Conch Trumpets, Flutes and Turquoise Beads, Treasured Items of An Ancient Culture

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-54-44-amDid you know that there was a civilization as advanced as the Mayas discovered in the desert of the Southwestern United States?

A recent article published in Nature Communications, reveals a great deal about this advanced culture that flourished in the area now identified as New Mexico. Matrilineal in nature, one of the most complete digs of this Chacoan culture is a burial chamber – called Room 33 – that consists of elite women rulers and their most treasured items. Not surprisingly, among these items are special pottery, ritual objects, turquoise beads and musical instruments. Although the site is probably hundreds of miles from an ocean, screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-58-10-amRoom 33 includes a conch shell trumpet with a turquoise mouthpiece as well as several different flutes. Clearly music was an integral part of the most valued aspects of this society.

Want to learn more? Below are links to the complete article about the dig in Nature Communications as well as a blog post identifying all the objects in Room 33. Interestingly enough, conch shell trumpets are found throughout the world in a variety of diverse locations.  Below we’ve included links on posts we’ve done so far about conch shell trumpets in Japan, Mexico, Hawaii and Polynesian Cultures.

Links and Resources

Complete Article on the Archeological Dig in Nature Communications http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms14115

What’s in Room 33? https://gamblershouse.wordpress.com/2009/09/19/room-33/

Conch Shell Trumpets From Samurai Times In Japan https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/horagai-a-conch-shell-trumpet-from-samurai-times/

The Conch Shell Trumpet in Ancient Mexico https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/instruments-from-ancient-mexico-the-conch-shell-trumpet/

The Conch Shell Trumpet As Part of Hawaiian and Polynesian Culture https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/the-ultimate-make-your-own-hawaiian-instruments-book/

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Bell Stones, Soapstones and Fish Pipes – Early Instruments of Indigenous California Cultures

soapstone flutes and whistlesAlthough there’s no formal written history of early indigenous cultures in the region of Southern California, a variety of resources give us a glimpse into the music and ceremonial life of these various tribes. While visiting the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, I was allowed to photograph and share a few of the beautiful music-related artifacts from their vast collection that reflect the early life of Native American tribes in this region.

Ringing Rocks or Bell Stones

Ringing Rock - side viewSimilar to Chumash culture, which originated north of the museum’s Santa Ana location, the pre-1600 AD tribes of this area also discovered, used and revered “ringing rocks” or bell stones. Pictured here (left) is a huge bell stone identified with Tongva/Agaemen(Gabrieliño/Juaneño) cultures with several man-made areas which were probably used for striking particular notes or for grinding medicinal plants. Most often, these large boulders were positioned on top of other rocks to give them more resonance and were “played” by tapping with smaller stones in different areas. Each area that is struck produces a slightly different tone.

soapstone whistlesSoapstone Instruments And A Fish “Pipe”

Also attributed to the early “Channel Island” peoples were an abundance of soapstone whistles and flutes of various shapes and sizes. Found throughout this area, soapstone (also known as steatite or soaprock) is a softer rock related to shist that has been used as a medium for carving in many cultures for thousands of years.

Displayed among the musical instruments is also this large and beautiful soapstone pipe (below) that was excavated from a location in Malibu. Shaped like a fish, fish pipeit could have been used as a sacred pipe or as a musical instrument. It’s design and decoration share many similarities with the more northern Chumash people’s ceremonial items.

Gifted artisans and basket-weavers, it may be hard to know exactly what the music and dance from this time and place were. However, these important and beautiful items can help us piece together many valuable details of these meaningful and important cultures. To learn more about Chumash music or to see how stones and rocks are used as musical instruments, check out the related posts below.

Resources And Related Links

bowers basketsBowers Museum, 2002 Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706 (714) 567-3600

Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers– Instruments From Chumash Culture

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/cocoon-rattles-bears-claws-and-bullroarers-instruments-from-chumash-culture/

Playing River Rocks As An Instrument – Hawaiian `ili`ile

https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/playing-river-rocks-as-an-instrument-hawaiian-iliile/

Cocoon Rattles, Bear’s Claws and Bullroarers – Instruments From Chumash Culture

Ojai museumWhile visiting the foothills of Southern California, I came across a small museum with a presentation of musical instruments from the area’s indigenous Chumash culture. Several of the traditional instruments were very familiar and can be seen in most tribes across the country. Other, however, were were truly unique and beautiful.  Here are the seven musical instruments presented on display at the Ojai Valley Museum.

For more information, check out the book on Chumash culture below or visit the museum’s online site, here: http://www.ojaivalleymuseum.org/

cocoon rattleCocoon Rattle

This truly unusual rattle used for ceremonial purposes is made from the cocoon of the Ceanothus Silk Moth (Hyalophora euryalus) and each cocoon is filled with pebbles. The cocoons are then attached to short lengths of reed which are bound together with fiber.

Bear Claw Rattle

Chumash turtle and clamshell rattleThe bear claw rattle (seen at the bottom middle section of this picture) was used as part of mourning ceremonies by the Chumash. In this rattle, each claw is strung on a piece of thread or fiber and the fibers are bunched together to make the instrument. Museum notes say that bears teeth can be used in this rattle as well.

Clamshell Rattle

A sturdy clamshell is filled with small noise-makers; such as small pebbles, then mounted on a stick for this decorative rattle (lower right of display).

Shell Rattle

clam shell belt rattleIn this traditional rattle holes are drilled in each shell and they are woven together with fiber.

Double Turtle Shell Rattle

double turtle rattleTurtle shells are used across the USA as part of Native American ceremonial rattles.  Frequently mounted on a stick, turtle shells are also used when tied in bundles and attached to the legs of dancers as part of the Cherokee stomp dance. The Chumash turtle shell rattle here uses two shells mounted on a stick along with beautiful ornamentation.
Frame Drum

Chumash frame drumAlmost every Native American tribe uses some form of the frame drum as part of their music and ceremony. The 2-sided, animal skin frame drum on display here measured about 14 – 16” in diameter and was accompanied by a traditional beater.

Bullroarer

Chumash bullroarer +A bullroarer is a small piece of wood attached to a piece of string and swung around a large circle. The wooden piece is carved in such way that it creates a buzzing, droning or whirring noise when spun. You can see the Chumash bullroarer in the left half of this picture among other artifacts. It is carved on the edges  and decorated with paint and three “X”s.

To learn more about bullroarers in general, check out the post below which also includes a DIY kids bull roarer activity.
Resources

Make Your Own Bullroarer – A Kid’s Activity
http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/uncategorized/outdoor-musical-play-make-your-own-bullroarer/

California’s Chumash Indians
Published by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Education Center
Available on Amazon, here: http://amzn.com/0945092008

Crafting An Authentic Native American Style Turtle Rattle

Have you ever seen a Native American rattle made from the shell of a turtle? It’s used by a variety of tribes and it’s quiet sound is perfect for accompanying singing or special ceremonies.

These turtle rattles were made by craftsman, Ron Poole who actually started making drum beaters before he created these unique instruments. His story and comments below will tell you more about his background as a craftsperson as well as what it takes to make a traditional rattle such as the ones pictured here.

“As a young boy, I remember watching my grandfather and father create pieces of art out of materials found in nature. I was amazed at their creations and hoped I too someday would follow in their footsteps. It was not until a trip out west that the spark was lit and I began to infuse native imagery into my own work.

My carving is an effort to further the family tradition and explore the connection between cultures, myth and music.

I started out making Native inspired drum sticks also referred to as beaters which led to learning how to make Turtle Rattles. I began making the beaters after being gifted from my girlfriend a hand drum and beater making kit from Noc Bay Trading Company. They included a small black and white instruction on how to create a beater from a wooden dowel, piece of deer hide, artificial sinew, yarn and glue.

When I began making my first beater, I looked at the dowel and decided that I wanted to find wood from the forest behind my home. I enjoy trying to keep the beaters as close to their natural state as possible often leaving the bark on the beater.

When making the turtle rattles I use a power hand drill to drill out the holes and attach the leather using a thick needle and artificial sinew.  I fill the turtle rattle with sea shells that creates the percussion.  I handburn the rattles with a Nisburner hand burner. Hand burning; called pyrography, is one of my favorite parts of creating art. Burning yourself can be a bit painful but kind of comes with the territory.



Here is some of the information I include with my turtle rattles:



Legend says when Native Americans first moved into North America they called it Turtle Island. The turtle provided food and bowls. When the belly of the shell was split it gave them sharp tools and weapons. They later realized that the turtle lived a very long time. They believed it had a special spirit of longevity, strength, and wisdom. The turtles became revered and honored, and were made into rattles and hangers and decoration for use in ceremonies. Ceremonial drums were also made from larger species. This is the meaning of the Turtle Rattle.”

Links

You can view Ron’s artwork and hand-crafted items for sale at:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/RPooleDesigns

You can find a kid’s craft version of a turtle rattle made from recycled take-out containers here: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/TurtleRattleInstructions.pdf
You can enter to win one of Ron’s beautiful turtle rattles until November 25, 2012 here: http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php