Music and Dance

Singing and dancing were important parts of the Yokuts’ everyday life. They chanted songs when they played games. Women sang to their babies while they worked. The men sang and danced when they performed ceremonial dances such as the Rainmaking Ceremony and the Rattlesnake Dance.

They did not use any musical instruments, but the rhythms of their songs are very complicated. To keep in time, they used singing sticks, which were a kind of rattle made from elderberry wood. Click here to see how to make a singing stick.

During the Rainmaking Ceremony, the rainmaker wore a feathered skirt and headdress. He painted his body black and decorated himself with white feathers. He danced around a fire and burned herbs as he sang his magic songs.

The Rattlesnake Dance was performed in the spring. The Yokuts hoped it would keep them safe from rattlesnakes as they collected seeds and berries during the summer. They would not kill a rattlesnake because they believed that it was the helper of the Keeper of the Hereafter. The Yokuts believed that the rattlesnake’s business was to spy on them and report anyone who broke the rules of the tribe.

The Yokuts used very few musical instruments. The most popular rhythm instrument was the clapper. Rattles were also used as rhythm instruments. Yokuts used few, if any, drums. They beat two sticks together or beat on a log with a stick to keep time.

–Adapted from research by Mary Ann Brensel