Singing the Birds (Wikitmallem Tahmuwhae): Bird Song & Dance Festival

Singing the Birds (Wikitmallem Tahmuwhae): Bird Song & Dance Festival

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February 6, 2016 12:00 PM–7:00 PM

Guest Host: Michael Mirelez (Desert Cahuilla)

Through the ages, bird singing and dancing have been an important part of Native culture for tribes in southern California and other regions of the Southwest. The event features honored bird singers and dancers from California and Arizona. 

Bird songs tell stories about the lessons learned during this migration. Some of the songs are modern Cahuilla language, many are in an early language which is no longer spoken nor understood. The original Cahuilla bird songs were composed of more than 300 pieces that formed a cycle of stories. The songs were sung in a precise order that accurately accounted for the chronology of the migration. They are completely an oral tradition and dependent upon their transference from teacher to student.

In a traditional setting where the complete cycle of songs were sung, the singing began at dusk, symbolizing the beginning of the journey, and ended at dawn - symbolic of the return home. If someone broke the law, he was said to be “going against the song” and was defying not only the clan and its members, but the wisdom of one’s ancestors and the power of the supernatural.

Bird songs are social songs, providing a time for considerable social relaxation with a minimum of formal roleplaying for men, women, and young people. Men and women both participate – singing and dancing, respectively, while accompanied by the metered beat of rattles. 

The traditional way of performing bird songs and dance has been adapted to the present day, but remains the centerpiece of most social and cultural events. Protocols for singing these songs are less strict in structure, but singers continue to maintain high standards of performance to ensure songs are sung correctly, and the dancing exhibits a keen sense of timing and precision.

The festival will include an on-site exhibition about the tradition of bird singing and dancing – past and present. Native crafts and food vendors will be in attendance, and there will be displays of Native American educational and special event information.

Interested in listening to bird singers from the past? The Museum Archives houses many recordings of Cahuilla bird singing and language dating back to 1904. To make an appointment to visit the Archives, please contact Archivist Cara Stansberry at 760.833.8171 or 

Day-of-Event Museum Staff Phone: 760-218-1404.

Free Admission & Parking
For more information, please call 760.833.8169 or e-mail us at

Palm Springs High School Gymnasium
2301 East Baristo Road, Palm Springs