Omaha Indian Music-Wax Cylinder (1895-1897)-Hethu'
It's first few years, the Center began carrying out documentation projects in several locations, including amongst the Omaha Indians in Nebraska. The staff conceived a project to work with materials already in the Library's Archive of Folk Culture by ways of the unique wax cylinder recordings placed in the Library of Congress over the years since the mid-1930s. The Federal Cylinder Project was inaugurated in 1979 to preserve, document, catalog, and disseminate the information contained in these early field recordings. In the case of the Omaha Indians, the antique recordings were made by Francis La Flesche, the son of an Omaha chief and the 19th century historian Alice Fletcher. The ultimate objective of this exercise in cultural preservation was to return these recordings to their source - this was finally done, and today the Omaha Indians are in possession of the oldest surviving recordings of their rich and varied music. The Wax Cylinder (1895-1897) Hethuâ€™shka Songs 2-CD Set features 44 renditions by the honored warrior class of the Omaha Indians, first immortalized by the earliest sound recording technology known to man - the Edison phonograph. Here is the background of some of these historic tracks recorded at the 1983 Omaha powwow in Macy, Nebraska: He'dewachi Prayer Sung As Two Bearers Hold Up the Sacred Pipes This song was originally collected by Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche and is sung as part of a ceremony involving the Sacred Pole. The dance that accompanies is highly dramatic and symbolic of ancient tribal rites. Death Song Composed by Ka-hi-gi-un This is the traditional song used when a group of warriors moved out to defend the camp on a field of battle. Each man sang it as he went. Captive songs always expressed the warrior's feeling when contemplating the dangers of war and the facing of death. Captive songs, also referred to as death songs, were usually composed and sung by warriors about to face death as captives of their enemies, or when facing a particularly dangerous battle or enterprise. Funeral Song The Omaha had only one funeral song, addressed directly to the spirit of the dead and intended to cheer the spirit on it's journey. From the sound of it, it is likely that a gourd was being used. The song was sung on request at the Omaha powwow, and belongs to the set of songs first compiled by Alice Fletcher. Rally Song When warriors left to defend their village against attack, women sang such Rally songs as this to encourage them: Towards it's conclusion she would emit the cry of the bird-hawk to evoke the supernatural power of this bird, which was associated with the god of war. Ritual of the Maize The Ritual of the Maize concerned the springtime distribution of kernels from the sacred ears of red corn, and the song accompanying this ritual details the stages in the life of the corn plant from it's germination to it's fulfillment as a gift to man. When maize was discovered the grain was distributed among the people that they might plant and eat of the fruit of their labor, and from that time on it has been the custom to sing the Song of the Maize and to repeat the distribution of the corn every year at the time of planting. It is the Omaha Indian version of the universal Harvest Song. EDITORIAL REVIEW: The Wax Cylinder recordings of the Omaha tribe in Nebraska would have been largely ignored and forgotten had there not been a resurgence of interest in the musical culture of Native Americans during the 1980s. The studies that followed were primarily based on the early notes and recollections of Alice Cunningham Fletcher (1838-1923) whose fascination with the Omaha people began at an 1880 Boston literary gathering and her introduction to Omaha chief scion Francis La Flesche. Amongst the first to document and review these recordings, which have now been returned to the tribe of origin, was the Omaha Tribal Archivist Dennis Hastings. He made the following comments on them on October 24, 1985 at the Library of Congress - 'Without songs you don't really have a culture. If you listen to the words of them, they mean involvement with nature and our being and our surroundings. It's a tie, a connection to every living thing--man's power of growth and movement, the ability to think, to will, and to bring to pass.' The songs contained on these CDs are representative of the original wax recordings and constitute a rich cultural treasure-trove - a celebration of life, Nature and unseen, unsuspected American heritage. ----------------- CUSTOMER'S REVIEWS: 'Itâ€™s hard to explain, but this music (on the Wax Cylinder (1895-1897) Hethuâ€™shka Songs 2-CD Set) seems to speak to a primitive part of me that speaks all languages and thrills to hidden notes. There is pain, joy, outrage and despair evident in these tracks. I felt as though I was a privileged eavesdropper on some secret heathen ceremony, and that I might lose my scalp if I was discovered.' Customer's Name: Uriah Hayworth (Tuscaloosa, Alabama) 'There is an all-pervading sense of the sacred and unsullied Spirit surrounding all these recordings. There are stories being told and exploits recounted that I, as a white man, will never be able to relate to on a personal level. This left me with a profound sense of loss and envy. Listening to these historic innovative CDs from A2ZCDS was a moving and inspiring experience.' Customer's Name: Allen E. Lemmings (Kearney, Nebraska)