1. Arapaho Tribe
2. Arapaho Music
3. Arapaho Instruments
4. Cherokee Tribe
5. Cherokee Music
6. Cherokee Instruments
7. Compare & Contrast
8. Work Cited
The Arapaho Indians have lived on the plains of Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska,
and Kansas since the 17th Century. Prior to that, they had roots in Minnesota
before European expansion forced them westward. At that time they were a
sedentary, agricultural people, living in permanent villages in the eastern
woodlands. However, that changed when they moved west and the tribe became a
nomadic people following the great buffalo herds.
The Arapaho lived in teepees made from buffalo skins that could be easily erected
and taken down as the tribe moved from place to place. Becoming expert buffalo
hunters, the buffalo provided them
with virtually everything they needed.
They also hunted for elk and deer,
fished, and ate various berries, and
plants. During hard times, they were
also known to eat their dogs.
The Arapaho refer to themselves as ‘Inuna-Ina’ which translates to "our people.” Their
language is of Algonquin heritage, as is that of their close neighbors the Cheyenne. The Plains
Arapaho soon split into two separate tribes, the northern and southern Arapaho. The Northern
Arapaho lived along the edges of the mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, while
the southern Arapaho moved towards the Arkansas River.
The Arapaho are a very spiritual people, believing in an
overall creator who they call Be He Teiht. As with many
Native American peoples they believe in a close relationship
between themselves, the animals of their world and the land
on which they live. The Arapaho also have a deep respect
and appreciation for the wisdom of their elders.
The tribe lived together in small bands, predominantly determined by birth. However,
members were free to move between bands at will. Once a year all of the bands would
congregate together for the Sun Dance festival, an eight day event at the time of the Summer
Solstice. The festival preceded the great summer buffalo hunt. In the middle of the camp, a
large open air Sun Dance Lodge would be constructed of wooden poles with the Sun Dance
pole standing in the middle. Individual teepees would be erected around the lodge in a large
The participants of the dance fasted during the
dance and painted their bodies in symbolic colors.
Dressed in aprons, wristlets and anklets the dancers
would stare at the Sun while dancing hypnotically
before being impaled to the Sun Dance pole by way
of tiny stakes punctured into the skin.
The Sun Dancer was not to show any signs of pain
during the ritual and, if able to do so, would be
rewarded with a vision from the Great Spirit.
The annual Sun Dance was their greatest tribal ceremony but they were also active proponents of the
Ghost Dance religion when it was made popular in the 1880s.
Arapaho songs were and are passed on in a variety of ways: some are
traditional and are passed on orally, some are learned from other tribes, and some
are created by tribe members. Songs of the Sun Dance, Vision Quest, and of war are
the oldest documented, although it is very likely there are many older songs. Many
songs in Arapaho have meaningless syllables, but it is very important to realize that
these are structured and standardized. In other words, they are not random
syllables chosen on a whim by the singer(s).
Not only is Arapaho music complex, it is extremely important to the people.
The music is not just used for entertainment as those in mainstream United States
culture generally presume. All aspects of the music are significant and full of power,
and cannot be divorced from the religion, culture, and history of the Arapaho.
SUN DANCE & HAND GAME SONGS
• Hand-game songs were sung
before or while gambling by an
individual or a team. A person would
hide something in their hands, usually
a bean or a button, while the other
person would guess where it was
• The following is the text of one
"When I am singing,
When I am singing,
I am hollering for the bean,
For that bean" (Nettl 33)
• Hand-game songs were actually
forgotten by many Arapaho but
experienced a revival during the Ghost
Dance movement. Most of the hand-
game songs are like those of the Ghost
Dance, and the texts of both groups of
songs make references to one another
Both men and women participate in the Sun dance, singing
to the accompaniment of a large drum. The Sun Dance
lasts for seven days of which three are used for
preparation. The dance consists of a "pledger" who
commits himself to sponsoring a Sun Dance in hopes to
recover from an illness, promote war success, or honor the
death of family member. "A song was sung repeatedly for
about half an hour. The last rendition was treated in a
specific fashion. The men stopped singing one, two, three
phrases before the end and the drum slowed down to half
of its previous speed. After four slow beats the drum
stopped and the women finished the song alone.“
Eagle bone whistles are used in this dance along with
drums and singing. "The songs were all begun by an old
man in a loud voice and at a high pitch. After a few notes,
other men joined in the singing, and, towards the end of
each song, one woman or more. The song gradually fell in
both pitch and volume until it died away. Thereupon the
leader in the singing began again." (Nettl p. 20) The range
of melodies is so wide that singers sometimes find
themselves on a very low pitch at the end of the songs.
One such song of the Sun Dance, the Morning Sunrise
song, is sung at the end of the night when the dancers are
preparing to rest. Sun Dance songs are sung with
meaningless syllables. These groups of songs are some of
the oldest in Arapaho repertory. There is no explanation as
to the time of origin or place for.
GHOST DANCE & RABBIT DANCE
• The Rabbit Dance is a social
dance of the Northern Arapaho
Tribe. It was learned from the Cree
Indians in about 1920. The dance
much resembles a White American
folk dance or "square dance." The
steps in the dance are in
accordance with "calling" by one of
the drummers. Men and women
dance in couples side by side, and
women choose their dance partner.
Today, the Rabbit Dance is not
practiced due to the popularity of
practicing other pan-Indian social
dances like the pow-wow.
In 1888, the Ghost Dance religion emerged. A prophet
named Wodziwob, a Walker Lake- Walker River
Northern Pauite dreamed of this dance. Following
Wodziwob, Ta'vibo taught about the old ways of life and
resurrection. Then another came, Wovoka, son of Ta'vibo,
who took his father's teachings and brought Christian
ideas to them. The Ghost Dance promised restoration of
life, before the coming of the white-man in which the
buffalo would return.
The Ghost Dance was used in the treatment of the sick
and to promote good health. No drum or rattle is used in
the opening song of the Arapaho Ghost Dance. The entire
melody is made up of four pairs of phrases. The structure
of the dance consists of concentric circles formed by the
tribe. The tempo of the song progresses faster and faster
throughout the dance. Members keep in step moving one
foot to the left while extending the right foot to drag
along the ground. From this movement, a fine dust
accumulates off the ground that is occasionally thrown
high into the sky.
Paired phrasing, a style of singing found in the Ghost
Dance, and known to the Great Basin region, can induce
hypnosis and trance-like states. "They fall into sections so
symmetrical as to be startling in primitive material. This
symmetry is achieved by the most essential feature of the
style, a simple structural device, every phrase is rendered
twice" (Densmore, 78).
The Peyote Ceremony, often associated with the
Native American Church, consists of a mix of
native beliefs and practices along with Christian
symbolism. God, Jesus, and Mary are offered
prayers in addition to the peyote. Peyote allows
members of the Native American Church to seek
and obtain wisdom. It is also considered a
sacred medicine. When a member of the tribe
seeks the peyote, he receives characteristics that
are part of the cactus, rebalancing with nature.
Song and ritual are very important in the
ceremony. Songs help the Arapaho receive the
emotional, physical, and intellectual properties
of the peyote. To begin, the leader, sings the
opening song, while the man wit the peyote
drum keeps a rapid, even drumbeat and sings
along at his right. To the left of the lead, sits a
man with a cedar branch. Moving clockwise, the
drum and rattle are passed from one person to
another, each of them singing the four
ceremonial songs. Throughout the ceremony,
groups of four songs are sung by every person
present: Opening Song of the Peyote Ceremony,
Midnight Song, Daybreak Song, and Closing
Song. Rhythm and song texts of the peyote songs
are simple and melodic. The rhythm of the songs
is basic with count divisions chiefly composed of
quarter and eighth notes. Vocables, paired
phrases, make up the song texts of peyote,
ending in "he ne ne yo way."
In the past, all men past puberty
participated in an individual quest for a
vision which would guide them in their
lives. Before any serious event, such as
going off to war, a man would venture out
in isolation, fasting and possibly torturing
himself until he received a vision. The
vision could be an animal or a person who
blesses the man, gives him life advice, and
teaches him a song. These songs that had
initially been received in a vision quest
can be performed and used either for
certain ceremonies, at no special occasion
in particular, or only at certain critical
times, such as death and illness. If the
sick person is cured or not depends in
part on how well the vision-seeker
remembered the song.
The Pow-wow began in the mid 1800s or
possibly later among Plain tribes,
originating in traditional men's societies
and social/ceremonial gatherings. The
pow-wow had its biggest increase in
popularity after WWII when the soldiers
returned from the war. In order to honor
them, the warrior society dances of the
19th century were given new meaning.
Pow-wows can be for fun, competition, or
for honoring people; and they take place
on a family, community, tribal, regional,
or even national level. The pow-wow is
for honoring ceremonies, naming and
adoption ceremonies, reception of
families into public life after a time of
mourning, entertainment, and interaction
among friends and family.
Before the departure of a war party and after its
return, special songs and occasionally dances
were performed. Sometimes they honored
individual warriors and sometimes served to
inspire the group in general. Most war songs
were sung by women and men in groups, but also
Often the melody of a war song was retained
while the text was changed to make the song
more relevant. Also the text can be replaced with
meaningless syllables. This is quite common in
traditional Arapaho music. The music could be
accompanied by dancing, such as the Contest
Dance, which took place after the return of a war
party. In this dance, the dancer-warriors acted
out their experiences in battle and other dancers
imitated these warriors. The contest determined
who was the best pantomime.
Rattles cannot be understood as one homogenous group-different types of rattles had different
functions and sometimes different symbolism.
One type of rattle is the container rattle, a rounded rattle made of rawhide, filled with pebbles,
and attached to a wooden handle. It is 8-12 inches in length with several inches of feathers as a
decoration. Among its other uses, the Dog Society, one of the men's age-grade groups, used
the container rattle to accompany singing while approaching an enemy.
Another type of rattle is made from buffalo scrotom and decorated, like the container rattle
described above, with feathers. It was carried in battle by the Spear Society and thrown at the
enemy, which the warriors followed in a charge.
A more recent creation, a rattle made of gourd and filled with glass beads is used only for the
Peyote Ceremony. The sound produced is more swishy than the other two.
HÓ' ÉIÍ (DRUM) WÓOTEIHÓ'OYÓO (DRUM
The drum remains sacred within the
Arapaho nation. The drum,
according to the Arapaho, is an
animate object. In other words, it is
in a sense, "alive." The Arapaho use
the same verb form when talking
about a drum as they use when
talking about people and animals.
The drum is not given the same verb
form as objects such as a table or
The Drum also represents a world of
people, with the top being the land,
the animal hide around it being the
clouds, and the straps, people.
Most drum sticks are about one
foot long and 1/4 an inch in
diameter. Three inches of the
drumstick are wrapped with a thin
cloth, although in the Ghost Dance
the wrapping is thicker and
decorated with feathers.
BONE-BUZZER OR HUMMER
This instrument is a boy's toy that
is said to produce wind because it
sounds like the wind.
It is part of the Ghost Dance and is
sometimes used to start the
The instrument should be swung
rapidly in a circle by the handle to
make a loud noise like distant
thunder, the bellowing of a bull,
or howling. The Bullroarer is
made from a flat piece of bone
about 2X4 in. attached to a piece
of string and a wooden handle.
This instrument is used in the Ghost Dance.
It is made from bone. The hummer is
tied to 2 strings and a wooden handle. The
strings round around each other and then
when pulled apart rapidly, they cause bone
to rotate and produce a buzzing sound.
These whistles are usually made from an
eagle bone; 4-7 “ long.
It is used In Sun Dance and some age-grade
ceremonies by dancers. During the Peyote
ceremony it is used at midnight to mimic an
The whistle used in the Ghost Dance is 2X
the size of a standard whistle.
Whistles are made of wood and decorated
with carvings and feathers, and they are
symbolic of thunder.
In 1951 in Ethete, Wyoming, three vision quest songs
performed by Edward Grasshopper were recorded: the
Skybird, Thunderbird, and Wolf songs. They are said to have
been received by his grandfather, Yellow Calf, the last chief of
the Northern Arapaho, during a vision quest.
Here are the lyrics both in Arapaho and English of the three
Skybird Song (hixcebe’nii’ehiihiniiboot):
Honoh’enoohobei’ee (hih)cebe’(h)entoonoo neneeninoo nii’ehii
Man look at us I’m up here I am the bird
Wolf Song (hooxeyihiineniinoot):
Hinee’ hiinoono’eti’ nee’eetetouuhunoo neneeninoo
Over in that cloud that’s wheremy roar is coming from I myself
am the bird
Thunderbird Song (Box’oonii’ehii’noot):
Nii’ehii noo’useet niihooninoo’oo’ hono’
Bird has arrived the sky is turning yellow
The Cherokees believe that they have always lived in Western North
Carolina. Indeed, finely crafted stone tools and fluted spear-points
confirm that ancient people lived here more than 11,000 years ago, at the
end of the last Ice Age. Ancient Cherokee tales describe hunts of the
mastodons that once foraged through the upland spruce and fir.
More than a thousand years ago, Cherokee life took on the patterns that
persisted through the eighteenth century. European explorers and settlers
found a flourishing nation that dominated the southern Appalachians.
The Cherokees controlled some 140,000 square miles throughout eight
present-day southern states. Villages governed themselves
democratically, with all adults gathering to discuss matters of import in
each town’s council house. Each village had a peace chief, war chief, and
priest. Men hunted and fished; women gathered wild food and cultivated
‘the three sisters’ corn, beans, and squash cleverly inter-planting them to
minimize the need for staking and weeding.
This was life that realized harmony with nature, sustainability, personal freedom,
and balance between work, play, and praise. The land furnished all: food in
abundance; materials for shelter, clothing and utensils; visual grandeur still vivid
today, and herbs to treat every known illness – until the Europeans came.
For the first 200 years of contact, the Cherokees extended hospitality and help to
the newcomers. Peaceful trade prevailed. Intermarriage was not uncommon. The
Cherokees were quick to embrace useful aspects of the newcomers’ culture, from
peaches and watermelons to written language. This last was single-handedly
created by the Cherokee genius Sequoyah, who introduced his ‘syllabary,’ or
Cherokee alphabet, to the national council in 1821. Within months, a majority of
the Cherokee nation became literate.
But, by then, nearly 200 years of broken
treaties had reduced the Cherokee
empire to a small territory, and Andrew
Jackson began to insist that all
southeastern Indians be moved west of
the Mississippi. The federal government
no longer needed the Cherokees as
strategic allies against the French and
British. Land speculators wanted
Cherokee land to sell for cotton
plantations and for the gold that was
discovered in Georgia. In 1838, events
culminated in the tragic ‘Trail of Tears,’
the forced removal of the Cherokees in
the East to Oklahoma. One quarter to
half of the 16,000 Cherokees who began
the long march died of exposure,
disease, and the shock of separation
from their home.
Cherokee music, like many other Cherokee art forms, has always been an integral part
of special ceremonies as well as in daily life. Vocals are the backbone of Native
American music culture. Unusual rhythms and sometimes off-key style of singing is
used. No harmony is ever incorporated although many people may sometimes sing at
once. Other times the vocals will be solo. The Native American vocals are passionate
and are used to invoke spirits, ask for rain or healing and are used to heal the sick. In
most cases the men and women of the tribes sing separately and have their own
dances. The women normally dance in place while the men dance in a circle.
Researchers feel that Native American music is one of the most complicated forms of
music performed. The tensing and releasing of the vocals combined with the various
drum beats makes it a very intricate form of art. Every region of the country where
Native Americans settled produced varying forms of music. The music is always
unique to its group due to the many different tribes.
Cherokee men sang to lead dances in
various traditional ceremonies. Their
song were frequently made up of short
sections comprised of phrases sung four
or seven times, the sacred numbers of the
Cherokee. During dances, the songs may
begin or end with a shout or whoop.
Some dance songs followed a call-and-
response pattern with one person leading
the song and dance and the rest of the
group answering in short musical
phrases. Other traditional uses for music
included the singing of prayer formulas.
The music of the Native Americans is as
vast and diverse as those who create it.
Each tribe has its own musical approach
and style that has been passed down
from generation to generation. It is the
center of Native American culture and is
used in religious rituals, for healing,
accompanying work and games as well as
social gatherings. Most Native Americans
feel that music and song is not a human
invention but rather something that is
given to the by spirits to facilitate
interaction between the heavens and
Lyrics are filled with symbolisms and
singers sometimes use made up sounds
to create the stories and rhythmic poetry.
Vocals and chanting are very common in
traditional Native American music.
Flutes, drums and rattles are the most
common instruments found throughout
the tribes. Perhaps the most important
element of their music is the voice.
Cherokee Dances fall into two basic
categories: Social Dances and Religious or
Ceremonial Dances. Religious Dances
always involved pre-selected dancers and
complex choreography and steps, and
also included at least one social dance at
the end of the ceremonies which was
open to all of the participants in a
Social Dances are more prevalent in
modern Cherokee societies and some of
these dances were adopted as the result
of contact with other Native American
tribes. One example of this is the
Cherokee Butterfly Dance, which is also
known as the Ladies' Fancy Shawl Dance
on the modern day pow wow circuits.
The Cherokee have a legend explaining
how this dance came to be, but the Crow
also have another legend with their own
version of this dance. In both cultures, it
started out as a powerful medicine dance.
The most important religious dance of the
Cherokee people is the Stomp Dance. In a
ceremonial setting, this dance is always
preceded by a game of A-ne-jo-di, or
Stickball, which resembles the European
game of LaCrosse, but a competitive or
social A-ne-jo-di game doesn't always
include the dance. It depends on the
intent of the gathering -- whether it is a
religious, or social gathering.
The buffalo is a symbol of abundance.
Historically, Cherokee crossed the mountains
to the north to hunt or trade for buffalo and
bring back meat for the long winter. Like all
Animal Dances, the Buffalo Dance is a
celebration of thanksgiving. The hunter takes
on the spirit of the buffalo he has hunted
during the year. He thanks the spirit of that
animal, and he asks for good luck for next
year's hunting. A kilt is worn during Buffalo
Dances. These dances are performed in
winter. The Bear Dance, Beaver Dance, and
Forest Buffalo Dances also employed masks
which represented the respective animal
portrayed. The Cherokee also have an
Ancient Eagle Ceremonial Dance that
includes elaborate 6 foot wings made from
white or nearly white bald eagle feathers,
which is danced mostly today for exibition
The Cherokee used masks in numerous dances. One such dance,
known as "The Booger Dance", was usually performed in the late
fall or winter. It's intent was to make fun of and belittle the
enemies of the Cherokee. The Booger masks were made to
represent the faces of people who were the enemies of the
Cherokee. In earlier times, they may have represented the
Chickasa or Seneca people, who were enemies of the Cherokee
before European contact. After interaction with the whites became
prevalent and hostilities started, the masks began to resemble a
bald man with a very round face, since many of the white men of
this era wore their heads shaved, and generally had less angular
features than the Indian peoples. Today, the Booger mask is a
popular item produced for the tourist trade, especially in North
Cherokee instruments from
the past have included
panpipes, flutes, whistles,
drums and rattles. Flutes,
made of river cane or the leg
bone of a deer, were played
to accompany processions of
chiefs, to greet visitors and to
encourage success in
stickball games. Whistles,
made from leg bones of
birds, were sometimes blown
by warriors to produce their
war call, often a male wild
Percussion instruments (drums and
rattles) primarily accompanied dancing.
The water drum was most commonly
used by the Cherokee and neighboring
tribes. It could be tuned and was made
from a section of hollowed log partially
filled with water and covered by tightly
Many rattles were made from gourds and
contained beans, corn kernels or pebbles.
The gourds were attached to wooden
handles and decorated with feathers or
rattlesnake rattles. Other rattles were
made from turtle shells, attached to a
leather strip and worn by women during
dancing. They were tied just below the
knee and produced a rhythmic
accompaniment with the drumming and
singing as the women danced. These
women were called shell shakers.
The Arapaho and Cherokee music is
similar in many ways. Their music is
a form of expression. It is used as
praise, sorrow, for motivation, and
as a way to get together socially.
Both tribes had different forms of
music for different reasons. It could
be religious or for war.
While both tribes used similar
instruments the Arapaho
relationships to their drums were
intense. Even today you don’t leave
your drum sitting. Meanwhile the
Cherokee instrument of choice was
The biggest difference I saw that
women were not allowed to
participate in Arapaho music unless
it was a song that was for their
ceremonies. It was disrespectful for
a women to even sit by a drum.
Women were allowed to sing and
take part in Cherokee music.
Cherokee music also took European
instruments as their own.
Arapaho music, between tribes, was
similar but because of the vast
separation, geographical isolation,
and varying degrees of contact
which has shaped the modern dance
and music customs of the Cherokee
groups occupying North America.
Densmore, Frances. Cheyenne and Arapaho Music. Los Angeles:
Southwest Museum, 1936.
“Musical Cultures and Regions.” The Garland Encyclopedia of World
Music. 2001 ed.
Nettl, Bruno. Musical Culture of the Arapaho. Indiana: Indiana University
School of Music, 1951.
Ramsey, Bonnie. Music and the Cherokee Indians.
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