About 15 or so individuals from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community took part in the second session of the Piipaash Gourd Rattle-Making Class, held on the morning of July 24, at the Huhugam Ki Museum. The class is one of several offered by the Cultural Resources Program to help Community members reconnect with the ways of their ancestors. A couple of the class members were as young as 14.
Everyone gathered at the museum at 7 a.m., where they were met by instructor Ron Carlos. He asked everyone to gather by the bed of his truck, which was loaded with gourds; he then explained to everyone how to select a gourd for making a rattle.
Once everyone picked out their gourd, participants drove down the Beeline Highway toward the Salt River. We exited onto a dirt road and drove down to the riverbed, where instructions were given on the next assignment.
“Everyone is to pick out a good, strong piece of wood,” said Carlos. So we walked along the riverbed into the brush to find a piece of driftwood, mesquite or cottonwood. The piece of wood is used to create the handle for the gourd rattle.
Displaying teamwork, the students helped each other saw off branches or look for a good piece of wood while the sun was starting to peek over the mountains and through the trees. Once everyone had their wood pieces, it was time to head back to the museum.
Back at the museum, the students got to work to transform their gourds. “The first step is cutting off the tapered part of the gourd, where the handle will eventually go,” Carlos said. Cleaning out the gourds was next, and it was no easy task, using bent tips of forks and knives to work at it for 45 minutes. Once that was finished, Carlos checked to see if everyone had cleaned out their gourds correctly. “They have to be completely hollow inside,” he repeated to everyone.
After that, it was time to move on to the pieces of wood, measuring their thickness and length and cutting or carving them to fit the soon-to-be rattle.
The work we had done so far took from early in the morning to noon to complete, and that was it for the day. The next phase of the project took place the following weekend, when we learned how to attach the handle and paint a design onto the gourd.
The following Saturday, all participants who returned were happy with how their rattles were coming along. They all enjoyed picking out which sound they wanted to use in the rattle; for example, seeds for a low-pitched sound or small, light pebbles for a high-pitched sound. Everyone played with the noises to see which sound they were looking for, then filled their gourds and glued the handles on.
To decorate the gourds, Carlos gave everyone stencil pattern examples to use if they wanted, as well as acrylic paints. The room at times fell into silence as some concentrated on how and where they would place their designs, and others carefully used a pencil to draw out a pattern or picture and then carefully trace it with a permanent marker or steady paint brush. Like the previous weekend, this process began at 7 a.m. and finished at noon, but it was worth waking up early and creating something that was used by our ancestors.
After everyone finished painting, the last step was to spray sealant on the gourds to protect them. We set them outside to dry for 20 minutes.
When the class was over, I began to wonder what materials our ancestors used to make their rattles, or how they knew that small rocks or seeds made different sounds to fit the songs just right if you were an O’odham or Piipaash singer.
Next up for the Cultural Resources Program are classes in Piipaash songs and O’odham language. You can call (480) 362-5501 to sign up or learn more about the classes offered.