The Onondaga ceremonies give thanks and reflect the surrounding living world. Dances and songs are performed in a counter-clockwise direction. The bean plant, the mother earth, the moon, and the stars; all move in this life providing direction and so do we when we dance. In this fashion, the songs that were given to us so long ago are still being carried on today.
Our songs are sung using drums and rattles. Drums are usually made of cedar trees with deer hide stretched over the top. A small portion of a cedar log is hollowed out and waterproofed. Water is then poured into the bottom of the drum and the deer hide is stretched over the top of the cedar. The wet leather is then stretched and tightened before playing for a “nice” tone.
The Onondaga and Haudenosaunee generally use two types of rattles. The horn rattle usually accompanies the water drum. The horn rattle is an animal horn, which also has been hollowed out. Then seeds are placed inside and a wooden top, bottom and handle are added. These rattles are used by the singers who accompany the lead singer who plays the water drum.
The second type of rattle is the turtle rattle. This rattle is very sacred to the Haudenosaunee and is only used in a few select ceremonies. The snapping turtle are caught for the sole purpose for making this special rattle. Once the turtle has been scarificed and hung to dry, skilled craftsmen carve wooden braces that are braced inside the shell along with seeds before the rattle is sewn back together. Individuals who own such rattles take great care in preserving their rattles as a turtle’s life was sacrificed for the ceremonies it now participates in.