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Gourd Dance, Dying? Or resurgance?

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  • Gourd Dance, Dying? Or resurgance?

    Here in the midwest there seems to be renewed interest in the Gourd Dance. My father is a member of the Star Hawk Society and he's PLEASED to have this make a comeback. What are your feelings on this?
    I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...

  • #2
    Growing Interest in Gourd Dance

    I believe there is growing interest and prestige in Gourd Dancing. More people at pow wows are giving the Gourd Dancers the honor, respect and attention they deserve. The veterans and warriors who are members of gourd dance societies have earned the right to sing their songs, dance, and make the dance circle sacred. They perform a service and they should be viewed as people to be honored, supported, respected.

    More attention should be paid by pow wow organizers and staff to keeping the tourists from taking photographs of Gourd Dancers. The general public has to be told that the songs and dances they are watching are sacred and that the ground upon which the pow wow dancers will dance is being blessed, and that dancing in the circle is a spiritual, healing activity, not entertainment.

    All who enter the dance arena must be taught the proper etiquette and meaning of each part of the pow wow, that women who are not dressed out in regalia must wear long skirts and wear dance shawls to show respect for the sacred circle.

    I realize that we must do outreach efforts to welcome in the newcomers and tourists in order to have them learn and experience the pow wow in a good way. More effort should be given to teaching the etiquette too.

    I hate seeing women and girls walking around the circle in shorts, tank tops and sandals, no shawls, and kids running this way and that. This is disturbing to me because the circle is just as sacred as a church sanctuary. I don't do it and I always bring an extra shawl to share with a friend who forgot hers.
    Shawl Lady


    • #3

      Shawl Lady!

      Bless you! Thank you for speaking so eloquently!

      Too many traditions are being lost! As the elders pass on it is up to the next generation to take up the responsibility to make sure that traditions are followed. Too many dance organizer's are letting SCOUT TROUPS dictate what goes on! I could not beleive my ears at a dance here in Chicago when they actually told the head drum they would NOT sing the flag song!

      Gourd dancing is a little understood tradition and so many of the old societies have died off with our elders. I am happy to see it come back, but I worry that tradition is being lost.
      I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...


      • #4
        Aho wickedannabella! You are too kind. I merely speak from my heart and from what I have seen.

        One good thing about the gourd dance and other war societies it they have kept very strictly to their own rules, thus carefully preserving their traditions handed down over the past 200 years and more. Any time in the past when I was learning proper traditional ways and made a mistake, I was very sternly corrected. Those lessons were learned quickly!! My feelings were sometimes hurt, because my errors came from ignorance, not from ego, but I got over it. I try to pass on in a gentle way what knowledge has been given to me by my Kiowa, Commanche, Ponca and other friends over the years.

        I am not so lucky to have living ndn relatives to teach me my heritage, but I am not afraid to seek out the knowledge and to follow my heart down the Red Path. I try to treat others who are just learning about their heritage in a good way, a respectful way, and to simply help them on their own journey.

        We are many! We come from many different tribal traditions. We have much rich spiritual, artistic, musical, and cultural gifts to share with each other and to pass on down to the next generation. Each gift is a small treasure that enriches the soul of the next person to receive it and pass it on, and so we are like links in a very long chain, coming down through the ages of time.

        What is going on today is a little different from 100 years ago. Times change. We are now in a high tech age, the age of information. All the more important to share the traditions, the knowledge of ndn spirit, medicine, music, art, language, beliefs, and family values, so they are not lost in the present world. It is how we can achieve balance with our world and within ourselves.

        All the unhappy, sick people living in cities need healing of their spirits. I send out my prayers for them to find their way, to connect with Mother Earth and Father Sky and all the living beings around us, and to heal themselves in the way the Creator wants.

        I send out my prayers and blessings to all of you for your own peace of mind and health, and for that of your families.

        Shawl Lady


        • #5
          I want to take this time to say something that some may not care for.

          I want to say that I feel proud and honored to be a Veteran from a area that has The Gourd dance. I have been introduced a long time ago as a Gourd dancer. I have made mention from time to time what I want to say now.

          Not all "Indian People" are the same and we don't all share the same traditions. When someone comes to you and asked what is going on or what is this Gourd dance answer them as you want to be answered yourself. We all too often think of these unknowing folks as WANNABES or new agers. This may not be the case. Our Gourd dance is traditionally from a certain area of the Indian world, Not worldwide. If you were to ask how they honor their Veterans I bet they could tell you their ways.

          The "POWWOW" is kind of a relatively new thing. It came about from transIndian movement, Pan-Indianism, Wild west shows and another way for our families to get together. Most of our Tribes have their own ways of celebrating individual traditions. We need to remember when we go to anothers dance that they may not have the same ways. I know that I may have my own view point of how a Powwow must be but that is because I am from the OK influence. In OK we are influenced by many different Nations to make what we know. I remember when the Aunts and Uncles, Grandmas and Grandpas would all help Mom and Dad correct us. much too often this didn't just stop when I became an adult. I want to thank all of these passed and here today. I challenge all of the elders(anyone that is now an adult) to take these things we remember and help out the youngsters around us.

          I will stop here because I'm starting to ramble on. But we don't all share the same traditions just because we are "Indian".


          • #6
            Ladies, from my experience Gourd dancing in the IL, IN, OH, MI area tends to run in cycles where it gains in popularity and then several years later slips again. Right now it is on a high mark and seems to be spreading. I applaud you ladies for your interest, support and most off all respect of a form of dancing that does not come from your own people. You have said some fine words here and I just want to add a few things as to what I have been taught over the years.

            I am not Kiowa but have been taken in by a couple of different Kiowa families...I state this because IMHO even though several tribes claim to be the origin for gourd dancing I believe the Kiowa can claim that right. The Kiowa have several different gourd dance societies with Kiowa Gourd clan being the oldest and most 'traditional' (for lack of a better term). Many of the members of this clan are not veterans and this is the same for all the others as well...or at least to my knowledge. Military service is not required to gourd dance.

            Now, as for the 'not taking pictures of gourd dancers' I can honestly say I have never seen this ask by any committee or MC at any dance I have attended, and I for one see no reason it should be. Gourd dance is not a ceremony but instead is a dance that is most often performed in a public welcoming location. I am not sure why someone would take a picture of gourd dancing other then someone they knew was out there, since it is not the most flashy of dances, but nonetheless I see no reason to prevent someone from snapping a PIC if they so desire.

            I like the point (or at least I think this was the point) about the committee's making time for gourd dance. I know in this area often gourd dance is neglected for fear of boring the spectators to death. The downside is that most dances around here are put on at fairgrounds and those have to be rented and insurance purchased for the event and thus the committee's need the dollars the spectators provide, so all to often gourd dance is pushed to the side or only give a short window to be held. Another reason I see is because the dance is small and only has a Northern drum there thus no one to sing for those gourd dancers that might be in attendance. This all is changing with more gourd dancers being in the area and the realization by committee's that the dance is put on for the participants and not the spectators.

            Just my opinions...take them or leave them

            "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Pablo Picasso

            "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift...that is why is it called the Present." Master Oogway - KungFu Panda

            My comments are based on what I have been taught and my experiences over the years I have been around the circle. They should in no way be taken as gospel truths and are merely my opinions or attempts at passing on what I have learned while still learning more.


            • #7
              Gourd Dancing

              I know what you say is true, PB49, as I was taught by Kiowas in Okla and Arkansas about Gourd Dancing. There it was treated as no big deal and pretty much ignored by the spectators and other dancers.

              Here in California, it is taken seriously. I dunno if times have changed or what. I was so impressed at the big Stanford Pow Wow at Palo Alto in May. There were several Gourd Dance Societies present and some well known vets and elders joined them in the Gourd Dancing and honoring songs. They honored the Navajo Code Talker, Joe Morris, and they had a special honoring for Lori Piestewa, the young Hopi Army private who was killed in Iraq. That really touched me. She was honored as a fallen warrior in a traditional way.

              The MC had asked that no photos be taken during the Gourd Dancing and stated that this is a sacred ceremony. The Gourd Dancers consider their role to be both that of the welcomers, but also as the ones who bless the dance circle and call to Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Grandfather Sun to bless the circle with their presence.

              There have been few women who danced in the circle or behind the men Gourd Dancers at these California pow wows during honoring songs. Very few Kiowa War Mothers out here, I guess.

              You are quite right when you say the Kiowa Gourd Clan is the oldest. It is my understanding that, like the Black Leggings, this was a warrior society and one only had to be a man and invited to join. In recent times, the gourd dance societies have usually required that members be vets or served in some kind of warrior role.

              Last year, there was a huge controversy when some women vets dressed out as male gourd dancers and got right in line with the men at some southern pow wows. The male members were incensed and some walked out. The mistake the women made was in not asking about their actions first and finding out how to be properly invited into the Gourd Dance, and what is proper behavior for them. Gourd dance societies have always been all-male and the men took it as an affront and stopped the drum. If you know any Kiowa Gourd Dancers, you understand what I am saying here.

              I would like to hear what's going on with Gourd Dance societies around the country. How many have women members or women's auxilliary groups, such as War Mothers? How does a woman join such a group?

              I am one of many women who enjoy gourd dancing and want to support and participate in the proper way with the Gourd Dancers.
              Shawl Lady


              • #8
                I've seen near fist fights break out between different clans over this issue. Things seemed to have settled down lately regarding that sticking point and I'm happy to see the Red on Right co-exist with the Red on Left. I look at it the same way I look at those who dance counter-clockwise. Not everyone on this planet does the same thing the same way. But the circle is sacred. That's where we set aside our differences and co-exist peacefully. Varying traditions should be honored and respected.

                My 2 cents.
                I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...


                • #9
                  I had not heard the phrases "Red on Right" or " Red on Left" before you mentioned them. What's that about???

                  At pow wows in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, I observed that when the Northern Drum sings, the dancers go around clockwise. When the Southern Drum sings, the dancers do around counterclockwise (or do I have that backwards?). Anyway, people there did observe that tradition.

                  In Californa, everyone just goes clockwise, regardless of which drum is singing.
                  Shawl Lady


                  • #10
                    Red on Right or Red on Left depends on which society you belong to. Some wear the red over their hearts, hence red on left. Others on the right. I'm not sure where it comes from other than certain societies do one or the other. The gourd dance society my family belongs to wears it over the heart.

                    Regarding the clockwise/counter-clockwise, I'd always heard it was related to the movement back in the 70's...sort of a make a statement thing. But then I saw it in Montana as a tribal thing and have been seeing it more and more.

                    All I can say is it gets REALLY confusing when both are going in the same dance circle!
                    I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Singerdad
                      Dancing counterclockwise has nothing to do with making a statement.
                      That's why I said "I'd always heard..." and didn't make it a statement of fact. Around here in the midwest, I don't think anyone knew and it was just sort of the "guess" at the time. I don't really have an opinion one way or another. I've heard everything from clans in opposition doing this so they can "keep an eye on the other" to basic tradition or in HONOR of something.

                      My grandmother used to like to pull my leg a lot too. She used to tell me it was because they were tired of looking at the backsides of the other dancers. hehehe :D

                      Anyway, I'm sure there are many reasons out there as to why this will happen. and you're right Singerdad, I can't say I remember women ever doing this.
                      I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...


                      • #12
                        Red on Right...

                        Well, ya learn sumpthin ever day!!! Thank you for explaining about the red worn left or right and more insight into the clockwise versus counterclockwise dance movement in the circle.

                        Shawl Lady


                        • #13
                          Clockwise or not

                          I have been at pow wows in Texas, Okla and Arkansas where dancers would go in the direction indicated by the drum (Northern or Southern).

                          No one ever said anything negative and the dancers seemed to know what to do. The only ones confused were the general public or newbies who would suddenly realize they were "swimming upstream" and would have to turn 'round and go the other way.

                          It's interesting to hear about this protect angle from the 70's. That's a new one on me as far as going around counterclockwise.

                          Things that make ya go hmmmm.....

                          Shawl Lady


                          • #14
                            Where I am from there is a growing interest in the gourd dance. The problem being everyone who claims to know anything, from anywhere, hasnt been willing to help people learn. In anything but particularly the gourd dance.

                            When a young man starts dancing in say grass dance, other young men who have been dancing longer go out to help him. I watched my little brothers learn to dance when they were just starting. But with women, that doesnt happen, we are expected to learn from our mothers aunts, sisters. Well I ,for example, didnt have anyone to teach me when I started. Or not really, I had a few people who offered critisism but they didnt offer an alternative, It wasnt until I stopped dancing for almost a year that anyone was willing to help.

                            Now understand me that I am only using this experiance as an example, but the point is the same. How are people to change behavior, in anything, if they dont have advice. I understand critisism as was said earlier it does make an impact. trust me I know. NOw when I go to pow wow I try to help anyone I can when they have questions. But the truth is I cant do it alone, and not many people go out of their way, and give any of their "pow wow time" to educate. I dont know I am rambling. I think i got my point across....:dontknow:
                            When your in the arena nothing matters but the step of your feet, the sway of your fringe and the beat of the drum. ~Peace love and fry bread.~


                            • #15
                              BullCreekLdy you are SOOO right about people needing to help those who are learning.

                              When I was first learning how to Shawl dance, I didn't have any sisters to help me so my parent's lady friends helped. I, myself have ALWAYS helped anyone who's asked me. I think people are AFRAID today because there are so many people pointing fingers that they feel if they OFFER help, they will be in trouble some way, however if someone comes to me and asks, I always help.

                              Gourd Dancing is something my mom & I refer to as the "BOYS CLUB". We're literally peripheral entities in this. However, gourd dance itself seems to be more of a rite of passage than a social dance and therefore, more closely guarded. I remember one time a man asked my father about his rattle. It was a gourd rattle (not a can) and this man claimed it was a church rattle.

                              This gourd rattle was given to my father by an elder of the society he belongs to, and it wasn't a church item, but this man, of BSA origin claimed it was.

                              Some people get intimidated by this type of confrontation and makes them leary to help. I know I would never go up to someone and assume they wanted help. However, if they ask...that's another thing.

                              Talk about rambling....
                              I'd rather live on the side of a mountain than to wander through canyons of concrete and steel...


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