Bird Songs

The Gourd Rattle (Hal Ma)

It is used by the local Indians to accompany songs and dances. The most common type of song is known as Bird Songs. The songs are not necessarily about birds but it is a type of style. There are many other types, or styles, like Wildcat, LaSha, Lightening, Ipi, Peon and other. The most common, and popular, is Bird. They are called Bird Songs and Bird Dances.

In years past the rattles were probably made out of clay. When the gourds became available rattles were made from them. The Halmas made for this Multi-Cultural fair are all hand made but are smaller than the ones commonly used in singing. Smaller ones, like these are made for children.

For several months of use there is a fine dust that comes out of them. The soft inside of the gourds are scrapped out but some of the softer material remains inside of the rattle. The spinning of the seeds will eventually result in the softer material being cleared out and there will no longer be the fine dust. When the singers dance new rattles produce a trail of dust but the older ones do not.

The rattles are painted in in many colors and have many designs on them. Whatever the designer chooses it fine and there is no set pattern or colors.

When the gourds are played the seeds inside are are never suppose to cease movement but when most people play they do pause in the sound. The seeds are spun inside the gourds and there are many different movements of the hand that will produce varing sounds and tempos. The most common sounds like a heart beat. The dance movements associated with the songs can be very simple like walking forward and backwards or very complex with short fast steps mixed in with pauses and longer slower steps.

The spinning motion, during a song, means that the song verse has stopped and another verse will follow. If the people are up and dancing it means that they must pause and then dance in the other direction, when the spinning stops and the verse starts again.

One common question is what are the songs about. The songs are about the things in you see around you. They are about animals, plants, the sky, the clouds, mountains and almost anything else. Each song tells a short story or a segment of a larger story. There are songs that people don't know what they are about but they sing them because they are pretty.

When gourds age with use they get very brittle. If dropped they will shatter like glass. This is why you will see them with leather straps that go through the handle and around the wrists. This is so they can not be accidentally dropped.

Here is an example of some Birdsongs sung by my Grandfather Richard Curo in MP3 format.

Bird Songs from 1953

Here are examples of Wildcat songs sung by my Grandfather Richard Curo again in MP3 format.

Wildcat Songs from 1953


There is now a Kumeyaay Bird Song site at: