Music Of The American Indian: Apache

From the Archive Of Folk Culture

Recorded and Edited by Willard Rhodes
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L42
Through the popular media of the movies, television, and magazines, Apache Indians have been given much publicity. Unfortunately, they have often been represented as the bad men. In fact, their conflict with the United States Government was over the defense of land which they had claimed as their own since the eleventh century A.D. and over their unwillingness to give up their way of life and be settled on reservations. The Apache resisted the government's attempt to turn them into farmers, and there where numerous bloody encounters with the infantry, cavalry, and scouts of the United States.

Foremost among those who resisted the government forces was Geronimo, whose band consisted not only of warriors but of women and children who were trained to evade the enemy. After almost twenty years of resistance, Geronimo surrendered to General Miles in 1886. He and his band were sent to Florida, where they remained until 1894 when they were transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. They were held as prisoners of war in Fort Sill until 1913.

Sometime after 1,000 A.D., nomadic bands of Indians, speaking a language described as Athapaskan, trekked south from Western Canada into the area of the Southwest which they now occupy. As to the route that they took or the years spent on the journey, one can only conjecture, but by 1700 many of the pueblos along the Rio Grande were abandoned for fear of them.

At the time the Navajo and Apache were undifferentiated. Except for differences of dialect, they spoke the same language and shared an economy of hunting and food gathering. The Tewa pueblo people called the newcomers Apache, meaning stranger or enemy. Organized into small bands, the Apache roamed far end wide in their raiding forays and became quite independent from their cousins, the Navajo, whose name was derived from apache de nabahu, meaning enemies of the cultivated fields.

Unlike the Navajo, who, despite their early raids, developed an economy based on sheep and agriculture, the Apache continued their raids on Indian communities, Mexicans, and white settlers. Warfare and hunting served as an interesting occupation for some groups.

Today the Apache live on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, where they are grouped by Athapaskan dialects. To east are the Jicarilla, Mescalero, Chiricahua, and Lipan. To the west are the White Mountain, Cibecue, San Carlos, Southern Tonto, and Northern Tonto. An April 1977 estimate of resident Indian population by state and reservations numbered the Apache at 18,686, much fewer than the Navajo.

Before being settled on reservations, the various bands led a simple life. Men followed the wild animals in their hunting, and the women planted gardens of corn, beans, and squash. While older women tended the crops, younger women looked for mesquite, screw beans, acorns, or wild green vegetable. Cooked mescal, cactus fruit, and sprouted maize were used to make a fermented beer called tulpai.

There houses were dome-shaped, brush wickiups, which were easily set up, moved, and reassembled as they traveled from one place to another. The women became expert basket makers, and their decorative baskets are considered among the finest Indian baskets both in design and craftsmanship.

Like the Navajo, the Apache were matrilineal, with clans traced through the mothers. Their social organization took the form of bands under the leadership of a chief who was chosen by the local group for his wisdom and generosity. Under him were the headmen of family groups.

Their ceremonial life is comparable to that of the Navajo but less elaborate. Ceremonies last from one to four days and include myths, procedures, and sand painting performed under the direction of a shaman for the health and protection of crops. These "medicine men" still have their role in the community, although the modern hospital and Christian churches have reduced their activities.


The music of the Apache is similar to the music of their Navajo cousins in that the melodies tend to follow a triadic pattern, but the structural organization of the music is even more distinct and diagnostic. Each song opens with a short refrain that repeats itself throughout in alternation with changed phrases of text of variable lengths. the texts are generally chanted on two tones a minor third apart, occasionally a fourth apart. The constant rhythmic repetition of this formula gives the songs hypnotic effect.

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Native Words



Crown Dance Song The Crown Dance songs follow the pattern outlined above. The Crown Dance is danced by a group of men who impersonate the gods, much like the kachinas of the Pueblos. The dancers are colorfully costumed and masked, and wear an elaborate headdress known as a tablita. They have been referred to by whites as "Devil Dancers," but their mission is to offer blessings to the people. A clown accompanies the dancer to provide entertainment for the audience.

These two examples of the Crown Dance form are sung by Macklin Palmer with Andrew Palmer and Stanky Paxcon at White River, Arizona, in 1951.
Refrain: The Beginning of Life

I came to the spruce pine tree
With its feathery top.
There the Black Crown dancers
Prayed in the four directions.

Four spruce pine trees are praying
To the black pine to the East,
To the West,
To the four Crown dancers,
Then to the East where
The sun rises.

They are praying to the
Top of the spruce pine trees.
Black in the East,
Blue in the South,
Yellow in the West,
White in the North,
Lighting shoots from
The dancers' tabletas.
The Crown dancers pray
And I pray also.
We all pray together.

I came to the Crown dancers.
There were four different feathers
With which I prayed.
There was a noise in the East
Where the sung rises, and the earth.
I prayed with the four holy feathers.
Crown Dance Song Refrain: Voices are all around

In the four directions we pray
To the mountain in the East.
With the four holy feathers of the
Crown dancers I pray.
The Crown dancers' voices are
in the heaven and on the earth.

With the four holy feathers
The tabletas of the Crown dancers
Become alive with lighting.
In the four directions are
Prayers of the Crown dancers.

I came around the mountain
In the East were the
Crown dancers are praying.
With the lightning tabletas
Life takes its forms on the earth.
Sunrise Dance Song The soloist's rhythmic recitative style makes this genre a vehicle for poetic texts. Syllables on a repeated tone are spoken to the quarter-note beat of a drum and a bell-like rattle.

This texture alternates with a refrain by the soloist and accompanist. Sunrise Dance is another name for the Girls' Puberty Rite, which is described at length in the notes that follow.
Refrain: The Sun is rising.

I'm going to the Sun
And I'll be praying there.
Four different metals he showed
And he blew upon the earth.
I'm going to the Sun.
There are four different cactuses.
That's where I'm going.
To the Sun, the Center of the Universe.

There were four little ways,
No matter how,
The four whirlwinds and
The four knives, going
To the Sun.
It is from the Sun that light comes.
I pray to the daughter of the Sun.

No matter how the world is
The four whirlwinds and the
Four knives.
I Pray to the Sun.
I'm going to the Sun.
I pray to the ceremonial girl.

There are four directions.
I'm praying to the Sun.
I'm going to the mountain in the East.
On its top there was black
I'm going to the Sun.
Sunrise Dance Song Apache
Love Song Songs in this category are distinguished by their lyricism and by the intimacy of thought and emotion they express. The words rarely consist of more than a simple statement that is broken into two or three phrases and repeated over and over. But to the singer and the person to whom the song is addressed there is an inner meaning not apparent in the words themselves. The circumstances and situation attending the making of the song, the emotional relationship between the singer and the subject, memories, and associations shed an aura of warmth and feeling on the love songs.

The Apache violin played on band A5 by Clarence Peaches is unique among the musical instruments of the Indians of North America. It is made of a hollowed out mescal stock, rarely more than two feet in length, played with a bow strung with rosined horsehair. The sound produced is rather raucous and squeaky, and the intervals at best are a vague approximation of those of the song when it is sun. The repertoire consists of tulpai drinking songs. Professor McAllester reports, "The Apache also make a whistle flute of river cane with three stops which usually produce notes approximating do-mi-fa-sol of the European scale. Brief melodies on those notes are repeated over and over with a breathy quavering technique. Flutes and flute-playing are associated with love and magic." These recordings were made at Cibecue, Arizona, in 1951.
Love Song Apache
Fire Dance Song Sam Haozous, Blossom Haozous Like the Sunrise Dance songs above (A3, A4), this genre displays an alternation between the soloist's rhythmic declamation of the text and a sung texture in which the soloist (Sam Haozous) is joined by an accompanist (Blossom Haozous). In this song there is drum (but not rattle) accompaniment. The selection was recorded at Apache, Oklahoma, in 1941. Apache
Moccasin Dance Song Game songs provide social entertainment and accompaniment to guessing games that are variously described as the moccasin game, shoe game, hand game, or stick game. They are played by two teams of individuals who sit in parallel lines facing each other. The object of the game is to guess in which moccasin or hand certain objects have bee hidden by the opposing team. Scores are kept with ticks which server as counters as they are moved from one side to the other as the game proceeds. Apache
Moccasin Dance Song Apache
Moccasin Dance Song Apache
Love Song This selection is described above in conjunction with two other love songs, A5 and A6. Apache
Song From The Girls' Puberty Rite The Apache Girls' Puberty Ceremony, traditionally a major ritual that benefits not only the pubescent celebrant but also the people who participate in its preparation and enactment, is less frequently performed today than it was in former times. The cost of hosting and feasting the multitude of people who are welcomed to this important even by the girl's family has contributed to the infrequency of the ceremony. However, the girl's family can count on the cooperation of clan relatives for help in sponsoring and financing the ceremony. Through the courtesy and with the help of Nelson Lupe, then chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribal Council, I was able to attend a Girls' Puberty Ceremony in Cibecue in 1952 and to record the songs presented here. The operation of recording the music did not allow the freedom of movement necessary for observing the visual details of the rite, and later attempts to study the ceremony with the shaman were unsuccessful. I am most grateful to Prof. Keith Basso, who has specialized in the study of the Cibecue, for allowing me to quote and paraphrase from pages 65 to 68 of his monograph, The Cibecue Apache (1970):

The object of the ceremony is to transform the pubescent girl into the mythological figure Changing Woman, whose power she retains for four days after the ceremony. Following an account of the preparations that proceed the ceremony and a description of its setting, Dr. Basso proceeds to an analysis of the rite in which the Cibecue Apache recognize eight distinct phases. A summary of the eight phases follows:
Phase I–"Alone She Dances." Throughout this phase the girl dances on the buckskin, bouncing lightly on one foot, then on the other, to the accompaniment of a chant with drum beat. By the end of phase I, Changing Woman's power has entered the girl's body, and she is instructed to pray to herself: "Long life, no trouble Changing Woman"

Phase II–"Changing Woman's impregnation by the Sun." The girl kneels on the buckskin, raises her hands to the shoulder level and, swaying from side to side, looks directly into the sun. The critical fact that she has menstruated for the first time is symbolized by her assumption of the posture in which Changing Woman underwent the same experience.

Phase III–"Lying." The girl is instructed by the medicine man to lie prone on the buckskin while her sponsor massages the muscles of her legs, back, arms, and shoulders. According to a medicine man, this is done "so she will grow up strong and in good shape and always be able to help at her camp and whenever her relatives need help."

Phase IV–"Can set, out she runs around it." Prior to the start of phase IV, the girl's cane is inserted in the ground about fifteen yards east of the buckskin. When the first chant begins the girl runs to the cane, circles it once, and runs back again. She is followed by her sponsor, who, after circling the cane, returns with it to the buckskin. This procedure is repeated during the three additional chants that comprise phase IV. At the start of each chant, the cane is placed further away from the buckskin, thereby increasing the distance the girl must run. Each of the four runs symbolizes a stage of life through which the girl has passed, or hopes to pass in the future. The first run represents infancy, the second is childhood and adolescence. The third symbolizes adulthood, and the fourth, which is the longest, is old age. Thus after completing the final run, the girl has symbolically passed through all the stages of life and is assured protection until she is very old.

Phase V–"Running." Phase V does not differ greatly from phase IV, and its alleged purpose is similar to that of phase III. The cane is set out to the east, and again the girl and her sponsor run to circle it. The cane is then placed to the south, then to the west, and finally to the north. This phase enables the girl to run with out getting fatigued.

Phase VI–"Candy, it is poured." The medicine man blesses the girl by sprinkling cattail pollen over her head, shoulder, and on the crook of her cane. He then picks up a basket filled with candy, corn kernels, and (usually) some coins. Standing on the buckskin, he pours these contents over her head. Following this, the male relatives pass through the crowd with cartons of candy and fruit, encouraging every one to reach in and take as much as he can.

Phase VII–"Blessing Her." During this phase the girl and her sponsor dance in place, while all adults who so desire line up before the buckskin and repeat for themselves the blessings that inaugurated phase VI. The significance of this is enormous, for anyone who blesses the girl may at the same time request the power of Changing Woman to grant him a personal wish.

Phase VIII–"Throwing them off." The girl steps off the buckskin, picks it up with both hands, shakes it, then throws it toward the east. She then throws a blanket in each of the three other directions. The girl and her sponsor retire immediately, the crowd disperses, and the medicine man and his drummers leave the dance ground in search of shade and something to drink. As many as four hours may have passed since the ceremony began.

These two songs from the girls' puberty rite were recorded at Cibecue, Arizona, in 1951: Jame Humes was the song leader.
Refrain: I'm going to the Sun, going, going.

The light, the daughter of the Sun,
Comes from her.
I'm going to the Sun.
No matter how it is
I'm still going to the Sun.
On the other side of the Sun
There was black lighting from
The four directions and
Four whirlwinds came to the earth.

No matter how it is
I'm still going to the Sun;
Where the holy girl is praying
To the Sun.

There were four different cactuses
I don't want it, but no matter how
It is, I'm going to the Sun.
There are four different directions,

There were four cattails waving.
Song From The Girls' Puberty Rite Refrain: The leader is talking.

The blue is the Sun's home.
Inside a green bird was talking.
The green bird is the leader.
He is talking to the sun.

A girl is at home.
Inside a white bird was talking.
The white bird is the leader.
He is talking to the Sun.