Singing "Bird": Carrying on the Kumeyaay Tradition

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30 minutes / Colour / 2018
Directed by
Teri Brewer

Country of production United States

The Kumeyaay, an indigenous people of Southern California and Northern Mexico still perform more than a dozen ancient song cycles kept alive through a process of apprenticeship and study which can last a lifetime. The Kumeyaay share this Bird-singing tradition (and accompanying dancing) with other tribes as well, but they are sometimes credited as the originators of these specific song cycles, which incorporate traditional knowledge of their history and land with philosophical and moral teaching.

Bird-singers commit to singing for their people on a wide variety of occasions. Bird-singing is done in private community and family contexts, but also at public gatherings and celebrations, at competitive events and protests too.. Kumeyaay Bird-singers often perform in multi-generational groups which may include children, young adult learners and master singers too. Their only instrumental accompaniment is the Halma, a specially made gourd rattle which provides rhythym and in the hands of the lead singer, guides the performance. Singers and dancers often travel to sing for events and competitions with those from other tribes.

From the Grand Canyon, down the Colorado, west to the Pacific Coast and in Mexico along the border and in the valleys of Baja California, Bird- singing is heard in public on an increasing variety of occasions,. This film introduces singing “Bird” in contemporary Kumeyaay practice, and how it is transmitted.

“They speak to who and what we are, and our ancient connection to this land”. Ashaa Takook, a multigenreational Bidrsinging and dance group led by Ral Christman

In the 2019 RAI Film Fest

Language and subtitles