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Impearls: HIC 4.16: Musical instruments

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Musical instruments   by A. L. Kroeber

In instruments the Yurok are remarkable for their paucity.  The sole one was the flute, an open tube of elder wood with three or four equally spaced holes.  [Pl. 43, e.]  It was blown diagonally across one end.  If a man could sniff a melody into it with his nose, he was rated a virtuoso.  Many did not even learn to play it with the mouth.  The flute was associated with young men's courtship or unexpressed desires; but it was also played by their elders as they sat on sunny afternoons before the sweat house in idle meditation.  The instrument is incapable of accompanying the voice.  A bone whistle used in the Deerskin dance produces only a monotonous blast.

The northwestern tribes of to-day cover a cracker box with horsehide.  This makes an effective drum to go with the songs that intensify gambling.  But the device is not aboriginal.  The Yurok say that anciently their sole drum was a convenient plank, preferably of seasoned white cedar, thumped with a stick.  If a passer-by wished to join in, he brought his paddle up with him from the boat.

No sort of rattle was used by the Yurok, though several types are known from their nearest neighbors.  The musical bow and the rhythmic rasp of other parts of California were also unrepresented.  The extreme poverty of instruments among a people not deficient in technical devices suggests a strong stylicization of their vocal music.



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