Ashaa Takook: Kumeyaay Bird Songs
Ashaa Takook Bird Song and Dance Group
Ashaa Takook is a traditional Kumeyaay Bird Song and Dance group from San Diego California. The group is comprised primarily of youth from the Santa Ysabel and Viejas Reservations. Lead Singer Ral Christman Sr. sings a style of Kumeyaay Bird passed down in a traditional way from his father Dr. Ron Christman. The dance is lead by Vanessa Christman who dances a style passed to her from her mother-in-law Virginia Christman. Together, Mr. and Mrs. Ral Christman Sr. continue to share generational teachings to all in their group.
The current group was formed in 2005 under the guidance of Grandpa Dr. Ron Christman for purposes of youth empowerment and cultural preservation. The youth in the group have one task; ensure the continuation of the song, dance, and history into the next generation.
Ashaa Takook has been featured in various projects such as: Project 562, the "We are one" music video by MAG 7 featuring Taboo, Vibe Magazine, and California Indian News. The story and Journey that is Bird has lead Ashaa Takook to traveled throughout North America to events including: Gathering of Nations, Supai Peach Festival, Longest Walk 5 March on Washington DC, San Diego Padres Native Night, San Diego PIFA Festival, Standing Rock, Grand Ole' Opry, Alcatraz and the LA SKINZ Festival.
The most important of all Ashaa Takook outings are the local Bird Singing Gatherings found throughout Southern California and the Colorado River. Annual pilgrimages to: the Mega Throw (Parker AZ), Quechan Indian Days (Ft. Yuma AZ), Mojave Days (Needles AZ), Cocopah Indian Days (Somerton AZ), SY Gathering (Julian CA), Tekamuk Gathering (Mesa Grande CA), Cahuilla Gathering, Morongo Gathering, Indio and Sycuan Powwows are the heart of the group's Bird Trail.
Painting by Ruben Chato Hinojosa Jr.
What are Bird Songs
Bird Songs are the traditional indigenous music of the areas stretching between Ensenada to the Sea of Cortez Mexico to the Grand Canyon. Beyond music, Bird songs are the oral tradition of those indigenous peoples. Bird Songs are a timeless means to create unity, allegorically tell history, convey philosophy, and explain the connection to the landscape. Each part of the Song and Dance practice has deep meaning, and tells a story: Pitch and volume of the song sets emotion, tempo tells of the energy, the dance shows the movement, the words direct the story, and organization defines the heritage of its progression. The musical instrument is the Halmaa (Rattle), made from a gourd, Palm seeds and wooden handle.
Who Participates Traditional Bird Songs:
Various tribes partake in the Bird Song practice, and have their own unique associated culture. Bird Songs presently are primarily broken into three distinct styles: Kumeyaay Ashaa Takook, Birds Songs of the Colorado River, and Cahuilla. Although all three Bird Song Styles are similar in thier importance, sound, and words, they are each unique. Kumeyaay and River Bird Songs are the closest in meaning and practice. The Colorado Bird Singing Tribes, and the Kumeyaay are all part of the Yuman Language family, a subdivision of the Hokan Language Group. Thus all these tribes share similarities in meanings and practice. Some Key Tribes that participate in River Bird Songs are: Mojave, Mohave, Quechan, Cocopah, Hualapai, and Havasupai. Cahuilla, belonging to the Uto-Aztecan language family, have different meanings from the words found within their songs. Within each tribe, there may also be dialectal differences, thus true song understandings are always guided by a Master Singer.
Another key difference in the songs are the purpose at which they are sung. According to the Kumeyaay, the creation of the songs was a spiritual gift from the Creator to be a unifying tool used for celebration. Today you see Traditional Kumeyaay Bird Songs sung for a wide array of events and ceremonies such as : gatherings, parades, weddings, funerals, and memorials. In contrast, the Cahuilla view the Bird song's use primarily for social purposes, and non funerary.
It must be noted that there are other groups who partake in the Bird Song and Dance tradition not previously mentioned; such as the Kupa and Paipai. Also Bird Songs are only one song cycle of more than a dozen that record the history of the people. Examples of other Song Cycles include: Shuluuk, Tipai, Nemetaay, Illshaw, Silth and Kuruk. Ashaa Takook Bird is the most prevalent and widely used. Like Bird Songs, each song cycle takes a full day and night to sing and a lifetime to master. And like Bird Songs, they all tell of stories, history, and a philosophy that are timeless. Many families or clans have a lineage of Bird, and express unique attributes of their Bird Song tradition. Many Master Singers have traditionally refrained from sharing information about the Bird to outsiders as a reaction to the generations of persecutions placed on cultural practitioners. This has created a lack of truthful and accurate written information about the Bird Song cycles. To learn more about Bird Songs you must seek more traditional pathways. Traditionally if you wish to learn more, you must speak with a traditional singer who has years of practice backed by a Bird Song Lineage. Accreditation comes from being able to chart your Bird lineage, a lineage that has been peer reviewed within the culture and society.
Example of Colorado River Bird Songs