Rainmakers, or rainsticks, are traditional musical instruments originally made and used in South America. Rainmakers simulate the sound of rainfall, and were originally used in native ceremonies during dry months to ask the gods for rain. In modern times, the instruments are a common novelty musical instrument used in the United States and throughout Mexico and Central and South America. Rainmakers, or rainsticks, are also a quick and easy craft project and a way to teach children about rhythm, percussion, and native cultures.
Rainmakers are generally made of a hallowed tube or wooden stick, which is then filled with small rocks, thorns, beans or pins. The ends are then sealed to contain the pieces inside. The rainmaker may have been traditionally made of a hallow, dried out cactus. Many modern native variations of this instrument are still made of this material. Homemade rainmakers can be made with household items, such as a paper towel tube and toothpicks.
Playing the Rainstick
Traditionally, the rainmaker is played by turning the tube so that the items inside fall up and down to either end. This falling motion simulates the sound of rain, as the items bounce off the sides of the tube interior. A rainmaker is turned repeatedly up and down to the rhythm of a song. Additionally, the rainmaker can be shaken or tapped to the beat to create a more percussive sound.
History of the Rainmaker
There are many theories about the origins of the rainmaker. The rainmaker may have evolved from wooden rattles filled with dried beans that have been found in archaeological digs in Peru. These rattles date back to the Incas. Similarly, the origin of the rainmaker has been linked to rattles used by the Huicho of Mexico and the Diaguita Indians of Chile. Both groups are alleged to have used the instrument to bring rain to the arid desert regions of their countries.
Contemporary rainmakers may not be used to bring rain, but are still used in a variety of different types of music as a percussion instrument. The use of rainmakers as a percussion instrument was popularized in 1960s Mexican music. Rainmakers made of reeds and painted with traditional imagery are a common souvenir items for visitors to South America and Mexico. Due to the ease with which rainmakers are crafted, they are also popular kids' craft projects, which are then used to teach children about percussion and rhythm.