Music, spirituality and ceremonies

February 27, 2008

When looking at the two types of music among the Native Americans and the Indians, the first thing I notice is the way they have been using the music throughout the ages. In the examples I’ve put further down (the post “A taste of their music”) one can explore the differences by listening, while I am going to study in which ways their music has been used in a cultural context.

I’ve had a great interest in the Native Americans for a long time, and music certainly is a very important element in their culture, as it is used for ceremonies, religious rituals, meditation, healing and such. A lot of the tribes also believe the songs were made by the Creator, and have passed through generations for thousands of years. Their music is completely melodic, and vocalization or the use of the voice is the most important instrument. The flute along with the drum and rattle are also very frequently used instruments. The drum is used to keep the rhythm, though it is common to make the rhythm irregular in Native American music. The song texts are usually said to be “ancient and unchanging”, have a spiritual message or meaning, and often it is believed they hold a spell. This is because music is the main way the natives communicate with the supernatural powers. Along with this music, dance and costuming are compulsory components, especially during rituals and ceremonies. 

While music among the Native Americans is mainly used for spiritual or healing purposes, Indian folk music is used for own entertainment during ceremonies such as births, and weddings. It is also common to sing about such things as planting and harvesting, but not for any spiritual purpose as in the America. They are simply singing of their hopes, fears and aspirations.

As mentioned, ceremonial music is important to the Indians. For instance when a girl has her first menstruation it is a tradition that she meets with the elderly women in the community, and the girl has to sing extremely bawdy. Drums, ektars (a one stringed lute), dotars (a two stringed lute), saringdas (a bowed folk fiddle) and santurs (see picture below) are among others highly used instruments in Indian folk music. These instruments are usually crafted by the musicians themselves, for instance with skin, peritoneum, bamboo, coconut shells, and pots. 

In summary I’d say that the main difference between the Native American and the Indian traditional music is that the American music is mainly used for spiritual purposes, while the Indian music has no spiritual basis, though both is commonly used for ceremonies and rituals. The usage of instruments is also very different, whereas in India they often use string instruments and song texts for their own mentality and feelings, but the Native Americans use flutes and rattles, and use old, traditional and holy song texts with a spiritual message of healing or help.

This is an Indian traditional instrument, the santur:

A pretty flute, which is frequently used in Native American music:


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