The Drum

At present, the chief instrument for accompanying the dance is the drum. It is played by a drummer who stands at one side of a line of dancers or who walks along with a chorus. In former days, say old pueblo people, his drum was made of a large pot, partly filled with water and with a piece of deerskin tied tightly over its mouth. These old water drums give a fine, bell-like sound but only Zuni makes much use of them now. Drums in the other pueblos are made of a hollow cylinder of wood, with skin stretched over its open ends. No one is sure whether such a drum is an old pueblo instrument or whether it represents another case where some novelty, learned from whites or other Indians, has been cleverly adapted to pueblo needs and materials.

Pueblo people had a simple and practical way of getting the wooden cylinder. They looked for a fallen cottonwood or aspen log of the diameter they wanted, knowing that the soft wood inside would rot to powder, leaving a cylindrical shell. Men kept a lookout for such logs and a drum maker generally knew, months ahead, where he could find one. He cut off a section of the size he wanted and cleaned it well inside with a knife of stone or, later, of steel. Some pueblos liked their drums tall and those of the Tewa, for instance, may sometimes be used today as little tables. Others made them smaller like the old pot drum. In these days, many paint the outside of the wooden cylinder, often in bright turquoise blue. Pueblo people can usually tell where a drum was made by the size, color and workmanship. Cochiti, especially, excels in this art and sells drums throughout the Southwest.

The drum maker had been saving strong, thick pieces of buckskin for his drumheads. If he was lucky, he might have the tougher hide of antelope or mountain sheep or, best of all, buffalo. Today he uses horse or goat hide. Sometimes he dehaired the skin (see pages 112-116) but this was not necessary, since it would wear off as the drum was pounded. He never softened and dressed the skin, because a drumhead should be stiff.

He cut two pieces, much larger than the ends of the log over which they would fit. They were roughly circular but their edges were cut into points, to hold the lashing. He let them soak overnight, so they would stretch easily and, next day, fitted each over one end of the log, tying it temporarily in place. Then he punched holes in the points which extended down from each drumhead and laced the two heads together with a thong which passed back and forth along the length of the cylinder, tying the two skins together and pulling them tight. The wet skin dried in a shape which exactly fitted the ends of the drum. (Plate V-2)

Drummers carried this drum by a short rawhide loop at one side and, of course, never let it touch the ground. They beat it with a single drumstick, not two, such as the whites use. Sometimes they used a single headed drum, with skin stretched over a wooden hoop like a tambourine.

The Flute

The other pueblo instrument was the flute. (Plate VI-1) This was a rod of cottonwood or some soft wood which is pulpy inside. The maker cut a section two and a half to three feet long and punched out the pulpy inside with a hot wire. Pueblo people do not remember what he did before wires were to be had. He cut four holes in the further end. In the near end, he inserted a slanting mouthpiece of smooth wood, for this flute was blown from the end, not the side. Sometimes the flute was painted with the favorite turquoise blue of the pueblos and it might be decorated with feathers and strings of buckskin. Flutes of this sort would not play a tune and they were not used to accompany dancing or singing. The flute was a solo instrument, played by young men when they were courting. The Zuni used it in a corn grinding ceremony, when girls ground corn in unison while a young man plaved to them. The Hopi had two clans of Flute People, who performed a special ceremony, bringing rain to the mesas.


We have already spoken of the painting done on pottery which was the work of women and, in these days, of men too. There was other painting done by men on wooden properties for the altar and wooden headdresses but their description would take us far into ceremony, which is not the province of this book. Men also painted murals.

Perhaps we could use the word murals about the ancient splotches in red and white found outside some of the ruined pueblos. They certainly were the prelude to mural painting and some of the sun symbols and rain clouds really take rank as pictures. These can be seen on hundreds of trails and roads in New Mexico wherever there is a smooth rock face near some old camp of pueblo people.

About fourteen or fifteen hundred A.D. (or earlier for all we know) pueblo people began to paint pictures on the walls of the sacred rooms which we call kivas. First, they plastered the wall with smooth brown adobe, as was done in any house. Then they put on designs in the earth colors used for pottery-brownish red, yellow, white. These were mixed with water and, since they could not be fired, as the pottery was, they wore off in time. Then the artists would replaster the wall in brown and put on new designs. At Awatobi, a ruined village near the Hopi mesas, one wall had fifteen layers of such painting. At Kuaua (Kwa-waw), near Bernalillo, New Mexico, there were twenty-nine.

Kuaua murals

Plate VI-2. Kuaua murals, fragment of layer G-26, west wall.