Singing Sticks

Yokut Indians did not use musical instruments while dancing or singing. They did use singing sticks to help them keep the rhythm. A singing stick is made from a stick, partly sliced in half, so when it is swung through the air the two halves clack together. They make these sticks from elderberry wood. The elderberry bush grows along streams and wet places in the foothills.

Yokut Indians paint the stick with dots and stripes, colored red and black like the coloring of the King Snake. The King Snake is a friend of the Yokut people because it keeps rattlesnakes away.

Here is how to make a singing stick.

California King Snake

Sketch by Alice Roleau. Reprinted by permission from Yokuts and Paiute Songs and Culture by Alfred Pietroforte (Naturegraph Publishers, 2005.) p. 57.

–Adapted from research by George Pilling