gourd or shaker rattle is an object and even though this activity
is goal oriented it will be better to maintain an attitude of
non-objective oriented enthusiasm. By this I am referring to the
greater value of the path or process in the creative journey and
the steps into the culture rather than the final destination or
art object produced.
around at other rattles used by other singers and the types of uses
that you desire to associate with. Keep in mind; imitation is the
proven and often best type of cultural flattery. In a group oriented
society individualism has a minimal role. Focus on the role or use
or values that are important to the culture that regularly has rattles
as a part of its expression.
before we start we need to accept this as an axiom: Measure twice,
or more, cut once. OK, lets start. Look at the gourd you have selected.
Try to determine the shape and balance of the orb. Visualize the
handle in proportion to the gourd. What proportions do you visualize?
Will it be in balance if it is short, long, narrow, thick, or custom
proportions? What size hole will the cut produce? Will you need
to step down from the plug to fit the hole or vice versa? Shake
a rattle for a couple of hours, non-stop, to determine a handle
shape that may feel comfortable to your hand. We still have not
cut the gourd. We are still looking for balance. If we achieve this
focus, whatever we produce will be centered and in balance. All
will be harmonious and still special because we are all special
to the Creator.
Much of the music that is sung in Southern California, Baja and
over along the Colorado River utilizes a variety of rattle accompaniments.
One of the most familiar varieties is the gourd rattle associated
with many of the variations of Bird song presentation. Not too long
ago an opportunity became available to experience and receives instruction
from a recognized singer on a variety of steps utilized in the construction
of the gourd rattle. In appreciation of the detailed teaching and
with all due modesty, here are my interpretations. I hope you find
them instructive and in this way we will educate and encourage the
greater appreciation of the Yuman and other song styles utilizing
the gourd rattle.
this Southern California area, some singers have their own gardens
and grow their own gourds at distance from the other vegetables.
Sometimes the garden fencing supports these gourd vines. Realistically
and more typically, a trip or internet order to Welburn Farms in
Fallbrook, California will provide a wide selection of sizes and
shapes of dried gourds. In this Tribal workshop, we talked about
the former and brought in a big bag of crusty dried gourds from
Welburn's. Every student picked out two or three prospective choice
shapes and wall thickness. (This size and shape consideration is
an area of variation qualified by observation. Also, in time, experience
with shape, size and regional determination may motivate you to
make other gourds for gifting or useage.)
steps: Use a small handsaw to take off the stem portion of the gourd
and discard it. We might try to anticipate the sawn opening and
the size of the wood handle. But, before I get ahead of myself,
the next task is the removal of seeds and the pithy material inside
the gourd. There are a variety of creative tools, mostly custom
made for this messy task. Spread out lots of newspapers to catch
the mess. The cleaner the inside the gourd the clearer the sound
of the rattle, take your time. Next you might want to judge the
outside carefully and remove some of that crusty stuff until you
have a completely clean gourd surface.
this point most of us started to work on two steps at the same time.
One, for the handle we used willow branches or also acceptable is
cottonwood for the wood handle. Two, the cleaned gourd needs to
be 'cooked.' Boiling water in a large container (#10 can or large
pot) will handle several gourds at the same time, twenty to thirty
minutes will harden the walls and bring a crisp edge to the sound
of the finished gourd rattle. Also the boiling will soften off the
last of the crusty areas and leave it nice and clean.
the gourd is boiling this is an excellent time to whittle the handle
to a desired shape and size one end to fit snugly in the opening
of the gourd. Rasp, knife, drill and lots of sandpaper will be utilized;
also this step is real good therapy for anger management and that
new twelve-step behavior adjustment program! When both cleaned gourd
and handle are ready, bring together for fit, adjust, and refit.
the next step we need to add some sound-making elements. Preferred
are the traditional date palm seeds, cleaned of sand and other stuff.
We hear all kinds of stories about how many seeds and why. But what
we were told was to put them in, insert the handle and shake it,
if it sounds like too many, remove some, too few, add some, it worked
the handle needs to be glued (White, Elmers, Carpenters, etc)
to the gourd. Tilt the rattle so that none of the seeds will be
glued at the same time. If it is still too loose it may be necessary
to adjust the handle with layers of masking tape for a snug fit
and then glue. Let set, sand, and paint, in the regional style you
are representing, both or more rattles. Keep in mind tribal generosity,
decorate the best one to give away, make up a real good story to
go with it too. Enjoy swinging those gourd rattles and singing the
many styles, (twelve to fourteen) of traditional Southern California
are some rattles we made and some are gifts and some are from other
areas and looked real interesting. Sam Brown has other examples
of gourds he has made and has been gifted on his home page. singbird.com
what you think and let us know your opinions. Have great fun following
Native American custom and tradition.