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Musical Instruments of the

Northwest Coast Indians

Submitted by:Satyajit Dave
3rd Year Art History

Contents Introduction Tradition of Music Art in the Tradition of Music .

bird or animal figures. Their primary food was fish. . Due to their geographical location their entire life system was that of a coastal life. canoes and also various artifacts of day to day life. They were also excellent wood carvers and wood was used in abundance to make houses. The tirbes of the North West were attributed as totem tribes due to their so-called practices of Black Magic and Shamanism. They used to have totem pillars outside their houses.Introduction The North West Indian tribes lived mainly on the sea coast. Due to this they are credited for being skilled canoe makers. These pillars could be around 40 feet in height and they can be painted or carved with human.

rattles. Cultural taboos surrounding the ownership of songs and dances have remained intact into the twenty-first century. known as potlatches. Potlatches serve as opportunities to aid in maintaining social order by regulating the ownership of land. the sound of whistles is associated with the presence of spirit beings.Tradition of Music The music of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast is largely associated with ceremony and feast-giveaways. and music. puberty. Rather. A customary element to the music of the Northwest Coast is the beat of the drum. as well as to observe life cycle changes—birth. and specific vocal utterances. albeit with some leniency to accommodate for varying degrees of observance of traditional lifeways. the concept of communal drumming on a single large instrument is not typical in the Pacific Northwest. The transmission of honor associated with these events is traditionally marked by ceremonial dances accompanied by songs. however. Proprietary songs and dances are punctuated by extramusical effects provided by whistles. who are known to have used a single wooden plank struck by multiple players. title. The use of a single drum was traditionally isolated to a few groups. As in other . unlike the use of drums on the Great Plains. anddeath. marriage. drummers are known to congregate and play individual hand drums together. such as the Kwakwaka'wakw (Kwakiutl). ancestral names. Typically.

Often. Many of the musical instruments used on the Northwest Coast can be associated with shamanic practice. drums are employed by shamans—powerful individuals who have the ability to move in the liminal space between this world and others. For example. Some indigenous people of the Northwest Coast utilize the drum to indicate the presence of spirits. Aside from use within the potlatch setting. the drum is used to begin and to mark certain points within a song. Art in the Tradition of Music .regions. a tremolo created by rapidly striking the drumhead can be perceived as an audible manifestation of a spirit being's presence. a physical representation of a shaman's spirit guide is carved in the form of a rattle or whistle. communicating with spirit guides. as an effigy used to invoke the spirit's power.

as well as pigments used for adornment on . black." "U-form. or in some cases embellishes. Similar principles govern two. European presence in the Pacific Northwest was erratic at best. the aforementioned elements are aligned with the surface contours of a given object. including relief and sculpture in the round. Often. Until the eighteenth century. and some variant of green or blue. albeit a perceived destination for many explorers. A typical palette includes red. as well as ornament the outlying space. These newly introduced innovations affected textile preparation. When applied to three-dimensional artwork.Traditional three-dimensional art of the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast can be characterized as highly sculptural. sculptural figuration. in the eighteenth century contributed greatly to the traditional use of color and dyeing methods. These three specific design elements are combined to define anatomical features. The presence of foreigners on the Northwest Coast.and three-dimensional art of the Northwest Coast. Elements common to both include "ovoid. pigmentation defines. with geometrically stylized totemic—memorial—symbols integrated into the composition of the piece." and "form-line" figures that constitute the majority of a given work. The resources and trade that were available throughout the continent made it less pressing to reach the west coast. primarily Russian.

as the method for producing blue was not possible through natural sources on the Northwest Coast. in the early nineteenth century. Foreign presence in the Northwest Coast brought with it foreign aesthetics and markets along with the introduction of trade materials. the color blue was not in use as a dye. ritual clan objects employed for various uses by their owners. like dyes or dye-products. Blue was first introduced by woolen material carried by travelers. Historically. As foreign traffic became more prevalent in the region—a result . Various shades of green were derived from copper minerals in combination with a native moss.carved. depict the story of the Raven who stole light—symbolic of knowledge—and brought it to humans. and later the dye was rendered from them through boiling. three-dimensional objects—of particular interest is the raven rattle illustrated here. Blue-dyed blankets (most likely from indigo) were traded with indigenous people. The personification of knowledge is carved as tongues extending from the mouth of one being to another. Native artists were quick to identify the foreigners' propensity to collect and to consume native cultural items and artwork as curios. Raven rattles. mainly blankets. following the isolation of indigotin by Adolf van Baeyer in 1897. Synthetic blue dyes were introduced to the market at the turn of the twentieth century.

a lucrative nonnative market firmly established the practice among the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands. and whistles. drums. While artisans were capable of reproducing the physical appearance of centuriesold. This fact did not diminish the Euro-American desire to collect argillite sculpture in myriad shapes and sizes. three-dimensional cultural objects (albeit on a smaller scale).of commercial tourism up the coast of North America heading toward the territory that would become Alaska—EuroAmerican cultural items abounded. a unique type of black shale. are highly prized for their . The mid-nineteenth-century carved argillite trade of the Queen Charlotte Islands is an example of this phenomenon. appealed to the preexisting art forms of the native people. is known to have been used minimally by the native inhabitants. Although argillite. Argillite served as an ideal medium for replicating forms and patterns commonly found on material objects. Carved. effectively halting the intergenerational transmission of traditional art forms. much of the symbolism and stories inherent to the figures were lost. among them rattles. sculptural items. like smoking pipes and walking sticks. A smallpox outbreak in 1862 decimated the population of the islands. Additionally. including a western European style duct flute. the practice of argillite carving presented Haida artists with an opportunity to begin reconstructing links to traditions of their past. Three-dimensional objects from the region.

19th century British Columbia. Whistle. whistles of varying shapes and sizes are used to augment the ritual music associated with dancing. Northwest Coast Wood.sculptural innovation and figurative form-line composition by native and non-native people. pigment Throughout the Northwest Coast. This whistle is .

so. are whistles carved to visually depict spirit beings or ancestors. the mouth corresponding to the duct window of the whistle. The use of whistles. Pigment has been used to intensify the grooved surface features of the whistle. The sound produced by whistles typically represents the audible manifestation of spirit beings. A stylized human face is carved around the cylindrical form. is common to most dances. too. whether it is visually apparent is inconsequential. elaborate masks and regalia are employed to convey transformation.constructed of two pieces that have been lashed together—the upper lashing is now missing. Much of the dance traditions of the region incorporate a degree of transformation. In some instances. sometimes disguised as part of a dancer's regalia. Some whistles—large and small—employ bellows to sound them and can consist of multiple whistles lashed together. . although these are not requisites for spiritual transcendence.

ca. along with the wrapping at the base of the handle. Low-relief carving in this style makes a play on the relationship between negative and positive space. Haida or Tsimshian Wood. . The cutaway—darkened—sections represent an equally significant aspect of the composition. which is constructed in two pieces carved to form a hollow chamber. British Columbia. Small holes carved near edges of both pieces are threaded with vegetal lacing and pinned with iron nails to secure the two halves together. One side of the rattle depicts a face in quintessential formline ornament. this wooden rattle represents typical carving of Northwest Coast people. exhibiting form-line carving in low relief. possibly a hawk or raven. with ovoid and U-shaped realizations of the space between the form-lines. pigment Rattles like this were most likely used during dance rituals of the Haida or Tsimshian. There is evidence of red and black pigment as embellishment on both sides of the rattle. Spherical in shape with two diametrically opposed faces. string. The opposite side of the rattle depicts a hook-nosed bird figure. 1880 Queen Charlotte Islands. the nose protruding from the low relief of the face.Rattle.

Carved in two pieces and assembled using wooden pins to secure the halves. 19th century Skidegate. a rattle usually contains small stones or seeds. pebbles. The prone figure is personified with a face of a wolf.Raven Rattle. raven rattles are held oriented with the bird's beak pointing down when used in dance. Additionally. It is common for raven rattles to be further . perhaps another guide of the owner of this rattle. Polychrome adornment exhibits the pale blue pigmentation common during the late nineteenth century. Rattles are considered extremely personal objects and bear specific symbolism and power known only by those who understand their meaning. Much of the symbolism associated with this rattle comments on the transmission of power from one figure to the next—the raven to humankind in general (as oral tradition states) and the kingfisher to the prone figure on the raven's back. rattles like this are used to channel a shaman's spirit guide and can be used in healing ceremonies. As symbols of power. polychrome Most often associated with shamanic practices on the Northwest Coast. rattles are also kept by clan leaders. Haida Cedar. British Columbia.

particularly along the seam of the two halves and at the handle base. Tsimshian Wood. 19th century British Columbia. the mythological source of the shaman's supernatural powers.adorned with feathers. Raven Rattle. and beads. . On the bird's back are the figures of a shaman and a kingfisher. The figures are united by one tongue. which forms the bridge through which the magic force flows. pigment The form of this rattle is that of a bird (raven) bearing a totemic emblem on its breast. fur.

Masseth or Haida Wood. This is an unusual representation of the raven on a rattle and more typical of the way it would be depicted on a memorial (or totem) pole. . Canada. pigment This raven rattle depicts a perched bird with wings outstretched toward its front.Rattle. 19th century Vancouver Island.

.Rattle. British Columbia. potentially that of a bear. The spirit would act as the intercessor for the human figure found between the ears. Skittagetan or Haida Wood. pigment This rattle depicts a grinning mountain spirit. The rattle represents the relationship between the two and how the owner would depend on the spirit for strength and guidance. 19th century Queen Charlotte Islands.

. The appearance of this rattle suggests contact between the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast and Russian explorers in the nineteenth century who would have carried with them symbols of the Russian imperial double-eagle emblem.Rattle. Sitka Wood. Animals depicted on Northwest Coast rattles were almost always representations of those found in the natural world. pigment This unusual rattle depicts a double-headed eagle. 19th century Alaska.