The Cherokee is spread out over what are currently Kentucky, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. The people called themselves Ani Yunwiya, which means “the principal people,” and were the largest single tribe in the south. The name Cherokee was given to them by other Indian tribes and meant “people who speak another language. ” In the 16th century, there were about 25,000 Cherokee. From 1684 to 1835 white settlers moved through their lands. The Eastern Band of Cherokee is descended from those who fled to the mountains to avoid relocation during the “trail of tears. Native American Music The music of the Native Americans is diverse. Each tribe has its own musical approach and style that has been passed down through generations. It is the main focus 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 given to them by spirits to maintain a connection between the heavens and earth. 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. The most important element of their music is the voice. Unusual rhythms and sometimes off-key style of singing is used. There is no harmony, although many people may sometimes sing at once. The Native American vocals are passionate and are used to invoke spirits, ask for rain or healing. 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. Some 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 complex form of art. Music styles vary because of the many different tribes. Cherokee Instruments Cherokee instruments include 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. Percussion instruments (drums and rattles) 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 drawn hide. 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.