Before 1900 the Plains Indians performed the ghost dance. It was supposed to drive away the hated white men and help the Native Americans get back their land and buffalo. It consisted mainly of singing and dancing. Although the Native Americans do not do the ghost dance anymore, they still sing the songs.
Ghost dance songs are different from other songs of the Plains Indians. They do not go very high or very low, and they repeat each phrase of melody before going on to the next. The older songs of the Plains Indians start very high and work their way down to a low, long, drawn-out tone. These songs are accompanied by a drum played loudly and slowly.
Another religious dance of the Plains Indians is the Sun dance. The Plains dance around a pole in the summer heat, singing and praying for good hunting. The Arapaho and Dakota Indians sing some of their most impressive songs during this dance.
Music is also used in ceremonies to heal the sick. One example is the famous Yeibichai, or night chant, of the Navajo Indians – ceremony lasting 9 nights. In addition to prayers it includes dances and songs sung by men with falsetto, or artificially high, voices.
Another example of healing by music comes from Yuma Indians of the southwestern United States. People who are feeling disturbed go to a hut away from their settlement for a few weeks. Here they make up songs. They think that the songs come to them in dreams or from the god that created the world. When they return, they feel cured.
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