Anthology of Indian & Eskimo Music: Disc 1

An Anthology of North American Indian & Eskimo Music

Folkways Records FE 4541

In our society, music is generally thought of as an art form to be appreciated for itself. In contrast, people in many other societies see music in utilitarian terms, that is, as something to be appreciated not primarily for itself but rather as a means to an end. American Indian and Eskimo concepts about music generally fit into this functional conceptual framework. Therefore, to understand their music, it is more important for the listener to be aware of the perceived purpose of a composition than its aesthetics, especially if the latter are derived on the basis of Western Art music.

This record set is organized to facilitate thinking about the music in terms of function. For example, the pieces where selected not primarily for contrasts in musical style, but rather to illustrate the range of social themes explored in the musical life of each group. Of course, space limitations preclude the inclusion of musical examples for every social function in every group. However, to ensure the broadest exposure of tribes as well as social functions, the recording was organized on the basis of culture areas - a concept which acts to group together highly similar societies. In this way, the listener, by examining the range of social function variation within the culture area as a whole, can get an understanding of the variety of social functions found in any one group within the area. Further, while the notes accompanying each selection are primarily derived from the original recordings, they have been edited and, where possible, amplified in such a way as to provide basic information on the social and symbolic role of the musical composition. Again, it must be pointed out that space limitations made it impossible to include all relevant information on the social function for any particular song or to begin discussing the role of music in any society. Therefore it is hoped that the listener will supplement the information contained in the notes by reading a good general anthropological text on American Indian and Eskimo society and, where possible, relevant ethnomusicological studies. (Among the best texts for this purpose would be Leacock, E. and N. Lurie "North American Indians in Historical Perspective" together with Spencer, R. and J. Jennings "The Native Americans for a general text and for example Merriam, A. "The Ethnomuicology of the Flathead Indians" and McAllester, D. "Enemy Way Music" for Flathead and Navajo ethnomusicology.)

In sum, what I am saying is this: it is impossible for an individual who is newly interested in American Indian music to appreciate it merely by listening to these recordings. Rather, he must begin to learn about the society which produced it and how the music fits into it. I hope that the procedures I have outlined above can provide a good way to build this kind of knowledge, and thus enable the listener to gain an understanding of the music contained in these recordings.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Sun Dance The traditional tribal religion of the Sioux was given its fullest expression in the Sun Dance, an elaborate ceremony which was held each year at the full moon of mid-summer. From far and near the bands and family groups of the tribe assembled to witness the fulfillment of vows made by their members to Wakantanka (Great Mysterious) and enjoy the social life which accompanied this annual rite.

With the government prohibition of the Sun Dance in 1881 the final chapter of the old Sioux culture was completed. In the period of acculturation which followed, the Sioux, after a brief and tragic essay with the nativistic Ghost Dance religion, turned to Christianity and the Peyote Cult, seeking therein the spiritual support and meaning which their old religion had furnished them.

(Willard Rhodes)
This is a ceremonial song and cannot be used outside of it's original context, so it is not posted here.
Love Song The flute was used for love charming and serenading. This instrument has become a museum relic of the poast and its rarity among North American Indians today suggests that it may never have been as common in their musical culture as is generally believed. The technique of flute making and flute playing as practiced by the Indians, would tend to limit the instrument to a small group of specialized musicians. The great flute makers and flute players are gone, and we are especially fortunate in preserving in this album one of the flute melodies played by John Coloff. The melody here presented has also been recorded as a love song with words. The upward interval of a sixth, the regular phrases, and the words, reflecting the influence of white culture, leads one to date the song in the last half of the nineteenth century.

(Willard Rhodes)
Crazy Dog Song The "Crazy Dogs" were members of a military society noted for their extreme bravery and recklessness. After the return of a successful war party there would be a general celebration during which the Crazy Dogs would re-enact their exploits in song and dance.

(Ken Peacock)
(Hand Drum and rattle)
Buffalo Dance Song The Buffalo Dance is connected with the dependence of the plains tribes on the Bison for a livelihood. The buffalo was a walking commissary, supplying the Indian with food, clothing, tools, housing and fuel. It is not surprising that the dance is dedicated to the buffalo and the hunting of this magnificent creature.

(J. Gordon Thorton & A.H. Sylverne)
Buffalo Dance Song Pawnee
Hand Game Song Sung by William Peaychew and group, with sticks. The hand-game or stick-game is the most popular and widespread Indian gambling game on the Plains - indeed, on most of the continent. The number of players varies from two to as many as twenty. The players sit cross-legged or kneel on the ground facing each other, usually six to eight on each team. Between them is a row of ten sticks standing upright in the ground. One of the players holds two cylindrical pieces of bone, each small enough for the hand to conceal. One of the bones is distinguished by a black ring around the middle. The object of the game is to guess which hand conceals the unmarked bone.

When each player has contributed his money to the pot, they draw to see which team will have the bones first. The team in possession then starts singing one of the hundreds of songs which traditionally accompany the game, each player beating in time with the stick on a long pole or lying in front of the players. One of the players, however, does not beat the pole for he has the bones and is going through all sorts of gyrations and trick passes to fool the opponents. Satisfied that his tricks have fooled the opposing players he holds both arms out, inviting a player on the opposite side to guess which hand contains the unmarked bone. If the guess is wrong the same side retains the bones and takes one of the ten sticks. The procedure is repeated perhaps to the accompaniment of another song. If the guess is correct, however, one of the sticks goes to the successful side and they gain possession of the bones. The game is continued until one side has all the sticks.

The game is sometimes played ceremonially by elders and medicine men and a special group of Holy Hand-Game Songs is used for this purpose. It is considered sacrilegious to use these songs for the popular game of course. Although the game can be played with improvised sticks and bones, some of the sets are elaborately carved in ivory as family heirlooms, especially those used for Holy Hand-Games.

(Ken Peacock)
Plains Cree
Prisoner's Song Sung by William Burn Stick, with hand-drum. The composer of this song was hanged for murder in an Edmonton jail several years ago. A few of his friends who visited him in jail still remember the sad song he sang there, but all agree that the present singer sings it best. Perhaps the fact that he is blind gives him special feeling for the mood of the disillusionment which surrounds both the melody and the words. While songs of this sort are not common, they do express the Indian's disillusionment not only with his own traditional values but with all the superficial trappings of modern civilization, both material and spiritual.

(Ken Peacock)
While I'm living I'll have fun (make love);
When I die, I'll die.
When I die, I'll have no fun,
I'll just keep going on and on.
Plains Cree
World War II Song Sung by George Nicotine and group, with hand-drum. As the process of acculturation continues, the Indian is producing an increasing number of songs in English rather than in his native tongue. Each year brings a new crop of pow-wow love songs in English, and during World War II, with so many Indians in the armed forces, it seemed more natural to tell of their exploits in English. Similar songs from the World War I period are all in Cree. Oh brave soldier boy,
on the land, on the sea, and in the air,
In Japan, Tokyo-o-o;
Just the same I'm staying with you.
Plains Cree
Warrior Death Song For Sitting Bull News of Sitting Bull's exploits had reached the Canadian Plains tribes long before his visits to Wood Mountain, the Cypress Hills and the Qu'Appelle Valley in 1877. A previous visit (without his large band) had taken him to Blackfoot country to visit the renowned Chief Crowfoot. As a result of his flight to Canada in 1876, several hundred descendants of his original band are now living on a Sioux reserve in southern Manitoba. When news of his death in 1890 reached his Canadian friends, a general spirit of mourning spread throughout the region especially among those tribes with whom he had had intimate contact. This song was recorded at an Indian pageant in Fort Qu'Appelle near the site of Sitting Bull's visit.

(Ken Peacock)
With Bass drum, leg bells.
Canvas Dance Song The Canvas Dance was traditionally performed by the Flathead in anticipation of the departure of a war or hunting party from an advance camp, and while it is still carried on today, its form has changed and its function is no longer important except in prolonging a traditional part of Flathead life. In the Canvas Dance, the last of the day, a small group of people started at one part of the camp circle and sang their songs from teepee to teepee. The occupants of each teepee then joined the singers and went on around the camp circle with them; thus the group grew larger as it progressed. Today this custom is not preserved.

In performance, the singers carry with them a piece of canvas perhaps eight feet square, each person holding it with one hand and pulling until it is stretched tight. With the free hand the performers then strike the canvas to produce a rhythmic accompaniment to the singing. Formerly the members of the war or hunting party made their preparations and departure by the time the singers had completed the circle. This song was recorded late at night during a performance of the Canvas Dance led by Eneas Conko and Baptiste Pichette. The accompaniment of the canvas may be heard clearly, the sound of the war drum in the background more faintly.

(Alan P. Merriam)
Funeral Song The Walapai Funeral Song or Mourning Song as it may well be called is completely Yuman in its style. Many of these songs were borrowed from the Yuma and words are no longer understood by the Walapai.

(Willard Rhodes)
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".

(Willard Rhodes)
Peyote Song The Peyote Cult, or Native American Church, represents a curious blending of Christian symbolism and beliefs with rituals and practices of native Indian religions. During the past century the religion has spread from tribe to tribe, adjusting its practice to the culture of the various tribes while adhering to a central core of belief and ceremony. At the night-long meetings of the Cult, the central feature of the service is the ceremonial eating of the peyote the seed pod of a cactus imported from the Southwest which the Indians identify with the Supreme Being. The ecstatic trance induced by eating the peyote is supplemented by the hypnotic music which plays such an important role in the ceremony.

(Willard Rhodes)

(The song used here is the first song on the First Song Cycle - editor)
Moonlight Song 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.

(Willard Rhodes)
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.
San Ildefonso
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. Hopi
Lullaby This kind of old melody is probably the first music to be heard by Zuni children. Nonie-hi-e -- nonie-he-e
Hey-lun-coo -- hey-len-coo
Go to sleep, my little baby, while I work. Father will bring in the sheep soon. Zuni
Rain Dance Zuni ceremonial life is highly organized and through 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 of primary concern in pueblo religions and most of the ceremonies are directed toward that objective. Benedict writes, "The dance, like their ritual poetry, is a 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 piles rain clouds. It forces out the rain upon the earth. They are bent not at all upon an ecstatic experience, but upon so thorough-going an identification with nature that the forces of nature will swing to their purposes."

(Willard Rhodes)
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 ceremonials 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 this ceremony that boys and girls are initiated into the ceremonial life of the tribe by two masked dancers who impersonate the Grandfathers 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 gods and dances. After a weird, unearthy 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 hypnotic power of this music is cumulative as an endless profusion of Yeibichai songs follow on another throughout the night. Dance teams which have spent weeks and months in preparation for the ceremony compete with one another not only in the excellence of their singing and dancing, but in the introduction of new Yeibichai songs.

(Willard Rhodes)
Song Of Happiness This song was sung by the women to sustain the moral and hope of the men during the confinement of the Navajo at Fort Sumner following their capitulation to Kit Carson in 1864. It is recorded here as sung by a group of Junior High School children at For Wingate Indian School. One of the boys having discovered that he could play this native melody on his harmonica, joined the drummer in supplying an instrumental accompaniment to the song.

(Willard Rhodes)
(Children's chorus, drum, harmonica)
Silversmith Song This song is sung by Abrose Roan Horse, one of the master silversmiths of the Navajo. He always works with a song in his heart, and often it is voiced to the accompaniment of his anvil. (Male voice, anvil).
Corn Grinding Song In maintaining his harmonious relation to the forces of the universe, the most commonplace acts of daily living assume a cosmic significance for the Navajo. Every man and woman knows and performs rituals, prayers, and songs of a personal nature. They may be directed to the planting of corn, the increase and care of sheep and horses, trading, and for general good hope. It is in this category that the Corn Grinding Songs belong. Before beginning the grinding of the corn, white corn meal was offered to the gods, and was ceremonially thrown or sprinkled on the heads, front, back, sides and top, of the singer and persons grinding. The Corn Grinding Songs are becoming rapidly obsolete and rare, as corn meal, once so laboriously ground, is disappearing from the domestic economy to be replaced by white flour from the trader's store.

(Willard Rhodes)
(Female voice, basket drum).
Children's Song - Wolf Song Children's songs, are frequently sung by adults to children. Children sing them too, and are encouraged to do so. The songs are usually about animals, and on occasion, have animal imitative sounds following the song. The songs heard here are the Wolf Song, Turtle Song, Turkey Song, and Puppy Song.

(John Beatty)
The wolves are howling
All are saying "buta" (translations unavailable)
He is eating something good.
Children's Song - Turtle Song The turtle is running on the side - running in the dust
Every part of him is running in the dust.
Children's Song - Turkey Song Baby turkey struts
I am going to build a fire
Scratching the ground.
Children's Song - Puppy Song Where did everybody move to
I am all alone.
Church Song Many Christian sects can be found among the Apache. Methodists, Baptists and Holy Rollers are a few of them.

(John Beatty)
jesus kosiizii
dine ditla yinka eekoseezi
jesus had dizrii
dinde ditla yinka eekoseezi
Jesus is standing in water
He wants us to get well.
Jesus is calling
He wants us to get well.
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.

Opler states, "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.

(Willard Rhodes)