Drums were never used by Luiseño Indians. Our beautiful songs are accompanied by a rattle, never a drum. The use of rattles is a very personal matter for the Pechanga people and all Luiseño Indians. Used to maintain cadence in songs, a rattle issues commands telling a dancer when to dance or a singer when to change the words and move to a refrain.
Rattles connect us profoundly to ourselves, and our culture as a whole. Each rattle has its own purpose. One type of rattle is used for singing the deceased into the next world while another rattle is used to celebrate life. Some rattles are used to usher in powerful medicines and promote healing.
Several rattle-types made by our people include: deer hoof rattles, cocoon rattles and turtle shell rattles. (There is no recent evidence that the Luiseño used gourd rattles but it is likely that they did because there is a Luiseño word for it: neexwut.) These rattles, each having its own purpose and function are still used today. The deer hoof rattle (see below) represents the sacrifice of the deer. The deer became the first animal to be eaten by man. The turtle shell rattle's (see below) significance is the ability of the turtle to travel between both worlds of water and air. The cocoon rattle (see below), has a quiet nature and fragile qualities. Each rattle has a permanently assigned station within Luiseño culture.
The Rules of the Rattle
In order to possess a rattle one has to understand the rules. Most older rattles are handed down through families and the bearer has the obligation to feed and care for the rattle. If a rattle is left unattended it becomes necessary to either pass the rattle on to another person or put the rattle away permanently through burning or burying. Some rattles have been put away with great ceremony while others receive private attention. To put a rattle away, one either burns or buries the rattle in a place chosen by its keeper.
The deer hoof rattle usually requires the use of twenty-four or thirty-two hoofs. Since deer are split-hoofed, hooves from three or four deer are needed to make this type of rattle. The hooves are boiled for a period of time so that the bone and cartilage can be removed and then shaped and dried to harden. The handles used for this type of rattle are a combination of leather and fiber cordage. The leather strips are used to attach the hooves to the fiber bundle that serves as the handle. The handle is held in the palm of the hand and the rattle is played by dangling the hooves towards the ground and moving the hand in sharp, downward motions.
Turtle shell (paa'ayat)
The turtle-shell rattle is much more complicated and has several variations. The variations are determined by the maker and the influence of the family or clan. The western pond turtle (paa'ila) is normally used for this type of rattle but with the decline in its populations and habitat other turtle shells are now accepted substitutes. Once cleaned the turtle shell is drilled through the center of the shell, both top and bottom. Small holes are drilled along the head and tail opening of the shell. String or wire is then threaded through the holes and then woven to form a mesh seal on both ends of the shell.
Turtle shell rattles are made up of one to three shells. Some rattles have the shells placed right side up while others are right side down. Handles are made from hardwood like manzanita, chamise, or red shank. The shells are then bound to the handle with string or cordage which is then woven around the handle. The handle tip may protrude through the top of the rattle several inches with the wood exposed.
Cocoon rattle (chamamxal)
The cocoon rattle is made from the cocoon of the silk moth. Considered sacred and private, this type of rattle is rare and not played for public purposes. It may take several seasons to gather enough cocoons to make one rattle. The cocoon is harvested by clipping the branch at least one inch above and below where the cocoon is adhered. This will allow the cocoon to be attached to a handle. The cocoons naturally provide a rattle sound when shaken so it is not necessary to add stones or other objects.
The Voice of the Rattle
What is put into the shell to make it sing is very important. The most commonly referred to item is called coyote seeds. This refers to manzanita seeds that have been eaten by a coyote and collected from its scat. Another item may be small rocks found around an anthill. It is said that this will allow the rattle to have the sound of the earth when played. Whatever the final selection is, the seeds or rocks are placed through the hole drilled in the center of the shell and then the handle is inserted.
More than just utensils, our baskets are a part of our culture, our people, tradition, environment and rich history.