Music Of The American Indians Of The Southwest

Ethnic Folkways Library FE 4420

Recorded in Indian Communities by Willard Rhodes, with the cooperation of the United States Office of Indian Affairs.
Introduction by Harry Tschopik, Jr. and notes by Willard Rhodes.

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Native Words



Taos Moonlight Song The music of Taos, northermost of the eastern Pueblos, is perhaps more homogenous than that of the western Pueblos. The influence of plains music is reflected in many songs, not only in the constituent features of the music itself but also in the manner of singing and vocal technique employed, Diagnostic elements long recognized as significant in identifying musical style. This is not surprising when one considers the geographical position of the Pueblo and the contact which the people of Taos have had with the Kiowa and other plains tribes.

On moonlit summer nights the young men gather on the bridges over the river which separates the two community houses and engage in song contests. The huge masses of the two Pueblos looming against an endless desert sky in the moonlight reflected from the babbling stream present a picturesque setting for these haunting melodies. The moonlight song reproduced here may be regarded as a serenade song with no other function than that of giving aesthetic pleasure to the singers and listeners through the sheer sensuous beauty of its melody. A song without words and without accompaniment, it offers the singers a challenging opportunity to revel in pure vocalism and virtuosity. Though the style of singing here is less dionysiac than that of much plains music it is certainly bolder and less restrained than that found in most Pueblo ceremonial music.
Taos Gambling Song Gambling songs, so widely diffused among the Indians of North America, are characterized by several features which seem to grow out of their functional nature and which constitute a song type and style that transcends the boundaries of tribes or culture areas. In these songs one notes the limited tonal material, short melodic and rhythmic units which are repeated without variation or development, syncopation of rhythm and a steady, recurring beat in the accompaniment. The gambling song recorded in Taos employs only three tones. Two phrases, almost identical, alternate throughout the song. Each phrase is six beats in length, representing an expansion of a basic four-beat unit since the fifth and sixth beats of each phrase repeat literally the material of the third and fourth beats.
San Ildefonso Eagle Dance To the American Indian the eagle was a sacred bird venerated for his supernatural power. The Eagle Dance, widely practiced among the Pueblos of the southwest, and now being copied by plains tribes, is reported to be part of an ancient ceremony relating to rain and crops. By some it is thought to be a fragment of an old ceremonial commemorating the saving of the Pueblos from plague through the intervention of the Eagle who with his wings fanned the breezes into rain clouds which descended and washed away the evil disease.

This mimetic dance is usually presented by two male dancers who with their graceful movements imitate the stepping, hopping, soaring lighting and mating of the male and female eagles. The feathered headgear simulating the eagle's head, the long feathered wings extending from the neck down the unbent arms of the dancer, combine with the body painting to give the dancers a beautiful and realistic appearance. The dance is accompanied by a chorus of singers with drum. The song opens with a slow introduction which serves the dancers for their entrance into the plaza. This is followed by section in slow tempo leading to a fast, spirited middle section and the eventual return to the slow section and its repetition. The musical form is that which in western European music is commonly called song form- ABAA with prefatory introduction.
Zuni Rain Dance Zuni has been described as the "dancingest" Pueblo of the southwest. This is one way of saying that in Zuni ceremonial life is highly organized and that throughout the year colorful ceremonies and dances follow one another in a sequence as ordered as the movement of the planets of the universe. The making of rain is the primary concern in Pueblo religions and most of the ceremonies are directed toward that objective. The rain dance presented here is characteristic of the more complex, elaborated musical style of the western Pueblos which has been noted by several authorities. The low-pitched, rich-voiced unisonal singing of the well rehearsed male chorus produces a compulsive and hypnotic effect that is cosmic in its scope. Benedict writes, "The dance, like their ritual poetry, is monotonous compulsion of natural forces by reiteration. The tireless pounding of their feet draws together the mist in the sky and heaps it into the piled rain clouds. It forces out the rain upon the Earth. They are bent not at all upon an ecstatic experience, but upon so through-going an identification with nature that the forces of nature will swing to their purposes."

Among the musical features to be observed are the slow, steady tempo, rhythmic subtleties, syncopated accents, and the low pitching and wide melodic range of the chant. The musical structure and form is a highly sophisticated one. Phrases and sections clearly defined and contrasted, are organized into a pattern that satisfies the canon of unity and variety to be found in great works of art. Repeated hearings of this music will enable the listener to identify an introductory phrase followed by a section with a descending melodic outline, which in turn is contrasted with a new section tonally centered four tones higher and with an upward melodic movement, and the ultimate return to the tonic tone in the coda which balances so nicely with the introduction.
Hopi Butterfly Dance The Hopi Butterfly Dance, one of the prettiest and most colorful of this western Pueblo people, is presented in August in the sun-drenched plazas of their ancient villages. Like most and bounteous crops. the dance occurs in the same Pueblo only once in three years following a week or ten days of intensive rehearsals. Two lines of young men and women dancers approach and retreat in a shuffling trot that is carefully coordinated with the changing rhythms of the dance songs sung by a male with drum accompaniment. The girl dancers wear a towering wooden headdress on which a symbolic cloud design is painted in red, green, yellow and black, and to which plumes of turkey feathers are attached. Turquois earrings, coral beads, silver necklaces, buckskin moccasins, dark dress and the ceremonial blanket complete the costume of the female dancers.

The music of the Hopi partakes of the general musical style of the western Pueblos with its wide tonal range, complex rhythms, changes of tempo, and extended elaborated forms. In the Butterfly Dance song the structural pattern is a symmetrical consisting of an introduction, alternating, balancing sections, and a coda.
Navajo Night Chant Navajo religion is an elaborate, highly developed complex of beliefs, mythology, rituals, songs, and prayers, which pervades every aspect of Navajo life. It is through the living of their religion, and the careful observance and practice of fixed rituals and ceremonies that "The People" maintain a harmonious relationship with the mysterious forces of the universe and gain a sense of security. There are thirty-five major ceremonials, generally referred to as chants, most of which are directed toward curing sickness. These ceremonials, varying in length from two to nine days, are conducted by a medicine man known as a singer. It is believed that the ceremonials and the esoteric lore of the singer have been transmitted through an unbroken succession of singers from the gods who gave ceremonial power to the first Navajos.

The night chant, popularly known as the Yeibichai (Grandfather of the Gods), is an important nine day ceremony which may not be performed until after the first killing frost. It is at this ceremony that boys and girls are initiated into the ceremonial life of the tribe by two masked dancers who impersonate the grandfather of the monsters and female divinity. On the last night of the ceremony which is open to the public, Yeibichai appears with a company of masked dancers. After a weird, unearthly call of the gods, the dancers shake their rattles with a sweeping movement from the ground to their heads, then whirl to the opposite direction and repeat the rattling. Following this formalized introduction, the dancers begin their rhythmic dance and song, accompanying themselves with the rattles.

The Yeibichai songs, generally regarded as the most characteristic and attractive of Navajo music, are unique in style. They are readily recognized by their most obvious feature, the manner of singing, a technique which alternates between the normal singing voice and an incredibly high falsetto or employs exclusively the falsetto as in the example offered here. Other distinctive stylistic features are the florid, melismatic character of the melodies which adhere in their outline to the tones of the major triad, the upward leaping intervals of a sixth or an octave, the formalized introduction and coda with their insistent repetition of the tonic tone, the melodic weight given to the dominant tone, certain rhythmic subtleties, and the accompaniment of the gourd rattle.
Navajo Enemy Way Song The enemy way or war dance, a chant whose original function was the purification of those who had been defiled by contact with the enemy, is practiced today as a curative ceremony for those whose sickness is believed to result from contact with non-Navajos. The chief attraction of the ceremony is the girls' dance, more commonly known as the squaw dance. This dance serves a social function not unlike that of the debutante ball or "coming-out" party in white society, for it is here that girls of marriageable age are brought to meet prospective husbands. The girls, often with coaching and urging from their mothers, choose their partners for the dance from among the eligible young men, and it is customary for the man to pay the girl for the dance. The songs for this dance are short and after a few repetitions it is usual for some leader to start another song. thus the songs enchain themselves into fortuitous cycles which are not fixed and in which there is no organic relationship between songs. The squaw dance, because of its social and secular character, offers song-makers an opportunity in creative activity and originality which is denied them in most of the ceremonial music where great stress is placed on accuracy of performance of chants as there received from the gods.
Western Apache Devil Dance The girls' puberty rite of the western Apache is a major ceremonial which ritualizes the critical transition from girlhood to womanhood. This nine day ceremony calls for a group of masked dancers to impersonate the mountain-dwelling supernaturals and present the Devil Dance, sometimes called the crown dance because of the elaborate, forked headpiece which is attached to the buckskin mask. In addition to its principal objective the event provides occasion for minor curing ceremonies and social exchange and entertainment celebrated by social dancing.
Western Apache Sunrise Song Opler state, "The songs of the third and last social dance of each night of the puberty rite may appropriately be called the morning dance songs since the dance they accompany begins several hours before dawn and continues until daybreak". It is to this group of songs that the sunrise song belongs.

The music of the western Apache bears an obvious kinship to that of their Athabascan-speaking relative, the Navajo. Though less varied and elaborated than Navajo music it follows a pattern of organization found in much Navajo ceremonial music, the chanting of long prayers on one or two tones with a short refrain of nonsense syllables (he-ne-ya) punctuating and alternating with the phrases of the chant. The limited tonal range of these songs and their close adherence to the major triad are musical features to be noted.

Yuma Birds Song Cycle The music of the Yuman tribes presents a remarkable homogeneity in style which sets it apart from the music of other southwestern people. The song cycles possess a stylistic unity which enables a native to place any song in the series to which it belongs. In most Yuman songs one can recognize two distinct parts, the one a principal motive which inconstantly repeated, the other consisting of melodically different phrases which alternate from time to time with the first part and turn upward in their melodic movement. Herzog finds, "This shift of the melodic weight upward is the most noteworthy feature of the style". Among other stylistic features which are found in Yuman music are the unusual manner of singing, the rhythmical sequence of shouts (ha, ha a, a) with which songs are frequently concluded, the predominant use of the rattle, the conventionalized movements of the hand in rattling, coherence of songs into large cycles, strong connection with myths and weak relation to ceremonialism.

The "Birds", one of the best-known and commonest of the song cycles among the Mohave and Yuma, is sung for the dance at the annual fiesta on the fourth of July. Like all other song cycles it may be used at the ceremony of burning the dead.
Papago Saguaro Song In July the Papago hold their most important communal ceremony, the object of which is the making of rain. In preparation for this event the ripe fruit of the saguaro cactus is gathered, boiled into a thick syrup and fermented into a liquor which forms the base of a drink of low alchoholic content which the Papago call "Tiswin". This is drunk ceremonially. Underhill explains, "The idea is that the saturation of the body with liquor typifies and produces the saturation of the earth with rain. Every act of the procedure is accompanied with ceremonial singing or oratory describing rain and growth".

The Papago manner of singing is distinguished by a mildness of tone quality, gentleness of vocal attack, and a restrained dynamic rarely exceeding a forte, characteristics which set it apart from the Pueblo singing technique. The song is in a slow tempo and contains many long sustained notes particularly at the end of phrases. The upward interval of a sixth, relatively rare in North American Indian music, occupies an exposed position and contributes considerably to the individuality of the Papago music. The manner of singing and the style of the music suggest Spanish influence.
Walapai Funeral Song The Walapai Funeral Song or mourning song as it may well be called is completely Yuman in its style, structure and function. Confined to a narrow melodic range of five tones it still manages to conform to the Yuman style by satisfying the most distinctive feature of Yuman music, the upward rise of the second melodic element of the song. In design, the pattern of the song is A, A, A, B, A, A, A, A, B, A. The tempo and meter of the song are steady and even, each phrase being sixteen beats in length and consisting of two sub-phrases which bear a balancing relationship to each other. The B phrase, with its initial interval of an ascending third, represents a variation and transposition of the A phrase. Many of these songs were borrowed from the Yuma and the words are no longer understood by the Walapai.
Havasupai Stick Game Song The music of the Havasupai, like their general culture, is simple and relatively poor. The stick game song with its limited melodic range, steady tempo, and unvarying repetition of the phrases is less interesting, musically, that the music of the other ethnic groups of the southwest. A rhythmic unit of three pulsations, rather rare in the bulk of North American Indian music though common to the music of the Yuman tribes, attracts our attention to this song.