The role of the Medicine Man in Native American Music

A Native American Medicine Man standing beside a sick woman, c. 1870. Photographed by O.C. Smith (American, active 1860s – 1870s).

In almost every Native American tribe, there is a medicine man or healer, as seen in the picture above. These men, and occasionally women, had to go “beyond human power” to use their herbs and chants to heal ailing tribesmen. A medicine man gained his power to heal through dreams, visions, and even during the song, as discovered in class while looking through many primary sources. During visions and encounters with the Great Spirit, healers were told how to heal ailments and advised on which herbs, roots and plants to use, and which to avoid. To aide their power, healers often lived in quiet seclusion to be in tune with nature its power sometimes giving them the name “forest folk”.

A traditional medicine mask used to scare off evil spirits and disease in tribe members. https://indianspictures.blogspot.com/search/label/Navajo%20indians

Ely S. Parker, born in 1828, was from the Iroquois tribe and in newspapers, recounts the practices of the medicine man through public and private ceremonies. Native American medicine men treated the sick and ailing in public ceremonies followed by a private meeting. The public ceremony was attended by tribesman of high power and influence and took place over several days. During those public and private healing sessions, the medicine man may have told narratives, chanted, and sing. A “sacred song” is chanted only by one medicine man. If anyone else chants the “sacred song,” it is expected that evil events will follow.2   To further aide him, he may have used tobacco pouches and the herb of choice sent to him by the Great Spirit. There are times when the the medicine man is not able to heal the sick, but this is viewed as the will of the “Great Spirit” who is asked to “guide the red man and choose for his best, always.”

Most songs were accompanied by a regular drumbeat, dubbed as the heartbeat of the Earth, to help calm and relax the sick. Additionally, the drumbeat expanded the mind of the medicine man to the awareness of self and spirit. Other instruments like the rattle, shook away disease, and bells borrowed from Christianity invoked God’s healing power.3  It is told that “he who holds the medicine has time to die.” That is, they can choose their successor because their death is never sudden and “has time to die.” This background of the medicine men’s rituals which were alien and exotic to foreigners such as John Smith helps shed a light on what outside visitors encountered.

1 Hofmann, Charles. American Indians Sing New York: John Day Co., 1967. 46

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2 Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, © The Newberry Library, 96 http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/55?searchId=c2aa61ad-bbdf-48e6-a160-bba150f8d14e#VisualMaterials

 

Skulls: a 19th-Century Justification for Racism in Music

 

Anyone could read this short passage and recognize that the author is approaching music with a problematic, racist mindset, but I had no idea the undercurrent of “science” propelling these opinions until I dug a little deeper…

The pseudoscience of phrenology was running rampant in mid-19th century society. Racist beliefs and actions were justified through this “science.”[1] Phrenologists argued that a person’s character, intelligence, and opinions could be deduced from the shape and size of their skull.[2] This was fodder for 19th-century minds to be opposed to whole races and ethnicities, solely based off the external shape of their skulls. Samuel George Morton wrote Crania americana; or, A comparative view of the skulls of various aboriginal nations of North and South America[3] in 1839. Crania americana allowed racism to reign in 19th-century thinking under the guise of science, as the book was published in great quantities and spread across the continent and across the ocean to Europe.[4] Through drawings like the ones below, Morton provided “reasoning” for the acceptability of racism against Native Americans. Phrenology directly influenced how people viewed Native American music and musicians.

Looking back at the first excerpt,[5] it is easy to witness how this undercurrent of phenological thought influenced the cultural norms of the 19th century about racism towards Native Americans. This passage comes from the American Phrenological Journal, a publication by scholars of this pseudoscience. Much to my chagrin, this journal would have held great authority over its original audience, an audience well-accustomed to phrenological thought. American Phrenological Journal deems the music of the “wild Indian” to be lesser, because they believed that a Native American’s brain did not physically have the same capacity for music making as a European did. Before even hearing the music, phrenologists had deduced the music to be less advanced than “Christian” music, purely because of the shape of the musicians’ skulls. Along with making assumptions about the music before listening to it, the author makes conclusions about the whole people group based off of the music. They say that “it is a fact” that people can be judged by their music, and that this serves as confirmation that white European-descendants are “superior,” as organs and pianos are a testament to.

 

 

[1]  SciShow. “Victorian Pseudosciences: Brain Personality Maps.” YouTube. YouTube, December 1, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBv1wKinQXw.

[2]  Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Phrenology.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed September 16, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/phrenology.

[3]  Morton, Samuel George. Crania Americana, or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America to Which Is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.

[4]  “Skulls in Print: Scientific Racism in the Transatlantic World.” University of Cambridge, March 19, 2014. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/skulls-in-print-scientific-racism-in-the-transatlantic-world.

[5]  “MUSIC, AS A PHYSICAL AND MORAL AGENT.: MYSTERIES OF MUSIC. 1. MUSIC AS A PHYSICAL AGENT. 2. MUSIC AS A MORAL AGENT. 3. MUSIC AS A COMPLEX AGENT. MUSIC AS A CIVILIZER.” American Phrenological Journal 43, no. 4 (April 1866). https://search.proquest.com/docview/137924894?accountid=351.

The “Vanishing Indian” Materializes Before Audiences

The opening imagery of Daniel Blim’s conference paper “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” that vividly describes the setting of Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exhibition, stuck with me after class. What would it be like to walk down a corridor in the natural history museum to have real people and animals stare back at you? Historical newspapers and current scholars describe these events as half circus, half Night at the Museum.

Blim’s article introduced the idea of the “vanishing Indian,” a symbol of Native America(ns) that “could be reappropriated in the national imagination as a nostalgic figure rather than a living oppositional force.”1 We know that Native Americans were (literally) put on display at the 1893 World’s Fair, but in what other instances were Americans, and other nationalities in the case of the World’s Fair, witnessing and consuming Native American culture? Based on research via newspaper archives from the 19th-century, World’s Fairs, International Expos, and museums were the primary contexts in which non-Natives could interact with actual tribes. 

To further investigate the “vanishing Indian” trope, I found an article originally printed in Scientific American in 1898. The article, titled “the Omaha Exposition and the Indian Congress,” described the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898. After quickly mentioning the technological advancements of fireworks, the author lays out the newest and most attractive addition to the Expo ⎯ the Indian Congress. The Indian Bureau of Washington, D.C. allocated $40,000 to find, deliver, and enclose 35 distinct Native American tribes. Nearly 500 members of these tribes were camped out over four acres of Expo premises. For three months, anthropologists, sociologists, and the general public could observe Native American musics, rituals, and all modes of living in between as if they were zoo animals.

“Representative Indian Chiefs, Indian Congress, Omaha Exposition.” from left to right: Four Bulls, Assiniboin; Antoine Moise, Flathead; Different Cloud, Assiniboin; “Killed the Spotted Horse”, Assiniboin; Eneas Michel, Flathead

The article, read by thousands across the U.S. every year during this time, delivered the story triumphantly:

It is a curious and interesting fact that less than half a century ago the same docile Omaha Indians who peacefully doze by the camp fires within the Exposition gates were waging the war of the tomahawk and arrow on these very grounds, which is gratifying proof of the triumphal march of civilization.2 

No wonder the “vanishing Indian” trope was recognized by music consumers and the general public ⎯ the only times Native Americans were presented as apart of American society were part of a curated experience:

The agents were instructed to send old men, and, as far as possible, “head men,” who would typically represent the old-time Indian, subdued, it is true, but otherwise uninfluenced by the government system of civilization… some [tribes] have become so civilized, like the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and Seminoles, that their presence would add little interest from an ethnological point of view; so the government did not assemble it most civilized proteges at Omaha, but the tribes it has conquered with the greatest bloodshed are the most important at the congress.3

Not only curated, but curated to show their defeat and vulnerability in the face of America’s power. 

Ute Bear Dances and Notched Sticks

Initially, I hoped to research the topic of symbolism in relation to Native American instruments, but that line of researching did not take me far, so I instead settled on looking at the scholarship on their instruments in general. In Clark Wissler’s informational text, The American Indian, there is a section on Native American music which turns to musical instruments, claiming that the two most common instruments are drums and rattles. His survey meanders across the Americas, discussing the cultural varieties of such instruments, emphasizing the dominance of calabash (gourd) rattles, the importance of which, he claims, is only approached by the notched stick1. The footnote attached to this observation, citing anthropologist Robert Lowie, led to where my research ultimately landed.

Lowie has a fair number of entries in another collection of anthropological papers on Native American societies edited by Wissler, one of which examines the “Dances and

Ute Musicians. From left to right: Brookus Sibello 1890, Dick Sibello 1882, Henry Myore, and two young boys. Using notched rasps and rubbing sticks, for music.

 

Societies of the Plains Shoshone,” within which he describes the Bear Dance, a prominent Ute ceremony. Although he has never seen a Bear Dance himself, Lowie draws upon several first hand accounts of the ceremony to explain the basic function and structure of Bear Dances: a social event lasting four days at the end of winter/beginning of spring in a circular enclosure of branches, where men and women form two lines designated by sex and the women approach whichever men they want to dance with, and the dancing commences2. Watch this video of a Southern Ute Indian tribe Bear Dance, recorded in 1988, to get a better idea. The music produced in the Bear Dance is what brought me to the ceremony, as the principle instrument used in the ceremony, besides singing, is the notched stick (or rattle) mentioned in The American Indian. 

Ute Indians perform the Bear Dance on at the Bear Dance Festival. The Bear Dance welcomes the Spring of the year. (1920)

The notched stick, pictured at right, has two parts. The first is a stick about a foot or

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924012929372;view=1up;seq=868

Notched sticks and rasps used in Ute Bear Dances (Lowie)

more in length and “throughout its entire length it is whittled flat, and transverse notches or grooves are cut across this flattened portion.”3 The second part is a “rasp”, usually either a bone or rod. The notched stick is held against the ground or similar surface in one hand, while the other holds the rod and “is moved rapidly up and down the grooved portion so as to make a rattling sound.”4 Multiple sets of these are played alongside vocals, setting the dance into motion.

But why is it called the Bear Dance? According to Verner Reed, who in 1893 was invited to a Bear Dance by a Southern Ute tribe in Colorado (one of the first hand accounts Lowie cites), the Ute people “believe their primal ancestors were bears; after these came the race of Indians, who, on dying, were changed to bears” and the Bear Dances are meant to reinforce their friendship. The ceremony is held around the time bears awaken from hibernation and the dance is supposed to “cast the film of blindness from their eyes” when the bears wake.5

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

It is difficult to determine exactly when influence from another culture turns into misrepresentation. Edward MacDowell, a white American composer wrote the piece Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge which was published in 1896. The piece begins with a fortissimo, perfect 5th interval, an interval which was often used to categorize “exotic” music. This is just one way in which MacDowell exhibits an inaccurate representation of Native American music. MacDowell’s composition undoubtedly brings up issues, both in his inaccurate, westernized representation of it, but also in his use of Native American culture without permission.

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

This conjures up the questions, is it always wrong to misrepresent a certain culture’s music by westernizing it? What if the composer is someone of that culture? Could that even be considered “misrepresentation”? Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a self identified citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and works to make Native American music relevant within the classical music world. One of his pieces, “Oshta”, written for the solo violin is loosely based upon Choctaw hymn 53.

Choctaw Hymn 53 came into existence as a consequence of Christian missionary work done in Native American land. Work to evangelize Native Americans was done essentially since the first Europeans came to the Americas. Religion was one way in which Europeans felt superiority, which often lead to a desire to teach Native Americans about Christianity in order to help them escape their “savagery”. Missionary work and evangelization is what lead to the creation of things such as the Choctaw Hymn Book, a bigger collection of hymns with Choctaw Hymn 53 comes from. Composed by Native American citizens, these hymns were considered a type of “hybrid music”; a combination between western hymns and a Native American style of music.

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As seen in the images of Hymn #53, the words are all in Choctaw. Listening to this recording of the hymn, characteristics including the occasionally present dissonant harmonies distinguish it from traditional Christian hymnal music. The group singing is a characteristic which is also comparable to many other Native American music.

Listening to both Tate’s piece as well as the hymn it was inspired by, it is clear that they are vastly different, not only in their instrumentation, but in their melody and structure as well. Interestingly enough, Tate’s piece exhibits a perfect 5th double stop about 15 seconds in, making it possibly more similar to MacDowells’s intro than to the intro of the original hymn. Tate was clearly influenced by Native American music, much like MacDowell, but took it and made it his own.

To answer the questions I posed earlier, I would argue that no, a person like Jerod Tate cannot misrepresent his own culture, even if he is creating a sort of fusion between it and western culture. To argue with this, one might say that an implication of this fusion music is that it is a way of giving into assimilation by actively westernizing Native American culture. In reality, one cannot grow up in the United States without being exposed to western culture. I argue that even within one’s own identity, it is impossible to completely separate the western side from one’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Composers like Jerod Tate musically represent that dual identity within their work, thus making the Native American-Western fusion a presentation of pride of their culture and identity rather than a misrepresentation.

Sources:

  • Choctaw Hymn 53: Chahta vba isht taloa holisso. Choctaw Hymn Book, Richmond, Presbyterian committee of publication, 1872.
  • MacDowell, Edward. Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge. Barbagallo, James. Naxos 8.559010, 1994. CD.
  • Mill, Rodney, Frank Oteri, and Susan Feder. “Orchestral music.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002224888?rskey=tPlwS5&result=2
  • Stock, Harry. “A history of congregational missions among the North American Indians”. The Newberry Library, 1917. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_835
  • Tate, Jerod. “About: Artist’s Biography.” Jerod Tate. Accessed February 18, 2018 http://jerodtate.com/about/
  • Vba isht Taloa #53, Choctaw Hymn Book. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvana: School of Choctaw Language.

The Privilege of Romanticizing

Louis Arden Schuch (1876-1944) was a composer. Born in Germany, immigrated with his parents to the United States and settled in Auburn New York. He composed his problematic work titled “Mineola” in 1904. “Mineola” which translates to “pleasant place” in the Algonquian language. The piece’s alternative title is “The Wedding of the Indian and the Coon”. The piece is subtitled: “A Characteristic Indian Serenade”. The text is as follows:

“Mineola or the Wedding of the Indian and the coon” cover art

Out near the town named the Needles
There lives a pretty Indian maid
She is the Pride of the Kickapoo Indian
and her skin of Navajo shade
While out way up on a vista
A Coon perchance the maid to meet
and to her he took a fancy
 … every night and day
this Coon to her would say,

[chorus]
Won’t you be my Indian baby?
Love you yes indeed I do
I will make you happy, happy
Babe, now that I’ll be true

On the Indian reservation
Say you’ll be mine, don’t decline
the wedding of the Indian and the Coon

Told him she hadn’t thought of marriage
although she loved him heap much so
And if he expected her to Marry
To the Big Chief he would have to go
….
The ask’d what shall I say to him
In reply says dear don’t worry
have nerve drink some Tom Gin
As he said good bye that day
… to her did say

Where to even begin? Right off the bat, we have the term “coon” used to describe an African American man. This term came from the Spanish word barracón which was a large building constructed to hold merchandise, where slaves were kept for sale. This word was later anglicized into “barracoon” then shortened into the slag: “coon”. The first verse sexualizes the Native American woman emphasizing her skin tone. In the chorus begins “Won’t you be my Indian baby? Love you yes indeed I do” to be followed later in the piece by “Told him she hadn’t thought of marriage” which leads me to question motives/consent. Last but not least, the final verse mentions how the gentleman caller would need to ask the “Big Chief” referencing the Chief of that Indian tribe. Additionally, this piece says the love interest was from the Kickapoo tribe. This tribe was believed to be located in the part of the country that is now Oklahoma and Texas. I find it hard to believe that Schuch had any contact with this tribe in Auburn, NY. This piece is a whole new level of problematic. Written by a  German immigrant, a love song between two people of cultures to whom the composer does not belong nor know enough about to compose a piece of music. This is just scratching the surface on how people can completely abuse traditions they are not educated on.

Work Cited

Schuch, Louis Arden. Mineola or the Wedding of the Indian and the coon. Sheet Music Consortium, Duke Music Libraries. Auburn, NY. 1904. link

Schuch, Louis Arden Jr., Find A Grave.com link

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media

In the modern day of 2017, so much of our lives are spent online. We as people have the universe at our fingertips – with so much information out there, what all can be considered trustworthy? An issue with the concept of Mass Media is that anything and everything can be found somewhere online. Anyone who is able to access the internet is able to contribute their information and knowledge. Like moths to a flame, we are instantly bound to the first bit of information we see and accept it as fact. This leads to many issues spanning across many topics. In the past few years, the concept of “Cultural Appropriation” has exploded across everywhere and everything. To be correct when describing, defining, or demonstration any form of culture is so incredibly vital that issues arise when someone does this incorrectly. With it being so easy to misappropriate a culture in Media, what are we able to trust and how does the mass media change our perception of different cultures through their ideas of appropriation?

Native American culture is found in the roots of this country’s foundation. Often, when considering American history we forget that America was populated BEFORE 18th century colonization. The culture of Native Americans is one that has been appropriated for hundreds of years, through music, art, dance, etc. Because of this, our concept of this culture has been warped by pop culture and media as demonstrated in this cartoon…

This cartoon presents the problem of misappropriation. This boy only identifies “Indians” as the overly stereotypical form displayed in movies, sports teams, or cartoons. To him, this girl who looks “normal” doesn’t fit that stereotype and thus he questions her cultural authenticity.

Another example of this kind of appropriation occurs in cartoons. One example in particular is in Seth Macfarlane’s TV cartoon comedy “Family Guy”. In the episode The Life of Brian the episode begins with Stewie and Brian running from a band of Indians in a modern day city. They explore and make racist remarks about their ways of transportation, medicine, clothing, and music.

These two clips, both from the same episode, demonstrate the racist humor that Macfarlane is demonstrating. Examples like having the doctor at the hospital stand in a bunch of poses to try to cure disease, using smoke signals instead of phones, and having their most popular song be mono-tonal unison chanting are prime examples of Native American Appropriation. This kind of appropriation Macfarlane uses can even be found in other forms of music, such as Dvorak Symphony No 9 movement 2, largo. In this movement he references Native American tribal melodies. Of course, what he notates is only a small, itemized fraction of what the actual melody would have been and what it was to represent. Was Dvorak trying specifically to be incorrect, probably not, but still – some find this use of melody an unfair representation of the true culture. 

In 2017, being able to rid our minds of ignorance and to be able to fully understand and be aware of the sensitivities of other cultures is imperative. The massed media and pop culture has shaped our minds around what being a Native American or an “Indian” means. These stereotypes are preventing us as a nation from knowing the rich and long history of Native Americans and their culture. As Russell Means says in this video: “A nation that does not know its history, has no future”

Sources

Kanke, Marie. “The Harm of Native Stereotyping.” Blue Corn Comics — The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. August 08, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2017. http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stharm.htm.

TheUlleberg. “Family guy – Native American/Indian Radio.” YouTube. March 07, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=octtLcjJshw.

Jinpaul11. “Family Guy – Native Americans.” YouTube. May 07, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGcW3kjcFSU.

Diesillamusicae. “Dvořák: Symphony №9, “From The New World” – II – Largo.” YouTube. September 02, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASlch7R1Zvo.

Framesinmotion2007. “How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans.” YouTube. October 31, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q.

William F. Cody: A Brief Story of America’s First Potential Sell-Out

After The Songs of Hiawatha was “dropped” in the 1850’s, there was a general divide in the act of preserving, viewing, and conceiving the Native American-European settler dynamic in the late 1800’s: one that was rooted in trivializing various tribes, and one that focused on a scientific interest in Native American culture. While notable musicologists, such as Alice Fletcher, focused on the latter of the divided cultural conquests, American bison hunter/showman William F. Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, led the charge on the belittlement side of the coin with his “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” variety show. With a bison-hunting career that quickly turned into a celebrated and brief scouting stint with the Fifth Army, Cody was slowly transformed into the star-studded cowboy he is considered today through various “vaudeville-esque” shows, inexpensive pulp-fiction magazines, and investments in hotels, mines, coal and forms of tourism.

Although Cody was known as a strong supporter of the “fair” treatment of Native Americans, his entire career was based off of creating a romanticized, Western-based reality that exploited countless stereotypes. This notion can find it’s needed support in the study of Cody’s entire career as a sell out, cowboy performer, but I, in an attempt to showcase the extremity of trivialization, will prove my point with the cover page of an 1881 Wild Bill dime novel entitled: “Heroes of the Plains.” One of the first details to take note of is in the front-piece title page, where a descriptive list of the characters is given. Listed in bold and bright text towards the top of the page is a list of seven white, heroic character names, while the only mention of the “celebrated Indian fighters” is found in much smaller text below in the “and other” category of characters. Cody, while exploiting his respect for the Native American community by referring to their characters as “celebrated,” also is clearly portraying the white, American cowboys as the heroes of the story, giving the Native Americans the stereotypical role of the villains. 19th century Americans east of the Mississippi lacked the cross-cultural contact between Native Americans and Europeans, and it was through these trivial, typecast “Buffalo Bill” adventure stories that they developed a misconstrued conceptual framework of the various tribes and cultures. This “heroes vs. villains” theme can also be seen through the artwork displayed on the cover page. While the two stars of the story, Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill, are presented in ornate, golden frames, the only Native American shown clearly is brandishing a threatening dagger towards a hunched over, white settler, defending himself from an attack. In a devastatingly bloody history of white men conquering, conforming, and destroying Indian tribes, it’s hard to imagine a Native American as a “savage foe,” but in a culture built upon shows such as Cody’s, it is still, to this day, a reality.

 

Bruel, James. 1881. Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill. Heroes of the plains, or, lives and wonderful adventures of Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill… and other celebrated Indianfighters.” http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_467