Indian Music Of The Pacific Northwest Coast - Side C

Collected and recorded by Dr. Ida Halpern
Introduction and notes by Dr. Ida Halpern
Ceremonial rites were strongly interwoven with religious and social functions. The Indian believed in a supreme being who was neither moral nor immoral. The source of both good and evil came from the same spirit. The great power did not mix with individuals; but the spirits of animals had the supernatural power to enter into, and disappear from, the bodies of medicine men, Hamatsas, dancers, and all participants in different ceremonial functions.
The Indian believed in a close contact with the world of nature. His relationship with the animal world was a personal one and could be improved by offering sacrifices and gifts. The animal world provided the Indian with food but there was no animosity between hunter and game; the animals permitted themselves to be killed in order to feed the Indian. In gratitude, therefore, the Indian prayed over the dead body of the animal. After a salmon had been eaten they cast away a bone, believed to regenerate the salmon. "If you killed a bear you just took the skin and threw back the soul."
The "Hamatsa" was a secret society composed of men who had come under the protection of the cannibal spirits. They were called Wild Men of the Woods (Hamatsa) and in their ceremonies were mistakenly referred to by white men as Cannibal Dancers. In their ceremonies, dances and songs were used extensively. The secret society, ascribed to the Kwakiutl, was held in highest esteem and given the greatest prestige within the tribe. One must first have the hereditary
right to belong, and beyond that, must be chosen and initiated. Every chief had to be a Hametsa, and the achievement was a rigorous and demanding ordeal.
An eligible young man was sent alone into the woods where he must stay for four years. (The time varied in different descriptions, sometimes as little as four months.) Then he was sought out and brought back. On his return he jumped at people and bit at them. Everybody pretended to be afraid. He then started to dance, getting wilder, and wilder.
The ceremony obliged him to dance around the house four times, and to climb the role four times. At his first appearance he wore nothing but parts of fir trees. At the second dance--the initiation--the Hamatsa wore a mask, like the head of a bird painted in strong colors, and growled instead of speaking because he had lost the power of speech through his long stay in the woods. The first part of the initiation was secret, the second part, public.
Sometimes there were women Hamatsa(s). The rank was hereditary and a woman, being the only daughter of a Hamatsa, had to abide by the rules and remain in the woods just as a man would have done.
There were three Hamatsa costumes
(1) a headdress with a long beak which opened and shut (see picture and song 1, side 3, Billy Assu, A14);
(2) no headdress, Hamatsa clad in cedar only, on naked body (see Song 3, Side 3, Stanley Hunt, 8); and
(3) the complete attire (see Song 4, Side 3-, Mungo Martin, 73).

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Hamatsa Song Billy Assu He gives the following explanation: "Fifty years last time. The Hamatsa must dance around four times the big house. He climbs up four times the Hamatsa pole to attract the people and make the poles away. When he first comes out he wears nothing but the fir tree. He must stay four years in the woods. People go there to round him up. He jumps down. Fifty feet. He runs away again. This is done to attain a higher standard among the people."

The dancer to this Hamatsa song wears a head dress with a very long beak.

Diminished steps. A very distinctive quality of timbre. Hand clapping. A great variety of diminished and augmented intervals within a small range, mainly diminished and augmented 2nds and minor 3rds. Ha mni--variation rise.
The same haunting melody goes up approximately a 2nd and then moves downward a 2nd (aprox.) and moves around mainly in microtones. The drumming (clapping hands) is a bit unusual and could be interpreted as an anapaest with a pause before the longer beat.

The flavor of this song is conveyed by a distinctive combination of intervals-- a 2nd somewhere between a major and minor 2nd, followed by a 3rd larger than a major 3rd but less than a 4th. Range: between a 4th and a 5th.

Mamai hem*
Ho is known
Wak see ta lis
All over the world.

*Hem is the place where the beak of the Hamatsa mask is being opened and closed.
Hamatsa Song Billy Assu Chief Assu together with WIKWLI SMMU (cousin) Owned originally by Jimmy Smith, Campbell River. QUO QUO DA CHA LAD.

Very close 2nd relationship. Melody moves in 2nds with one jump into the 4th and with an added 3rd. In repetition the added 2nd changes into a 3rd. Original phrase consists of two partial motifs, x, xl. y is a partial motif from x. The two part motif is repeated twice exactly, starting on an a-. Then follows motif x alone three times on raised tone a+. Then follows another rise to tone b, with melodic material x' and enlarged with new material.

Then follows original motif x which is repeated four times on tone b. Motif x' material in its enlarged form then follows in exact repetition (which might be interpreted as B). Then again A- another rise to c+ (consisting of x material in 3 repetitions.) On finishing with x' another rise to c sharp with material x and X'.

x,xt twice rises from - to + + (3 times).

X' is at first identical. Then a slight reduction. Then x' in enlarged form twice. Then x
four times, then rise from c+ to c sharp.

c+ rising to c sharp. Stated once.

Range: Major 6th. It begins on the tonic, ending a 5th below the tonic. Please note the logical statement of the first phrase, which begins on the tonic (a) and ends on the fifth (d) with the last statement of the same subject in raised position, c sharp, f sharp, the general direction of melodic movement is downwards. The form could be considered three part ABA.

A consists of the following sentence--main motif x (two bars) followed by a two bar extension of x called x' (forming the initial Phrase). This is repeated (x, x') and the sentence is concluded by x which appears 3 times.

B consists of x' plus more material, y. This is followed by main motif x repeated four times. Then appears x'y. Afterward x is repeated three times and then, finally, x'y. A reappears this time with x, x', repeated twice.

Within this frame there is the additional rise of pitch in the following pattern:

X,X' (tone a-) x (tone a+) 3 times (stated 3 times)

X' (rise to b) in enlarged form twice x 4 times, exactly x' in enlarged form twice.
repetition on c or c4

rise to c sharped once x, x' stated once

The song is introduced with syllables Ham-han-hamai ai-ai. One cannot call them meaningless syllables because they have a relationship to the song (e.g., Famai-hamatsa song). Typical falling pattern. Extended beats at end of phrase.

Range: 6th
Clapping of hands-rhythm--mostly iambic with occasional rests.
Ke ka kla am kli
They will be afraid
Sa sin min newk what
Little children
Om ja kla an kli
They will worship the Hamatsa
Glu gow la kas u
An he will get the supernatural power.
Hamatsa Song Stanley Hunt Hamatsa song belonging to Blunden Harbor, sung by Stanley Hunt (8) and explained by him. "That is the way it is. HIKELES-- good word-old man, when he comes out of the woods he jumps up on a pole--he is the first man of the olden days to be a Hamatsa. Hamatsa gives to his own tribe, but he doesn't know the words any more. HIKELES, old man from Blunden Harbor he knew how to make that song. It is the first Hamatsa in the world. Pole, when first come out of the bush. Dance. Got pole in the midst of the community. He climbs up on pole. Called HUMPS PIK. The word is in song. First man to be Hamatsa in olden days. Next verse--he gives the Hamatsa to all tribes who want it."

Tom Om Hit made the song. Augmented 2nd, microtonal effect predominates in tonal structure. It seems as if he produces his voice in a way different from some of the other singers. There is a similar quality in timbre between this song and that of Billy Assu (Al4)
Ha ma ha is sung in a natural voice-the rest in a differently produced voice, with the occasional interruption of ha. The special quality of this song is also based on the augmented and diminished intervals. A 2nd is diminished and then moves into approximately a minor 3rd. There is a beautiful legato effect, a smooth glide from tone to tone. Rhythm: Mainly without beating, although it appears sporadically with small even beats with the sticks.

Stanley Hunt was a true singer with a vibrating quality in his voice. For this song the dancer does not wear the beak mask and cedar attire.
1- Kás wa
2- Hims ba
3- Noo gwa im tla
4- Nu gwa am guwatla
1- Wonderful one
2- Would be the one to blow the Hamatsa whistle
3- It will be me
4- I am the one that's already the one.
Hamatsa Song Mungo Martin "HAMAM--first in set. Song belongs to CHO SAM TAS. He was a Hamatsa and this was his song. QUIQUAM tribe. He is dead now. He comes in and starts dancing at night time. He does this for four nights and every night he sings the same song. Every Hamatsa has four songs."

The Hamatsa is explained according to Mungo Martin:
"Before the Hamatsa comes out the drums are vibrating quickly. His wife has given him one Hamatsa song which she brings into the marriage. Mungo will give it to his sons. His wife inherited it from her uncle, Johnny Klaotsi, from Teina Island, which is fifty miles from Alert Bay. "The Hamatsa song, 'Mosquito'. This is an initiation song. Mosquitoes come from the ashes which are blown out of the chimney before the Hamatsa arrives. Therefore mosquito bites come from the Hamatsa. When the Hamatsa approaches, the chimney pipes are blowing. The smoke scares them away. The smoke has different colors with different meanings: white smoke, mountain goat, brown smoke, grizzly bear.
"After the spirit talks the Hamatsa is sometimes paralysed for two years. HAGHAQUA CANUSIWI. Whenever he tries to enter, the drums announce him. He tells about all the changes. The women and children in the villages are running about, announcing that the Hamatsa is here. There are feast songs for the Hamatsa. Nobody likes the Hamatsa.
A small Hamatsa accompanies him. Old people believed in small Hamatsa(s). It was called Hamasanos (small people).
"When the Hamatsa is dancing everybody is told to be quiet and to watch. One man stands up. There is no more talking. He wants to try to talk. The young man who is a Hamatsa cannot talk. Only an old man who is a Hamatsa can talk. He no longer swears, and he is not angry any more."

Melodically the song is in our tonal structure and rhythmically quite complex.

This Hamatsa song has a very rare 6-beat rhythm. Light staccato effects, along with a few text words, the syllables Hamai predominate. Melody has one phrase consisting of two parts; tonic predominant.

Ranget between a 5th and 6th. Intervals: 3rds. This could also be interpreted as a Cedar Bark dance performed in Cedar Bark dress. A woman may participate in this dance.
1- Kin kawa ya
2- Sus km wm so mut ta sus
3- Sus glaw la a sus

1- Why wonder
2- Things you think too small
3- On account of your magic touch.
Mourning Song Mungo Martin "It is sung when a chief dies. Mourning rite is four days long. For three days after the chief dies all the people go in. In three days he tried to get everybody together for singing. After four days everybody comes in to listen to the song, Three old songs and one new one. After crying song the potlatch song is sung-- women are dancing, sometimes Hamatsa, sometimes potlatch song. He is not in a better world.
"Each tribe has one mourning song performed in a specific order. Kwakiutl, Fort Rupert, sing first, Mamelilikala second, Nimpkish third and Wawitchis fourth.
"If one chief dies they come together and each tribe sings one song. The Kwakiutl- have a very song song, one hour long."
Indians are highly attuned to the world of spirits. Everything has an emotional concept. There is a reluctance to mention the names of deceased people. When the names of dead persons have not been given to other persons evil can come from mentioning them. If the names are bestowed again it is all right to speak them.
The Indian is a fatalist. He has little concern for the afterlife. Therefore his prayers are for blessing in this life, not the life hereafter. Mungo Martin did not want to sing Mourning or Ghost songs at an inappropriate time. Song 5 is a Kwakiutl Chief Mourning song.

Mungo Martin said "Comox first, Cape Mudge. Bella Coola Indiana. Bella bella once. Quinquam. In the mourning song he tells how many potlatches the chief gave, 6 times one tribe, 3 tribes, West Coast Nootka. Other tribes give potlatch then for the dead chief and tell how many other potlatches he gave. If a chief dies his son orders mourning."

Some singing on syllables--only one recitative with spoken words.
Sustained note in embroidered by a melodic turn in our sense. Noticeable raising in pitch of the same melodic material. The first main melodic phrase begins with stick beating. Then Mrs. Mungo Martin joins in. Beating continues, sustained notes are repeated and embroidered. Legato effect from sustained tone--tonic. Ends on high tone.

Ha ke ka ma nai
Na ne keiah
Lai maguala
Hajala ne
A na nai a nai
a nai naiya ya
a na naiya
a na nai

A-na-nai are the most predominant syllables besides the text. Ana nai means I am hurt. Anana = hurt (expression of hurt). Ananai comes from the word "anana" which means hurt.

Melody falling segmented, first part includes leaps of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Second part, leaps of the 3rd and 4th only.

Recitative is on a high note. The song ends on a high note, spoken.

Range: 7th. Intervals: 2nds, 3rds, 4ths.

1- A klus ta kele


2- Ga la de si
3- Tzi wi ga le sa
4- Cha gi ga mai ya
1- They will go beyond


2- The first one
3- To be known all over
4- The chief.
Woman Medicine Song Mary Wamiss The Indians used a song as a means of accomplishing definite results. Whenever they felt a limitation of their own human power they looked for superhuman help and found it in their songs. Singing was not a trivial matter. They used it when treating their sick people. Through the strength of a song the medicine man cured the people.
Medicine men correspond to our priests and physicians and acquired their mystic power through dreams and visions.
They used their songs to secure successes in war and the hunt and for everything which needed some supernatural power. This supernatural power, they believed, was in man as well as in nature. To become one with nature actually meant an infusion of power into one's being and the result was the creation of songs.
But the Indians were also realistic. They did not depend only on the power of their songs. When going into battle the warriors were rigidly trained for fighting although they never went without a medicine man, called Anon Alak.
A medicine bundle along with a song and a vision was believed to come from a guardian spirit and it was hereditary in the North. This practice was adopted from crests which had myths attached.
Billy Assu asserted that often women are doctors, that doctors cannot be killed, and that sometimes, they possess, the power to see into the future.
Mungo Martin tells of an old man who owned a Medicine sing-. "Over thirty years ago the old man who owns this song, he was hurt, he got the supernatural power telling him to sing that song and he got well. The supernatural man tells him what song to get well. The supernatural power asks him to tell him who made this world and he told him. After the supernatural came to him he knew he could make men well. Nobody could be a medicine man after smoking, or else that power was taken away."
The training of a medicine woman was quite rigid. "They take the girls, treat them to be dancers, close them up until they get into the state of mind where they are physically and mentally affected--quite hysterical." In doing so made them receptive to the supernatural power. (There is an analogy in African music, Ghana.)
Amongst the Kwakiutls the head of the various houses and clans maintained careful control at all public ceremonies. Medicine men of the Northwest Coast Indians never developed the powerful priesthood authority one finds in other levels of civilization.
They exercised their power by beating drums, shaking rattles, and mostly singing songs, helped along by amulets and charms.
Some tribes did not believe that the medicine power was hereditary but adhered to the individual who was endowed with the power of vision and dreams. These visions and dreams could be acquired as the "medicine bundles" by purchase, which, combined with fasting and predisposition of the individual, would ultimately make him a medicine man.

Concerning song 6: During Dr. Halpern's stay at the house of Chief Billy Assu and his wife, her hand became inflamed from clapping as she accompanied him in singing and beating. They called in the medicine woman, Mary Wamiss, a cousin of Billy Assu, and daughter of great Chief Wamiss. This was the song she used to heal Mrs. Assu.

The polarity relationship is between two notes a 3rd apart. Minor 2nd strongly evident with polarity between 3rds. There are two 3rds in succession. One might term them "triad". There are also 3rd and 2nd, giving a 4th feeling.

This is a rhapsodic piece with a very strong intensity at the ending-six long tones. The pulling out of the last six tones gives dramatic impact to the ending.
It appears that the medicine woman uses meaningful words throughout. The wail-like quality of the last six notes have a mysterious quality of incantation.
In the six long notes ending the song there are sustained accents on each note. The last two have glissandi downwards as well. Method of singing here is wailing.

Je je we we syllables

Mrs. Roberts, senior, was originally Mary Wanish, Billy Asouts cousin.

1- Wahk-ma-gin-na ner-i-ea-la
2- La gin ka ge la ka-la-au hela la gi klutl
1- Though I am concerned.
2- I am trying to kill the illness in you.
Ghost Song Mungo Martin When someone died, fear of his ghost was very strong. Therefore wakes were held and dirges were sung.
Amongst the Kwakiutl and Nootka it was customary to place the dead in wooden boxes high up in a tree, or else in a cave, or in the grounds.
Personal possessions were buried with him, burned, or given away at a potlatch. As a sign of grief, mourners cut their hair short or scratched their faces, and had to be ceremonially bathed to remove the influence of the ghost.
The West Coast Indians believed that the souls of the dead walked amongst them in their villages, unseen, and could enter and leave whomever they wished.
They also thought that a being died because his soul did not hold together his body.
When a man died his soul went to the souls of the salmon and when they died in the rivers, after spawning, their souls went home to the outside of the world.
They also believed that a soul never slept. During the day it stayed with man and kept watch over him but at night it left and went away. The sleeping person then dreamt of the place where his soul had gone. When daylight approached, the soul came back and sat on top of his head. If it went too far away and didn't get back in time the man was dead.
Mungo Martin adds that "at the dancing of a Ghost Song the dancer does not lift up her eyes. Head down. She only sees her hands. Blanket has pieces of hemlock bough stuck in, just as if she had been lying in the woods among branches."
According to Mungo, Song 7 is a very old Ghost song. HACHA MAMAI. Old people. He made this song for the potlatch of his brother. "I am going down-HIL CHEI SELA YOU. Ghost is going down dancing. His father's daughter was the woman dancer. It was a slow dance-with her own hair--dances alone. Ghost goes first, and she after him. There are only dances for four nights. Only some potlatches (Wintertime potlatches) have dances. Only some men know the story of the Ghost Song." Mungo does not know it anymore.

He begins with one beat, the jach ja hai ha mai mai ja hai. Both Ghost songs have the same rhythmic beat. It is a modified anapaest. After the two lighter metric beats there is a little rest and then the long strong beat. Often the first light one has an emphasis. This beat is interspersed with several even long beats.

Range: 6th. Intervals: 2nds, 3rds. The general meaning of this song is "We have been honored by the deceased person."

(In this song one has to realize the mourner in telling of the achievements which the dead person was doing for his family.)

1- Ta lak din we nu do
2- Le la isa la ju
3- Le la kwa la uk da va klotee da
4- Yo lach din nu'ch la ee sa la

1- We have been doing all the time
2- been taken around
3- so great was he we are afraid to mention their name.
4- We had been always going north.
Ghost Song Mungo Martin Blunden Harbor song. QUACHA tribe. HAMA MAA MET are the syllables. NAQUATA song.
Beating introduces the recitative which begins in a low-medium speaking voice.

Ja ha mai ja ha ha mai
Ja ha ha hai tsonooua

The recitative has its own metric rhythm in which a pause is combined with the modified anapaest. Parallel rhythm. In this melody there is, a "perpetual mobile" quality. Because it doesn't end on the expected final note but on one higher, it gives the impression of continuation. There are many repetitions with smal1 tonal variations.

Intervals: 2nds and 3rds.
1- Lak das sa la uk din much
2- La la wa kluse da tsa tsa ka la yuse da
3- Jacha an nei'
1- We were taken (or traveled) from place to place (We traveled from place to place means potlatching)
2- Always having (tsa ka) a potlatch
3- (crying words based on Anana (hurt).