comes to a sudden stop with the Mohave, and above their country is the Eldorado Canyon, a bend of the river, and vast gorge that culminates in the Grand Canyon.
The Yuma and Mohave songs were recorded near the Agency. In order to secure the Cocopa songs it was necessary to go to a small Cocopa village near the town of Somerton, in the extreme southwestern portion of Arizona. A few Cocopa from Mexico live in this village but are not enrolled as United States Indians. The Government maintains a day school for the children but since the school was not in session, it was possible to obtain living quarters and a place to record songs. It was necessary to take two interpreters from Yuma, as none was available who could speak English, Yum and Cocopa. Accordingly, Luke Homer went to translate English in Yuma, as none was available who could speak English, Yuma and Cocopa. Accordingly, Luke Homer went to translate English into Yuma and Nelson Rainbow translated the Yuma into Cocopa. Homer had interpreted during the recording of the Yuma songs and was familiar with the writer's method of work, and Rainbow had recorded two songs, so he knew what was expected from a singer. Throughout this difficult trip the writer had the companionship of her sister, Margaret Densmore.
The Yaqui songs were recorded at Guadalupe Village, not far from Phoenix, Arizona. I went to this small village, from Phoenix, almost daily during the week preceding Easter, 1922, and witnessed the native celebration of holy week. On the day before Easter a performance was enacted in which the Deer dance was an important feature. A portion of the songs were recorded the day after Easter by Juan Ariwares who led the dance, and several are included in the present series. Two other Yaqui recorded their songs, which show Mexican influence.
More than 160 Yuman and Yaqui songs were recorded but only 130 were transcribed. The remainder were studied and found to contain the same peculiarities. The most important songs of both groups are in cycles, some with dancing and some without dancing. Such cycles of songs embody and preserve the traditions of the tribes.
A peculiar musical custom was found among the Yuma, Cocopa and Yaqui which has not been noted elsewhere. This custom consisted in a brief pause between the first and second periods, or sections, of the melody. The singers said there was no prescribed length of this pause and in the renditions it corresponds to only a few units of the tempo. In these songs the first melodic period is long and its phrases are sometimes repeated in irregular order. The second period begins in a different rhythm and is short, often containing tones that do not occur in the first period. This peculiarity occurs in the following songs of this series - A1 Yuma), A9, A10 (Yaqui); and A11, A12, A13, A14 (Cocopa).

* Densmore, Frances. Yuman and Yaqui Music, Bull. 110, Bur. Amer. Ethnol. 1932

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Native Words



Song In The Early Evening Numa'wåsoå't COCOPA BIRD DANCE SONGS

The Cocopa songs, as stated in the Introduction, were recorded in a small Cocopa village near Somerton in the extreme southwestern portion of Arizona. The songs of this dance were recorded by Numa'wåsoå't, a middle-aged member of the tribe who learned them when acting as a "helper" to the leading singer. In order to secure his services, a Cocopa name Frank Tehanna traveled many miles on horseback, explained the writer's work, and asked him to come to the Cocopa village and record songs. At first Numa'wåsoå't hesitated, but his objections were overcome by Tehanna and he came to the village where he recorded 11 songs of this dance. Five of his songs are presented. the words were not translated.
Numa'wåsoå't said that when acting as a leader of the singers he was seated and usually had two helpers on either side. He and each of the helpers had a gourd rattle with which they accompanied the songs. The dancers were young women, from one to five in number. They stood in a row facing the singers, and when dancing they moved backward and forward a distance of about fifteen feet. As in other Yuman dances, each part of the night had its own songs and the singing began softly, gradually increasing in volume as the night progressed.
Song At About Midnight (a) Numa'wåsoå't The next song contains more ascending than descending intervals, a peculiarity noted with some frequency in Yuma and Cocopa songs but seldom heard in songs of other tribes. The syncopations in this melody are interesting, also the short rests which give crispness to the melody. Cocopa
Song At About Midnight (b) Numa'wåsoå't The next song progresses chiefly by whole tones which comprise about two-thirds of the intervals. Cocopa
Song Concerning The Diver Numa'wåsoå't Next is one of the songs that are sung in the early morning. It was followed by a song concerning the Pleiades. Cocopa
Song In Early Morning Numa'wåsoå't Two additional songs of the early morning were recorded, only one being presented. Cocopa

The meaning of the name of this dance was not ascertained. It was danced by unmarried girls and men, usually five to seven in number. There were more singers than in the Bird dance, the leader often having three or four men on either side, each with a gourd rattle. At first they were all seated, the singers in a row and the dancers facing them. When all was ready they sprang to their feet, the singers advancing and pushing the line of dancers backward. The distance thus traversed varied according to the wish of the singers and might be a few feet or a longer distance. In its action the dance resembles the Bear dance of the Northern Ute, songs of which are contained in long-playing record L25 of this series.
The songs of this dance were recorded by a young man known as Mike Barley who spoke no English and hesitated to sing the songs in the daytime. He said that he inherited them from his grandfather. The series required an entire night for its rendition, each part of the night having its own songs, but there was no narrative connected with it, the series being only for dancing. The words were in the "old language," and the first songs of the series were said to mention the evening and certain animals and insects, but beyond this the meaning of the words was not known.
In general character the songs of this dance are different from those of the Bird dance. They are spirited and the rhythm is more decided. Six songs of the dance were recorded by Barley but only one is presented. This melody has a compass of four tones and progresses chiefly by whole tones. The lowest tone of the compass is strongly accented.

The translation of this legend and the words of the songs was made possible by the cooperation of two interpreters, Nelson Rainbow translating the Cocopa into Yuma, and Luke Homer translating the Yuma into English. Only one Cocopa knew these songs and, after some persuasion, he consented to sing them. This singer is known by the English name Clam, a name which he received when he lived by the sea in Mexico. The songs were accompanied by the shaking of a rattle and the words were in an obsolete language, the meaning of which was known only to the singer.
In explanation of the songs, it was said that in the beginning there were two beings who rose from the bottom of the earth. One caused light and created human beings, and the other was destructive. The songs here presented concern the death and cremation of the second who is referred to as Superman. Twelve of the songs were recorded by Clam, five being presented in this series. Each song was preceded by a brief description by the singer.

In the first song of this group the Superman denies that he is ill although he is in a serious condition. It was said, "In doing so he set an example for wise men to follow, and to this day such men will never admit they are sick, though they may be in a dying condition."
The Superman Speaks Clam Preceding the second song, Clam said, "At length the Superman grows drowsy, but rouses himself to express his love for his children. Cocopa
The Four Corners Of The Earth Clam Continuing his talk to this children, the Superman says, "As I have said before... I have in mind the four corners of the earth. Among these I may choose the place to which my spirit will go, but I have not yet chosen." Cocopa
Coyote Comes To The Cremation Of The Superman Clam The Superman died, and, as the fire of his cremation burned brightly, Coyote traveled toward the place. It was said that this coyote was "one of the very wild sort that no one ever sees." Cocopa
Coyote Makes A Request Clam Coyote joined the circle of animals that stood close together around the cremation fire. He said that he wanted to find a place where he could stand and cry with the others, but it was his plan to seize the heart of the Superman.

The later songs of the series related that Coyote seized the heart of the Superman, carried it to a mountain and ate it. He then became unconscious as the result of a powerful spell that was cast over him, and immediately afterward died. This accords with a similar legend of the Mohave related by Billie Poor, a Mohave living on the Yuma Reservation, who recorded two Mohave songs that are are sung preceding the memorial ceremony in that tribe.