An Anthology of Papago Traditional Music v2

Volume 2

Canyon Records
Singers: Jose Pancho, Baptista Lopez, Mary Lopez, Eva Lopez. The singers, residents of Santa Rosa Village (kaij Mek), have been singing together for many years and are well known among the Papagos.
These songs, belonging to Jose Pancho who learned them from a cousin are believed to be extremely old. They are still frequently danced to by many.
The musics of the American Indians are many and varied. The songs of the Papagos and their relatives and neighbors, the Pimas, are perhaps the most unique in that they are not typical of the "stereotype" American Plains Indian musical style. There is a similarity to Plains music in the generally descending melodic contour found in most Papago songs. There is also a resemblance in the forms of both styles.

The Plains songs consist of two sections with the second an incomplete repetition of the first. Papago songs have only one section which is sung four times with the last two repetitions being incomplete versions of the original (omitting the initial phrase). The playing technique of the accompanying rattles or drums also changes for the last two repetitions. However, missing in the Papago song style is the harsh, nasal sound production, falsetto tones, and pulsations on notes of length found in the Plains style. Papago tone production is relatively relaxed resulting in a pure, unusually agreeable sound. Papago songs always contain a meaningful text. This author has heard only one song out of approximately 500 which contained any vocables and even in this song there was interspersed a meaningful text.

The instrument heard on this recording is a gourd rattle. However, the author has heard these same songs performed in different circumstances where a drum was used with the rattles. Papago rattles are made of gourds, normally procured in Mexico, which have several small desert pebbles placed inside to make the soft rattle sound. The two most frequent methods used by Papagos for shaking the rattle are heard on this recording. At the beginning of the songs (side 1) the rattle is moved in a circular fashion creating a continuous sound. Near the end of the second repetition, the movement is changed to an up-down stroke with an uneven rhythm. Occasionally the song is completed by returning to the original circular stroke for a few seconds. The Papago drum is a common household yucca basket which is inverted and struck with a stick or the hand. When heard playing these songs on a different occasion, the drum was struck softly for the first two repetitions and with more emphasis for the final two.

There has been little apparent change in Papago traditional songs resulting from direct contact with Anglos or other Indian tribes. Pima songs are almost identical in style (the Pima and Papago being close relatives) and there are some indications of borrowings from the Yaqui. But for the most part, the Papagos have succeeded in keeping their traditional musics separate from all other music surrounding them.


The Chelkona dance was traditionally a part of the intervillage games which provided a joyous social contact between Papago villages prior to the turn of the century. The eight songs of this dance were taught to Baptista Lopez by his father who dreamed them "a long time ago." The song texts tell the story of I'itoi, the Papago God, guiding the children from the Children's Shrine near Santa Rosa village around the land of hte Papagos.
The story begins with I'itoi coming from the East and looking over the Reservation. Everything is pretty and green. So he decides to come to the shrine and take the children out to show them how pretty the ocean (Gulf of California) is. I'itoi asks the children to "come and follow" and leads them by a crooked path to the ocean. There they see a lot of white birds flying over the water as if dancing. As they hover over the waves it looks to the children as if the birds are sitting on the water. There also are many "white geese" flying in the air making different kinds of designs as they fly.

Then I'itoi takes the children to a mountain near the ocean. There the four children enter a cave and the two girls make bracelets and necklaces of sea shells. They leave the cave shaking their wrists and making rattle sounds. At the "white-foam" mountain they again enter a cave and come our dancing with foam on their heads. At the last mountain I'itoi shows them how the wind whistles through the rocks to make them sound like a flute. Finally the children leave the ocean and mountains returning to Santa Rosa and the shrine. L'itoi then returns to the East from which he came.


The Keihina or traditional social dances of the Papago were usually round dances. Holding hands, the dancers moved in a circle around the singers who stood in the center. Frequently they would begin with eight songs which were danced by the leaders or "performing" dancers only. Following these songs, the round dance was open to all and would continue for hours – or for as long as people wanted to dance. The eight Keihina dance songs on this record are for all to dance and enjoy.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Green L'itoi (chehdag I'itoi) Under the mountain the song begins,
There I come to hear the songs and dance.
Children, Come Follow Me (oijkam ahpa) Papago
Ocean White Birds Papago
Geese Birds Papago
Black Mountain (chuk do'ag) Papago
White-Foam Mountain (totshagi do'ag) Papago
Whistling Mountain Papago
Going Back Song (uhpam wahkne'i) Papago
Wash Mountain (Aji do'ag) Papago
Low-laying Mountain The mountain stands toward the West,
And is covered with my songs.
Dome-shaped Mountain The swallow flies past the mountain,
Slowly and lowly singing this song,
With his head up in the air.
The Fields Of San Simon The swallow circles around the village,
Moving his feathers up and down.
Ajo Mountain The swallow is lost and flies back and forth
Along the ground near the Ajo mountains.
The Mountains Southwest Of Pisinimo The swallow, still lost, flies
Looking for a place to land
Whistling Mountain He recognizes the whistling mountain,
And there he may land.
The Flood (wi'indag) The swallow is crying as he finds out
All the land will be flooded.