Rainmaking is an old ritual during which a person or group of people attempt to induce rain in periods of dryness and drought. For the Rio Grande Pueblo and Bantu to name but two groups, these rituals were part of their cultural practices. It was customary for the Bantu people of Iron Age Africa to take advantage of rainmaking rituals during droughts, a process that involved setting great blazes to produce black clouds of billowing smoke that were meant to draw in the darkened rain clouds (“Rainmaker Ritual Helps Date Ancient Droughts”). More recently, during the Dust Bowl and other droughts of the late 19th and early 20th century, so-called “Rainmakers” offered their services to anyone desperate enough to try them.

One such self-styled Rainmaker by the name of Charles Mallory Hatfield even “offered to break the great midwest drouth” in 1936 by standing up his four contraptions with their special chemical concoctions placed atop, which – he promised – once absorbed by the atmosphere would then bring the rain (“Drouth Makes Professional Rainmaker So Sad…”). “[I]t makes me sad to think of crops drying up and the cattle dying, when it’s all so unnecessary,” Hatfield said, after promising to rectify the situation for only the barest expenses (“Drouth Makes Professional Rainmaker So Sad…”).

Some Rainmakers attempted to chemically induce rainfall, but others believed in the old Civil War maxim that rainfall always followed a heavy bombardment. Referred to as “concussionists,” practitioners of the so-called “‘boom-boom’ theory – that concussion could jar loose rain in the atmosphere” would shoot cannons into the air, detonate balloons, and even throw explosives out of planes to try to stimulate rainfall (Spence, p. 63). In Waxahachie, Texas, 1934, a rainmaker by the name of James Boze ultimately perished from wounds sustained “when a bomb exploded prematurely, igniting a wing of the plane” (“Rainmaker Boze Dies As Result Of Burns”).

Today, rainmaking or pluviculture has taken on an even more scientific approach with “cloud seeding,” which involves the scattering of “silver iodide or other finely divided particles into clouds to serve as the nuclei of raindrops” (“cloud seeding”). While the effectiveness of cloud seeding remains a matter of contention, it is interesting to see how the ritual of rainmaking has changed and manifested in different ways as a result of different cultural conditions.

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Works Cited

“cloud seeding.” (2004). In B. Kumar, D. De Remer, & D. M. Marshall (Eds.), An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation. McGraw-Hill. Credo Reference,https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/ida/cloud_seeding/0?institutionId=7178

“Drouth Makes Professional Rainmaker So Sad He’ll Cause Gulley-washer Free—Just Expenses.” Port Arthur News, July 16, 1936, Pg. 10, Port Arthur, Texas, US, NewspaperArchive, https://newspaperarchive.com/port-arthur-news-jul-16-1936-p-10/

“Rainmaker Boze Dies As Result Of Burns.” Valley Morning Star, August 31, 1934, Pg. 15, Harlingen, Texas, US, NewspaperArchive, https://newspaperarchive.com/valley-morning-star-aug-31-1934-p-15/

“Rainmaker Ritual Helps Date Ancient Droughts.” New Scientist, vol. 201, no. 2691, Jan. 2009, p. 12. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0262-4079(09)60135-4.

Spence, Clark. “The Cloud Crackers: Moments in the History of Rainmaking.” Journal of the West, vol. 18, no. 4, Oct. 1979, pp. 63–71. EBSCOhost, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ets&AN=36447705&site=ehost-live.

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