The origin of the traditional South American rain stick isn't definitively known. Indian tribes in Chile, Peru and Mexico all lay claim to having invented them, while one strong theory contends that African slaves who arrived during the Spanish occupation brought them to the New World, where indigenous people quickly adopted them. The mellifluous sounds of the traditional rain stick were supposedly once thought to have the power to draw water from the clouds, or just to make beautiful music. Regardless of their beginnings or ceremonial purpose, many people still make rain sticks in the traditional manner.
Making a Traditional Rainstick from Cactus
Choose a dead or dying branch from a cactus, and cut it to the desired length. The long stalks of the traditionally used capado cactus are ideal for making rain sticks, as they dry hard and hollow in the center. At the start of your project, though, it's important that the stalk is still soft and somewhat pliable so you can work with it.
Carefully remove the thorns from the stalk and set them aside. Use the knife to strip them, flush with the surface of the stalk.
Push the thorns into the stalk, toward the center. Use the hammer to lightly tap them in if needed. A spiral pattern down the length of the stick is best, as that creates the light sound associated with the rain. Keep the distance between the thorns as even as possible. How close the thorns should be to each other depends on the size of the materials that will fall inside. The sound is best if the seeds or pebbles strike most of the thorns as they go down. Let the cactus dry hard before proceeding to the next step.
Cut a piece of wood to tightly plug one end of the stick. Tap it in gently with the hammer. Now fill the stick 1/3 to 1/2 its height with pebbles or seeds. Cut the other wood plug and tap it into the other end.
Decorate your rain stick by winding the yarn tightly or loosely around the stalk. You can also paint them.