Program 105: Tribal Rhythms

The Song of the Horse

Nico Wind

Nico Wind

with Nico Wind

Arlie Neskahi :
Here’s Nico Wind with tribal rhythms.

James Demars
Concerto For Native American Flute
Spirit Horses: The Music Of James Demars; Nakai
Canyon Records

Nico Wind:

“… My horse has a hoof like striped agate.
His fetlock is like fine eagle plume.
His legs are like quick lightening.
My horse’s body is like an eagle-feathered arrow.
My horse has a tail like a trailing black cloud.

His mane is made of rainbows.
My horse’s ears are made of round corn.
My horse’s eyes are made of stars.
My horse’s head is made of mixed waters.

My horse’s teeth are made of white shell.
The long rainbow is in his mouth for a bridle.
With it I guide him.

I am wealthy from my horse.
Before me peaceful
Behind me peaceful
Under me peaceful
Around me peaceful
Peaceful voice when he neighs
I am everlasting and peaceful.
I stand for my horse.

The words from the Navaho “war god’s horse song” express the respect, trust and deep connection that binds the native people of North America to their beloved horse.

Spirit Horses
We The People
Natural Visions

The horse, a welcome partner to the dog as a carrier of burdens, was called Elk Dog by the Blackfeet, Big Dog by the nez perce, and Sunka Wakan or Holy Dog by the Lakota. Stories and songs explain the arrival of the horse in some native cultures as a gift from the Great Spirit.

The Yuchi tribe, of the Muskogee Creek nation, have a dance that honors the horse. The dance, and its chant, assures the horse that it is of great value for it provides the gift of carrying the people long distances.

“Horse Dance” #9, Myth, Music And Dance Of The American Indian, Yuchi
De Cesare. Ruth, Ph.D. Myth, Music And Of The American Indian: An Activity Oriented Sourcebook Of American Indian Tradition, Based Upon The Music And Culture Of 21 Tribes. Teacher’s Resource Book. Van Nuys, California: Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. 1988. (Mcmlxxxviii) With Tape

Dancers imitate the movement of a horse as they trot with right foot down flat, followed by a quick toe motion of the left foot behind it. The right foot is always on the beat. Dancers follow the leader, who plays a rattle.

A lone Navajo horseman traveling at night may use a song of tribute to his horse to create an invisible barrier of protection, a “cover” that makes it impossible for any negative spirits to penetrate the rider’s safe zone.

Ed Lee Natay
Eno Le-Yeye
Riding In The Morning, #10 (Sway Songs), Natay: Navaho Singer: Music Of Ed Lee Natay, Vintage Collection, Vol. 1
Canyon Records

Ed Lee Natay’s title for this song, “Riding In The Morning” suggests the horseman’s return home from a ceremony. The steady rhythm of the sway song is a favorite accompaniment to horseback riding.

The Taos pueblo horsetail dance may originally have been ceremonial, but since ceremonies were outlawed for over a century, the dance is today presented for the entertainment of villagers, or as a hospitality gesture to visitors. It derives its name from the horsetails that the dancers wear tied to their waists. The dancers prance and kick while showing off their tails. Because there aren’t any set steps or gestures, the dancers are able to improvise movements to the great amusement of those who watch.

Taos Pueblo Horse Tail Dance
Traditional Voices: Historic Recordings Of Traditional Native American Music
Canyon Records

Horse songs and dances are not all for simply honoring the horse. Many songs are concerned with the stealing or capturing of this amazing animal. In the past, the motivation to acquire horses was great, for horses provided increased efficiency in the hunt and greater mobility. Horses were the preferred standard of value in many native cultures.

Stealing horses as a means of acquiring wealth was thus a serious, sometimes deadly, but very exciting game that demonstrated the warrior’s skill, bravery and cunning.

Judy Trejo
Canyon Records

Maybe that’s why, today, horse-stealing songs are sometimes considered warrior songs, like this Paiute horse stealing song from Ed Williams as sung by Judy Trejo. It’s about Paiute warriors going to Arizona to steal horses from a tribe there and having to escape through rows of tall corn.

Sometimes the relationship between horse and rider is not an easy one. When a rider wants to use grazing horses, he or she has to hunt them up and drive them home.

A hand-game song referring to the search for the markers hidden in the hands of the players makes an analogy to finding and catching one’s horse: “now I go to seek my horse. So here I stand and look about me. So here I stand and look about me. Now I go to seek my horse.”

Navajo Skip Dance Song
Native American Traditions
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

A Navajo skip dance song, sung by the turtle mountain singers, laments, “it’s your fault that you’re looking for your horses all night. How could you, how could you. It’s your fault, now you’ve got to look for your horses all night long.”

On the other hand, there is the song of the horse, speaking to its rider:
“Black hair rope is what you used in roping me.
You treated me badly.
You even threw me down and tied me.
Not satisfied with that, you tied a knot in my tail. That made me disgusted.”

Johano-Ai begins each day from his Hogan in the east. Carrying the golden disk, the sun, he rides across the skies to his Hogan in the west.

Burning Sky
Canyon Records

He has five horses: a horse of turquoise, one of white shell, and one of pearl shell. These he rides when the skies are blue. He has a red shell horse and a horse of coal; he mounts them when the skies are dark and stormy.

The horses race on decorated hides and blankets, pasture on flower blossoms and drink many kinds of waters. When a horse rolls or shakes himself, he raises glittering grains of sacred pollen, like that used in Navajo ceremonies.

The Navajo sings of the horses of Johano-ai so that some day he might have horses like those of the sun god. He sings this song for the blessing and protection of his animals.

The horse is intricately woven into the mystical or religious fabric of many tribes. Membership in the Sioux horse owner’s society was offered to those who had dreamed “horse medicine” dreams granting them special powers.

Lone man, a Sioux storyteller and drummer for sun dances, expressed the mystery and beauty of the horse in a dream song, called the horsemen in the cloud. “Horsemen are coming from north and the west. They fly through the air and into the clouds, with galloping hoofs and thundering sounds. They came to me; they came to me.”

Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux prophet and healer, or holy man, had a vision of the horse nation when he was very young. This song describes the great beauty of the horse and offers a sense of hope and strength to its singers.

James Demars
Concerto For Native American Flute
Spirit Horses: The Music Of James Demars; Nakai
Canyon Records

“My horses, prancing they are coming.
My horses, neighing they are coming.
Prancing they are coming.
All over the universe they come.

A horse nation, they will dance. May you behold them.
A horse nation, they will dance. May you behold
A horse nation, they will dance. May you behold
A horse nation, they will dance. May you behold them.”

Tribal rhythms is produced by our music director, Nico Wind and written by Anne Morin.

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