Riverdave Owen - October 7, 2014


     Clackers may be our most primitive musical instruments.  Played either solo or in a group, they can prove useful in both attuning and expanding our awareness of the natural world and its hidden dimensions.  Clackers can be made in the following seven simple steps:


1 - Ask the forest to guide you to a particular tree that will offer you wood for your clackers.  Perhaps the tree will first appear in a dream. 


2 - Find a tree with a branch that will yield two, twelve inch long, straight sections about 3/4 of an inch in diameter (between 1/2 and one inch).  This should be a relatively minor pruning, not a large scale amputation of a major limb.  Offer thanks to the tree.  I personally prefer using Eastern Redcedar.  Often they have dead branches that are low and can easily be removed.  Occasionally I run across an entire dead redcedar tree either standing or lying on the forest floor. Make sure the wood is still firm and not rotten. I also prefer the tonal quality of redcedar over most other tree species.  


3 - Saw off the branch containing the two sections and trim to approximately twelve inches long each.


4 - Place the two sticks in a sunny place for several days for drying.  


5 - Carve any simple designs you like into the bark of the sticks.


6 - Massage the sticks with a virgin vegetable oil and your prayers and then dry them in the sun once again.


7 - Design an appropriate string or strap to hold the clackers together for transport and storage.  Use native vines, hemp cord, leather or even an inexpensive hair band. 


      Here's an video demonstration of my redcedar clackers on You Tube: Eno Clacking

      An example of traditional clacking can be found in Herman Melville's 19th century account of his sojourn with the native headhunting Typees of the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia:

     “There was one singular custom observed in old Marheyo's domestic establishment, which often excited my surprise. Every night, before retiring, the inmates of the house gathered together on the mats, and so squatting upon their haunches, after the universal practice of these islanders, would commence a low, dismal and monotonous chant, accompanying the voice with the instrumental melody produced by two small sticks tapped slowly together, a pair of which were held in the hands of each person present. 

     Thus would they employ themselves for an hour or two, sometimes longer. Sometimes when, after falling into a kind of doze, and awaking suddenly in the midst of these doleful chantings, my eye would fall upon the wild-looking group engaged in their strange occupation, with their naked tattooed limbs, and shaven heads disposed in a circle ... 

     What was the meaning or purpose of this custom, whether it was practiced merely as a diversion, or whether it was a religious exercise, a sort of family prayers, I never could discover. The sounds produced by the natives on these occasions were of a most singular description; and had I not actually been present, I never would have believed that such curious noises could have been produced by human beings.”

     For another example of traditional clacking, Australian Aboriginals clacking begins at one minute and twenty seconds into this You Tube video: traditional clacking

Photo by Riverdave:  my clackers I made from a dead branch of a native North Carolina redcedar, a wood that has a venerable tradition of use in musical instruments.