Indian Music Of The Pacific Northwest Coast - Side A

Collected and recorded by Dr. Ida Halpern
Introduction and notes by Dr. Ida Halpern

Totem poles are an art form characteristic of the tribes of the Northwest Coast in British Columbia and Southern Alaska. They are symbols of the social standing and achievement of the Indian nobility, demonstrating their power and affluence. They tell the story of personal accomplishment and historic events, and are comparable to the coats-of-arms in European civilization. The totem was the ancestral tree with figures and emblems of dozens of clans. Each figure had its own song. The Indians did not worship the poles nor did they consider the emblems on them as gods. They regarded them mainly as an historic remembrance, a status symbol. Each new crest added to the family tradition required a new song. Whenever a chief acquired a new distinction through war or marriage it was recorded on his totem pole and in new songs. The Indians adopted various birds and animals which, like their family crests, were sacred.
Often there was competition between crests. A person belonging to the phratry of any crest could go to any other village and be entitled to the protection of those of the same crest.
The Indians ascribed to the totem emblems the power of manifestation in either human or animal form. Because of this versatility the emblems were accepted, not as gods, but creatures with magical powers who could communicate with both the spirit and human worlds. Thus we find on some poles a human face embodied in the figure of an animal or bird. (See illustration.)
The carvers of these poles were great artists but were bound by tradition never to express themselves in free unrestrained form.
The most significant totems of the West Coast are the Wolf, the Raven, the Grizzly Bear, the Eagle and the Whale, but all these crests, once possessed by a family, become hereditary. They might be acquired through marriage, by conquest, or as a payment of debt. Kwakiutl poles express in highest dramatic form and with extraordinary skil1 those mythological figures they represent.
The origin of the totem pole is a matter for conjecture. Some claim it is of recent origin, native to British Columbia. Others point to the totems of New Zealand and of the Polynesians. Opposing viewpoints on the age of the totems are held by Marius Barbeau, who claims white man's influence, and by Wolfgang Paalen, who believes they are pre-white.
Undoubtedly the art of the totem is vanishing, although there are some attempts at rediscovery of ancient tools and media, as well as restoration, and some commissioning by universities, museums, and private individuals.
The pertinent fact, however, is that the golden age of the totem pole carving in British Columbia appears to have been between 1830 and 1880. Captain Vancouver reports having seen some totem poles as early as the 1790's. But the exceeding vulnerability of the natural material, the great trees of the Western forest, must be taken into consideration.
However, we are not concerned here with the pros and cons of origin. We are concerned with the study of music, and this leads us to the conclusion that the totem poles are so deeply interwoven with mythology and with that organic rhythm which governs the Indian people, it seems doubtful that they would have suddenly come into being.
Past opinions have been based on mythology and customs. Now the added dimension of music gives cause for further consideration of the subject.

The Wolf-Alunem-Lord of the Land, symbol of cunning and wisdom.
The Wolf crest is identified with hunters. According to the Indian the souls of the hunters go to different places. The land hunter's soul goes to the home of the Wolf, the sea hunter's soul to the home of the Killer Whale. The Wolf represents the genius on land just as the Killer Whale represents the lord ship of the sea.
Sometimes the Wolf is considered the head chief of the mythical people in their faraway villages. He is always acknowledge as an ancestor who gives his descendants many supernatural powers and during the winter initiates new dancers into the dance.
On the totem pole the Wolf can be distinguished by long slanting eyes, ears laid down backwards, many teeth, and an elevated nose.
The myth of the Nutlam sodality relates that originally Wolf spirits kidnapped the ancestors of certain extended families and that when these ancestors returned home they behaved like wolves, killing dogs when angered. This was a definitive act of the Nutlam associates.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Wolf Song Billy Assu Chief Asou owned this song. "It was the song of WE-WAI-KAI. WE-KAI was the first man of Cape Mudge. Married a woman of the Nootka tribe. Nootka tribe is a Wolf tribe. You only acquire these by heritage or through marriage.
"Many people had this Wolf song. Many tribes have it.
"WE-KAI is known all over the country. He made a rope and predicted a flood. He wanted to survive and made provisions. A boat to survive. One boat six thousand years ago. The ones tied to his boat survived. Some drifted away but still speak the language. We-KAI had many wives in order to get the crests and songs. You give a great potlatch and divorce the woman. They dance to these songs with the mask. Twenty women with masks. The women dance in rhythm with the tune. Wolf recognized people. No other people could talk back to Wolves. WE-KAI shows the people that he married a woman of fine rank."
Instruments-hand-clapping. At the beginning there is no clapping. Melody consists of 2nds and 3rds, sometimes two 3rds in succession and an augmented 5th. The syllables je hi hi are characteristic of the Wolf song and are sunq to minor 2nds with beating. The sparse hand-clapping, is in the iambic form:
Tense rhythmic even beats in the section je hi hi in the middle of the song. Nasal quality, forcing tone. Range: about an octave. Intervals, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, and 6ths. Jump into 5th or 6th. Song in several sections, melodic line descending. Text: Je hi hi he hi hi twice.
The melodic tones are not in our system. Sometimes they are raised or lowered to a
small degree-microtonal.
Danced with the thumbs up He he ji (They go down on the floor while these meaningless syllables are sung.)
He jo he he
Ji ha ha i ha ha ji
Wa ka gin ko ko kelah
I am rocking from side to side
Ise lah in wa uk
With those are dancing with me
Gel sa kolah
I was first made to say
wa la sala ju qin
I was made great
Que os oguala
There is no other (than me)
Wa la sa lekua glugwalah
(this one pertains to spiritual greatness)
Spiritual power made great
(Literal translation-grea.t made, often used in Indian songs)
Gal sa Kwlah i juh tla
First to be mentioned
Billy Assu represents the Southern Kwakiutl while the next singer, Mungo Martin, is a Northern Kwakiutl. According to the informant, Mrs. Stanley is a Southern Kwakiutl, the Northern have the more proper pronunciation than the southern whose words are shortened.
Wolf Song Mungo Martin According to Chief Mungo Martin the Wolf Society was powerful and important. There were Wolf dances and Wolf songs.
In the Bella Coola tribe only women were allowed to sing. "Man just sings a little bit." In some dances women dance and men sing with the Wolf mask.
Not long ago there were forty old Wolf songs. Om-hit, an older song-maker and chief, knew ten of them. Mungo only knew eight. They were sung before the white man came.

"Nobody makes Wolf songs now. People gradually sing them less and less. Kwakiutl and Kimkit had Wolf songs. At one time they danced around counterclockwise. If they went the other way they were thrown out since it was not allowed.
Only the men who possessed the Wolf power were allowed to sing the songs.
Quiquit Indians had another Wolf dance.
Sometimes he (Mungo) used to get a coast singer LAS TOL to help sing with him.
The Kwakiutl got the Wolf dance from Fort Rupert.
One of the Wolf songs tells how the Big Wolf had lots of songs. Big Wolf came out of the woods in daytime. He points his finger the whole day towards the Quinquam, Quicha, and Kwakiutl. He stands the whole day until the sun comes out.
Big Wolf is WALASACRA A KMU and small Wolf is KLU KWAIA.
Long long ago the Wolf was said to have had one hundred drums, and now only a few. None of the informants knew what the Wolf song's characteristic ending syllable Ji Hi
actually meant.
This song is half Nootka, half Nimpkish, and Mungo says in the song "He is coming around, dancing."

Distinctive rapid loud drumming, excited. Then the voice with text comes in.
He a hi ha (might be considered meaningful syllables although usually referred to as meaningless)
When he begins singing, the text shows no beating.
He ha hi a, beating.
Text, no beating.
He ja hi a, beating

An interesting Pattern between syllables with exited quick beats, alternating several times with text without beating. The sound of beating comes from two wooden sticks beaten against each other. The similarities and differences with the previous song in beating are obvious. In small quick beating Assu does not accent them much while Mungo does, but in the same section responds to nonbeating in the other version and other singer. Text, meaningless syllables, the same characteristics in both Wolf songs.
Beating is the same in both-short, exciting. More obvious in Mungo Martin, gentler in Billy Assu-syllables alternate with scarce beating in Billy Assu while no beating at all in Mungo Martin when texts are sung.
Larger than a 5th but lowest note indeterminate. Intervals: 2nds, 3rds, 4ths Melodic line descending. Shape of song:
1st part-meaningless (?) syllables-beating- -musical phrase twice.
2nd part-text-no beating-musical phrase twice.
3rd part-syllables-beating-musical phrase twice.
4th part-text-no beating-musical phrase twice.
5th part-syllables-beating-musical phrase twice.
6th part-text-no beating-musical phrase twice.
7th part-sy11ables-beating,-musical phrase once.

The shortening of the last part with meaningless syllables seems to highlight the ending with its abruptness. Form is much more clearly defined than that of the former Wolf song of Billy Assu. The syllables JI HI are much less obvious than in the previous song. Once again the tones are not to be found in our tonal system.

Who kla-la in na so da-wholth ha wick-tda-ne si-tda
Those were always listening.
Na atl ki ney (words not known)
Ha ha un ya kow

The Grizzly Bear-a chief and warrior in myths-a powerful hunter.

The Indian name for the Grizzly Bear in Nootka and Kwakiutl is Na Na.
The emblem of the Grizzly Bear is very prominent on the totem pole. Might and power are ascribed to him. He knows how to fight and therefore can protect men from fear. As Mungo Martin said: "Sometimes a boy or man is frightened for no reason. He is afraid of a whistle or a ghost but the Grizzly Bear song helps him to fight fearlessly."
For as many as three thousand years (the Indians claim) the Grizzly Bear has been the tribal peacemaker. They believe that his strength gave him the power to unite his own people and make peace with other tribes.
According to Billy Assu "The Grizzly Bear was once a human being. British Columbia Indians have Grizzly Bear masks.
Grizzly Bear signifies the peacemaker. Because he is strong he has the power behind him. He made the people solid and united them."
On the totem pole the Grizzly Bear can be distinguished by a round eye, large paws and claws, large mouth set with teeth, protruding tongue, large round nose and a sudden turn from snout to forehead.
All Grizzly Bear songs or dances are from the Ki tsuk-aht tribe. The Nootka did not own them but originally acquired them from the Ki tsuk-aht.
To the native Americans and Siberians the Bear is not only an animal but also a spirit: and stands above man-a semidivinity, higher than all the other spirits. The center of diffusion for such a belief could be Asia, not America, and there may be a hidden or symbolic meaning behind their related observances and rituals.

Bear ceremonialism is explained, at least in part of its area of diffusion, by the native story or myth of the young Indian woman who was once changed into a bear and bore twin cubs. This tale, insofar as we know it, belongs to the Tsimshian, the Haida, the Tlingit, and other neighboring tribes of the North Pacific Coast and Northern Rockies of America. The bears concerned are grizzlies.
Grizzly Bear Song 1 Fred Louie and Ella Thompson According to a Nootka informant, George Clutesi, the Grizzly Bear songs of Fred Louie are in the Kitsut-aht language. His directions are "sing it again, repeat, say this."

Verse 1 contains only these directions in the opening bars reminding the singer of the words. Fred Louie himself said "Grizzly Bear Dance. Nootka, Mutsuk. Finally handed down to our tribe. Made by one of the biggest chiefs of our family where we beloneed once. Ucluelet tribe. Eighty songs. Only remember a few. HI-MI-KITSEM, Grizzly and Wolf. Know from my father's song. Very important."

One drumbeat before song, Hai hai hu. Then small drumbeats (tremolo style). One drum and sticks used. The drum is used as an introduction in a soft tremolo, followed by the small sticks in quick regular beats which overshadow it. The two singers join in parallel motion, a 5th or a 3rd apart. Hei-hei-hu. Syllables followed by the text on a one-note description. It is a recitative on one note with a few notes added-4th, 5th, and 2nd.
Next Hei-hei-hu
Three last long notes sustained and accented with simultaneous drumbeats. Interesting to note that the rhythm of the drum is distinctly different from that of the sticks and both differ from the rhythm of the melodic line.

Three parts
melody-2 singers in parallel rhythmic movement, a 3rd to a 5th apart. This can be
interpreted as polyrhythm. At the same time a distinct beginning of polyphony. It is sung in unison by male and female. The intervals used do not create an interesting melodic pattern. The melody doesn't move forward with many interval changes. There in a recitative, mainly on one note, but also sporadically moving to other intervals, a 2nd, a 4th, and a 5th.
Grizzly Bear Song 2 Fred Louie and Ella Thompson 2. Hai-ai-ai
Starts with singing and seems to be the Grizzly Bear sound. Here again in a good example of the rare polyphony among the Pacific Northwest Coast Indians. The melodic pattern is quite complicated in contrast to the previous Grizzly Bear Song.
Descending, melody
Again drums and sticks. Now the drums are more important than the sticks. In the middle in a recitative without any accompaniment of drums or sticks. They gain importance later on when they mark the end with an intense iambic beat. ( U - ). We have the same distinct rhythmic drumbeats-iambic- in the middle section.
Rhythmic pattern:
1. plain rhythmic beating
2. iambic
3. recitative-no beating
4. plain rhythmic beating and then at the end, iambic beating.
The form is that of two strophic parts. Part one has plain even rhythmic beats and a
strong accented ending (iambic) with the drum.
Part two in an abridged repetition of the first with a like ending. a:b (recitative) :a Text appears to be a mixture of syllables and words
Grizzly Bear Song Fred Louie and Ella Thompson 3. He starts with na na
This is a very good example supporting the new point of view we took that we should not consider such syllables nonsensical or meaningless. They are part of the meaning of the song here-an abbreviation of the idea of the entire song. He begins with the voice singing, joined later by the drum in tremolo beats. Melody rises.
Intervals are 3rds and 2nds.
Range: a 4th
The first notes treated heterophonically, also pushing out of the important tones-third, fourth, ladderlike. The melodic line is kept in small steps,
ladderlike-3rds and 2nds.

First note in song's embroidery goes up about a second and below a third, where it gains momentum. Note the repetition on a rise. Text consists of many syllables and fewer words.

No translation could be obtained. The explanation given by informant George Clutesi was that there were educated Indians and not-too-educated ones. Only the educated ones knew the words. They are now lost.
Grizzly Bear Song 4 Mungo Martin "Sometimes a boy or man is scared for nothing. They are afraid of a whistle or a ghost. Because the ghost can cut off the scalp. Grizzly Bear knows how to fight."

It begins with the sounds, Hi Hu. Then comes a spoken recitative followed by a melody with strong accented beating in an iambic pattern ( U -)
Many interspersed recitatives. Melodic pattern in 2nds (c, c sharp) with a leap to a 5th below. Both the beginning and end lack stick beating in the recitative, while in between, twice, one hears recitative with beating accompaniment and singing. Singing is always accompanied with beating on long sustained notes. After two recitatives, the singer makes a deliberate complete pause, which is an interesting point. There arises a wavering between the two notes c and c sharp, and b and b flat, with a strong accent on the b flat.

Range is approximately a 6th and pitch is also approximate.
Intervals: 2nds and 5ths
Recitative: tone is rather high.
Singing: two people
Recitative: one person
Recitative: without beating
Recitative: with beating
Recitative: with beating
Last recitative: without beating

We have an interesting rhythmic pattern. A small iambic beat introduces and concludes the different strophes of unaccompanied and accompanied singing.
The singer is talking of the Grizzly Bear, describing his movements and moods.

Verse 1
Yes kee ga lee tla
You that will do it right away
Yek tso ta lise tla
And are angered everywhere

Verse 2
Gli ka la sa li kla
swimming along the beach
loo kom ga lis kla
Will be rolling around
Who wha ta li kla
Wrestling around
Tau da ka la au kle
He will be feared by people
Tse pa ma la su kle
People will hide their faces
Nan dzi-Big Grizzly Bear.
Raven Song 1 Mungo Martin THE RAVEN-GWAWINE-Cultural Hero Bringing Benefits to Men

The Raven is a cultural hero, subject of numerous legends which describe his super natural powers and inventions in the-world's early days-he liberated the daylight, invented fresh water and rivers, brought mason to his people, controlled the tide, gave fire to the world, and even supplied humor with pranks and tricks.
On the totem pole he can be distinguished by eyes with white in the center, wings optional and a long straight beak in contrast to the heavy down-carved beak of the eagle.
The Raven Cycle in the Pacific Northwest begins with the Raven's birth, either as the child of a faithless woman or as the unwanted nephew of a jealous uncle. The uncle is often identified as a powerful supernatural being controlling earth, sky, and oceans. He commanded that the Raven should become the culture hero bringing benefits to man. The Raven fought a contest of power in which he had to prove himself worthy of the task. In this way he acquired the supernatural power.
Numerous stories tell about the deeds of the Raven. Four important stories in the cycle are:
1. Raven's Journey in the Whale
2. Raven's Marriage to the Fog Woman who made the first Salmon
3. Raven's Journey to the Sky where he married the Sun's Daughter
4. Raven's Journey beneath the Sea, after which he told people how to utilize shellfish and mammals for food.

The Raven is held in high esteem by the Kwakiutl tribe. Nine different interpretations of his role can be found on Vancouver Island, alone, one of which specifies that "he would never tell a lie and could always recognize the truth."
Tales of the Raven are not confined to the Pacific Northwest Coast but also appear in the mythologies of other cultures.

"Raven is called GWAWIN. This song is over three hundred years old. It is from Gilford Island. QUI QUA SUTHANUCH (KWIKSITANEAU). No white men around then. Ravens are bad. Ravens fought the war."

Small beating begins. Then voice. Kama ka-kei (Raven sound).
One part solo singing without beating.
Kama Ka Kei with beating.
Recitative with beating.
Solo vocal part without beating.
Kama Ka kei with beating.
And then at the end recitative.
The syllables are of great interest. To mark the transitions between the recitative and the solo singing we have a change in beats from even quick beating to distinct slower iambic beats.
Strophic separation after the iambic beat. The singing begins with fast beating. Recitative is concluded with iambic beat followed by singing without beating. The note begins the beating with singing. Then the next part is introduced with the same iambic beat and is accompanied by quick even beating. At the conclusion we have again the one iambic beat. The next part is vocal singing without beating. Before the beating begins you have again introduction by iambic beat and then ending with the same iambic beat.
We have an interesting rhythmic pattern-a small iambic beat introduces and concludes the different strophes of singing accompanied and singing accompanied. Recitative throughout the song is on a higher level.
From the point of view of musical aesthetics this is an interesting song because we have here the two main factors of music aesthetics--unity and variety.
The so-called meaningless syllables are of importance. We have here two different ones-Hamai, which is connected with the Hamatsa or any other dance, and the Ka Kei (sometimes Ka Ka as in the next Raven song), which is connected with the Raven.

Recitative: on a higher note
Intervals: 2nds, 4ths, 3rds, 6ths
Range: slightly over an octave

The interval here as in Chief Assu gives importance to the minor 3rd prevailing the 3rd Pattern and rhythm not so complicated as in the following Raven songs. We find sliding into different intervals, c, c+, c++, c sharp.

He ga la tsa klin
Right away he goes.
Mus gka mai amch day
He traveled along with his goods for potlatch
Wa lel gkwa-la kla
There you nations
Kwa-wi-m nook la unts
We have a Raven
Na-la nook la uts
We are told we have the world
Na na la mas si
Watching over the world.
Raven Song 2 Billy Assu "Raven song is a very important thing." This man acquired the crest of the Raven. He said he in showing this power which is bigger than the others. He can give the powers of the others to feed the Raven (sarcasm). The Raven is in the crest of Chief Assu, as well as the crest of the Wolf. The Thunderbird was powerful and obtained the crest of the Raven because he was powerful.

The melodic quality of this Raven song is far from primitive, In it the man who has acquired the crest of the Raven boasts of his powers. He tells us they are so great by comparison with those of other humans that their meager power is no better than food for the Raven.

This is a complicated song as far as pitch is concerned. The sound of the note is best expressed by two adjoining notes. The ability to produce more than one note at a time is a frequent quality among the Kwakiutl and also the Nootka. The melodic pattern consists mainly of 2nds jumping into the 4th. There is a certain dominant, subdominant relationship-a pull between b and c flat, and later a sharp and f-. There are clusters in 2nds with an occasional jump into the 3rd or 4th. As far as pitch and melody are concerned there is a definite downward trend.

Tonic-d sharp
Second tone-b and a sharp seem of equal importance.
Minor 2nd of great importance, b to a, both in extended and in short note form. 4ths and 3rds are present but not as important as 2nds which move frequently up and down. With notes f sharp, d and e flat the playing around is very noticeable.

Intervals: 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, and 6ths, 2nds predominating. First presentation of the subject includes notes f sharp, c sharp, f and f-.
First motif consists of 2 parts, the second a contraction of part one.

Range: 6th
Original motif consists of two parts presented once. A connective is built up of fragments from the two parts. This occurs four times. It appears that the motif has distinctive syllables, and the connective built up melodically from a part of the motif has known words. Quite complicated tone material-much more advanced than previous song. Slurring of augmented step-e flat to f sharp-reminds one of oriental quality (Hebrew, Egyptian).
Beating quite scarce-starts without beating and carries on for a long time without beating. To end the strophe one handclap only. Again solo voice only when repetition sets in.

One handclap again. Second time a bit higher. Mainly higher pitch represents the variation*. Occasional leaving out of notes. Slight time change in repetition. The holding over 2nd and 3rd bar, beginning in the repetition. This time really only a repetition with slightly higher pitch.

Verse I
Gka gka represents the sound of the Raven.
La ams we la klá
You shall eat it all
Tlam kwa nawck klá
Glack ma di
You head person
Gi gwm máck dei
Chief before and now
Ha ma kás klá us
The food you shall have, wonderful one
Gwa we ney kás on
Raven wonderful one
Walas yala gelise kás de
Big things you shall do, wonderful one
Ta la ge lise
All things doing
La am we la na kla
You shall take it all
Dzi ga ma tse
Big chief

Verse 2
La ams we la nack klá
You shall take it all
Tlam ywa nask klá
Gla kuma dzi
Big chief
Gi gwmach dzi
Big chief
Ha má kas kluse
Food, you wonderful one
Gwa wi na gu kás
Raven wonderful one.
Raven Song 3 Billy Assu Owned by WA-KAS. No is recognized as head of allied tribe WEIKA. I am not just a
Raven of people. I am a servant of God. Some Indians could understand the language of the Raven bird. The Raven, they believe, could always tell the truth.
It is slightly different in melodic respect to A5. It begins with three distinct
microtones leading to the sustained note. The melody on repetition in on a rise.
Syllables Gka Gka are used extensively. There are four distinct melodic parts leading up to the last sustained note. Gka Gka is used at the most important melodic parts. The connective material between the molodies is sung with text. The song is finished with an iambic handclap beat. The tones which do not belong in our tonal system but employ microtones are particularly noticeable in this song.

Range: slightly over an octave
Intervals: 2nds, 3rds, possibly 4ths. Very much like A5 in tone material, same
tremolo on tones. Minor triad forms some musical material. Tentative tonic principle. Even if melody slides up it ends near the tonic. i.e. starting on f, ending on g flat.
E sin gwa we nu sila si da lil kwa
Gwa-we-nin klá sin ga ya am-ka-ká la sua
I am not the Raven for the people
I am the Raven for the worshiped one.