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  • Ponca Hethuska Society

    Ponca Hethuska Society
    by Jonathan Holmes

    The following are some of the written and oral traditions that I have researched concerning the origins and history of the Ponca Hethuska Society. Since I recognize that there are some who may have information that is different in some way, I welcome and respect all additional input to formulate the best possible perspective on this complex topic.

    There are as many different versions of the origin of the Ponca Hethuska Society as there are in the ways it is seen in written text. Some of the more popular versions have been Hethuska; Hethushka; Hayoshka; Helushka; Heduska; Haethuska; Helocka and Hecucka, with the most commonly accepted version used today among the Ponca and Omaha spelt Hethuska and pronounced as (heh-THOO-shka). Unfortunately, the exact translation of the word has been lost. Although recently, some linguistic scholars studying the Dhegiha dialect have theorized, after consulting with living Ponca informants, that the term may have gone through a plausible evolutionary process. Jim Duncan, a current member of the Ponca Hethuska Society, addresses the possible evolved meaning of Hethuska in his Masters Thesis completed in 1997 titled, “Hethuska Zani: An Ethnohistory of the War Dance Complex,” when he states:

    “The best linguistic evidence indicates the word is similar to the Osage term for the War Dance, IN-lon-shka. IN-loN is the archaic term for ‘thunder,’ and shka is the root word for ‘play,’ or shka-the. Therefore being, ‘a place to enjoy oneself.’ One interpretation being, ‘those who revel in thunder.’ (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911, p. 459) The term Xthe-xe (pronounced hley-hey), is the word referring to the elite tattooed warriors, who pledged to carry the sacred war hawk in battle. In Omaha, this term also refers to the Mark of Honor or tattoos on these warriors. The Omaha warriors were dedicated to War and Thunder. The reconstruction therefore, of the term Xthe-xe-shka would be ‘for the enjoyment of the tattooed ones,’ or ‘the place the honored ones enjoy themselves.’ (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911, pp. 219-220; LaFlesche, 1930, p. 531; LaFlesche, 1931, p. 132)”
    (Duncan, 1997, p. 2)

    Some scholars such as James Murie (1914), Clark Wissler (1916) and James Howard (1965) have theorized that, “Hethuska dances probably came to the Ponca from the Pawnee.” (Howard, 1965, p. 132) In his work titled “Pawnee Indian Societies,” James Murie states that the earliest form of Omaha Dance came from the Pawnee around 1820, who called the dance I-ru-ska or “the fire is in me.” (Murie, 1914, p. 608) The Iruska Dance, sometimes referred to as the "Hot Dance", had as it’s focal point, the act of drawing meat chunks from a boiling kettle. During the 1820s, Murie believes the Pawnee gave or sold the Iruska to the Omaha tribe, which referred to their version of the dance ritual as the Hethuska. It is further believed by Murie and Wissler that in the early 1840s, the Omaha sold the right to perform the dance and it’s songs to the Yanktonai Dakota, who soon after gave performance rights to the Teton Lakota. Both nations called the ceremony "Omaha Dance" in honor of the people from whom they had bought it.

    According to Tara Browner in her book titled “Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow”, she gives the following explanation:

    “The Pawnee Iruska is, as are most Plains male dances, associated with a warrior society. According to Pawnee oral tradition, the dance was received through a vision by a man named Crow-Feather. While Crow-Feather was in a trance-like state, the spirits gifted him with a porcupine and deer-hair roach and a crow bustle or "belt." A roach is a crest of stiff porcupine guard hairs with a deer-hair center that male dancers wear on their heads; a bustle is the spray of feathers worn on their backs. Crow belts, a specific type of bustle made from the carcass of a crow, wings spread, are the precursors of the more formalized eagle-feather bustles used today.”

    “In addition to the regalia items, Crow-Feather received special medicines (spiritual powers) enabling him to pull chunks of meat from a boiling kettle without burning himself, a gesture that imitates the act of hunters pulling steaming entrails from the stomachs of newly killed game.”

    “An important part of any vision is it’s uniqueness, and we should assume that the Pawnee had never used the roach and crow belt—at least not in this combination or specific style—that came to them for the first time through Crow-Feather's vision. In addition to goods and medicines, the spirits also granted Crow-Feather forty songs to sing during the Iruska ceremony, and he was to be accompanied by four men playing water drums. Because the Pawnee, a Southern tribe of Caddoan cultural origins, moved to the area of modern-day Nebraska after 1750, it is entirely possible that they were unfamiliar with regalia items more common to the Northern Plains and to prairie people. When the Pawnee gave the right to form this warrior society to the Omaha/Ponca Nation (at that time a single tribe that also claimed to have originated the society), the four water drums were replaced by a single large drum, commonly referred to as the "big drum." Ornamental whips, and in some cases one or two U.S. Army swords, were added to the ceremonial regalia. Based on a study of the spread of these items, the roach, and the crow belt, Wissler concluded that he was tracing the diffusion of the Omaha/Grass Dance as a song/dance ritual entity.”

    (Browner, 2002, pp. 21-23 )

    Browner’s theories as to the Pawnee origin of the Omaha/Ponca Hethuska Society are based on the work of the Curator of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History at the time, Dr. Clark Wissler (1916). Wissler’s work in part, had relied on the research done on the Pawnee by James Murie (1914) two years earlier. However, Browner’s work (2002), provides the reader with a good example of how many subsequent works since 1916 have cited Wissler, such as James Howard (1965), Gloria Young (1981), Josephine Paterek (1994), William Powers (1994), Ann Axtmann (1999) and Nicholas Belle (2004), and generally accept Wissler’s conclusions without questioning his analysis, regardless of his self-proclaimed lack of data, to back his conclusions. See Wissler (1916, pp. 858-864).

    The Rev. James Owen Dorsey served as an amateur ethnographer among the Ponca in Nebraska from 1871 to 1873 and later went on to publish many important works on the Ponca, Omaha and Osage. In many of Rev. Dorsey’s field notes for the period 1872 to 1896, he frequently states that the Hethuska is of Ponca origin.

    By 1892, Alice C. Fletcher had already spent 11 years living amongst the Omaha and learning their culture with the help of Francis LaFlesche, a member of the Omaha tribe and son of a former principal Chief of the Omaha. It was her belief that the Omaha/Ponca had the songs and dances of the Hethuska Society before the Pawnee, and stated her views in her work, “Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omaha Tribe,”

    “The Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omahas probably originated in that tribe, at least as to it’s present form. So ancient are these people, and during the centuries they have touched and been affected by so many other groups, that it would be unsafe to say that any particular society or any particular custom was exclusively developed and maintained by this or any one tribe. The guesses at the meaning of the name Hae-thu-ska are still only guesses, so that little if any clue can thus be gained as to the origin of the society.”
    (Fletcher, 1892, p. 136)

    By 1911, Alice Fletcher had lived amongst the Omaha for some 30 years when she and Francis LaFlesche collaborated their efforts to produce the detailed and extensive work titled “The Omaha Tribe.” In a section on Social Societies within the their major work comprising the 27th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology it states,

    “Among the societies of the social class one of the largest and most important was the Hethu’shka. Tradition and song indicate that this society was known when the Omaha, the Ponca, and their close cognates were living together as one tribe.”
    (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911, p. 459)

    The close cognates of the Omaha and Ponca that Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche refer to in the above passage were the Osage, Kansa and Quapaw. Evidence already presented has shown that the five cognate tribes of the Dhegiha linguistic group, being the Omaha, Ponca, Osage, Kansa, and Quapaw, were believed to have lived together as one tribe circa 1500 AD, just before they began to split up.

    In Alanson Skinner’s work titled “Ponca Societies and Dances” published in 1915, some 38 years after the Ponca had been removed from their home in Nebraska to the “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma, he quoted a Ponca informant in relation to the “Hel’ocka” Men’s Society stating,

    “According to Charlie Collins, this society originated among the Ponca, and was founded by a woman who dreamed she went to another world where she saw Indians dancing. There was another form of the dance called Can Helocka which is said to have been borrowed from the Sioux.”
    (Skinner, 1915, p. 784)

    Why these works consistently citing the Omaha/Ponca origins of the Hethuska Society, which preceded Wissler’s 1916 work titled “General Discussion of Shamanistic and Dancing Societies,” seem to have been ignored by Wissler is still speculative. By 1939, there was ample evidence, provided by the writings of Francis LaFlesche, to place some serious doubts on Wissler’s Pawnee origin conclusions. However, LaFlesche’s work, though extensive, was ignored by his contemporaries and Wissler’s flawed work continues to be cited and compounded in subsequent literature.

    Last edited by Historian; 02-20-2012, 01:20 PM.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2
    Part 2

    In a recent work completed in 1997, Jim Duncan has compiled an impressive set of resource material from archaeological, ethnographic and contemporary oral tradition sources in support of the Ponca Hethuska traditions and the Pawnee Iruska traditions having both derived from a common ancestral form dating back to the prehistoric Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (aka “The Southern Cult” in earlier literature) of the Middle Mississipian Culture between 800 and 1550 AD. Duncan clearly gives evidence that the Omaha, Ponca and others of the Dhegihan linguistic group within the Siouan language family are descendants of the people of the Ohio River Valley area, which in the archaeological literature is referred to as the Ft. Ancient Aspect of the Middle Mississipian Culture. The Pawnee and others of the Caddoan language family are then firmly linked as descendants of the people of southeastern Oklahoma area known in archaeological terms as the Spiro Aspect of the Middle Mississipian Culture.

    Once we get past the variations on the origin of the Ponca Hethuska Society, it is then important to know what the historical purpose of the Hethuska Society was within it’s cultural context, from the earliest known sources through the recent times. Written sources on the subject cover a large time period with many evolutionary changes to the nature of the Society and it’s dance ceremony. Therefore, in the interest of complete disclosure of the known material on the topic, the author will quote from the main references used in most research on this topic in chronological order, (Fletcher, 1892); (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911); (Skinner, 1915); (Howard, 1965); and (Duncan, 1997), which give the detailed, documented information, specifically on the Omaha-Ponca Hethuska Society. The reader should keep in mind that when early sources speak of the dance being held inside a lodge, it is in reference to the traditional earthlodge.

    From: “Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omaha Tribe”, by Alice C. Fletcher, 1892, Journal of American Folk-lore, Vol. 5, No. 17.

    “The Hae-thu-ska Society was also composed of warriors, but it’s membership included chiefs and privates. The rules were democratic in principle, and were carried out in practice. No special honor belonged to the chief; he was rated as an equal with the other members. No man was eligible to the Hae-thu-ska who had not won, through the ceremonies of the Tent of War, the right to proclaim his warlike deeds. Such a man might be invited to meet with the society, and if no one objected to him he became a member. If a member was unable to attend a meeting of the society he was permitted, if he was a man of good standing, to send his son to represent him, but this attendance did not entitle the young man to membership. No matter how high the honors of the father, these could not be credited to his son: nothing but ceremonially approved deeds of valor could give a man place within the Hae-thu-ska.”

    “The officers comprised a Leader, a Herald, and two Servers of the Feast. The Leader held his office for life, or until he resigned. When the office became vacant the aspirant to the position made a feast, to which all the members of the society were invited, and his desire being made known, if there was no objection, he by general consent became Leader. Such a man, however, must be one whose successful leadership of war parties had made him noted among the people. His seat was at the back of the lodge, opposite the door.”

    “The society met at irregular intervals, but generally about once a month, and always in the same lodge. Some member honored in the tribe and possessing a commodious dwelling entertained the society, but did not provide the feast except when he specified his desire to do so. The food furnished for each gathering was a voluntary contribution of some member, who obeyed the tribal custom which forbids the giver of a feast to partake of it. The seat assigned to the giver of the feast was near the entrance of the lodge, on the right as one enters. When the Leader contributed the food he was obliged to leave his official seat, and occupy the place belonging to the feast-giver. Each member of the society had his appointed place in the circle about the lodge. The singers were grouped around the drum, which was placed on the left hand of the Leader.”

    “The society had it’s peculiar regalia. The members cut their hair close on each side of their head, and left a tuft a few inches wide, extending from the forehead to back of the crown, where it met the scalp-lock. No clothing was worn except the breech-cloth, and at the back a long bunch of grass was fastened in the belt. Each man painted in accordance with the directions given him when he passed through the ceremonies of receiving his honors at the Tent of War. The Leader, and other men distinguished for their skill and success in war, wore an ornament called Ka-hae, or crow. This was made of two sticks like arrow shafts, painted green, and feathered, like the stems of the fellowship pipes, with feathers of the buzzard; tufts of crow plumage and long pendants reaching nearly to the ground, made of crow feathers, completed this ornament, which was worn at the back fastened to the belt, the two shafts rising to the man’s shoulder blades. The men wearing the Ka-hae; painted the front of their bodies and their arms and legs with daubs of black; their faces and backs were completely covered with black paint, but on their backs, white spots were put on the black color. Comparatively few men attained sufficient eminence as warriors to wear the Ka-hae and paint themselves in this manner. The blackened face and dappled limbs and front were emblematic of the thunder clouds and their destructive power as they advance over the heavens, even as the warrior approaches his victim dealing his death-darts. The blackened back with it’s white spots indicated the dead body of the enemy, which the birds were busy pecking, leaving their droppings as they tore away the fast-decaying flesh. The crow was worn, as it was said to be the first to find a corpse, and later was joined by other birds of prey. The tuft of grass worn by all the members of the Hae-thu-ska bore a twofold signification: it represented the tail of the Me-ka-thu, or wolf, the animal closely allied to the warrior, and it also symbolized the scalp of the vanquished enemy.”

    “There are two classes of warlike deeds, which are distinguished in according honors:

    “1st. Nu ah-tah’-the-sha. Literally the words mean, in the direction of men, signifying that the warrior has gone forth seeking men to fight; one whose warfare has been aggressive, and away from home.”

    “2nd. Wa-oo ah-tah’-the-sha, or Tee ah-tah’-the-sha. Literally the words mean, in the direction of woman, or in the direction of the tent or home; defensive warfare, as when the camp or village has been attacked and valorously defended. Only men of the first class, those whose aggressive warfare has become noted, and confirmed through the ceremonies of the Tent of War, are eligible to the office of Leader, or permitted to wear the Ka-hae and paint in black as already described.”

    “Warriors of the second class thrust an arrow through their scalp-lock, or carried a bow and arrow in their hand. Later, when guns were used, these men streaked their faces and bodies with black, to indicate the grime of the gunpowder on their perspiring bodies in the heat of action.”

    “After the members were gathered the Leader took some box-elder wood and charred it over the fire; with this the body and face were to be painted. While the wood was charring, the following song was sung by all present:”

    “Nun-g’thae Thae-tae
    He-tha’-ke-un’-tae ah thun-ah’ he dae.
    The coal which is here,
    I am weary waiting to paint myself with it.”

    “The idea conveyed by the song is not that of literally waiting until one is tired for the wood to char, that the ceremony of painting may take place, but indicates the desire that fills the brave man’s breast, even to the taxing of his strength to weariness, for the opportunity to perform feats of daring, to risk his life for valor and for honor, that he may become a bulwark to his kindred, to his tribe, and a terror to their enemies. The music conveys more than the words alone would tell; in it’s cadences one not only enters into the warrior’s eagerness, but is reminded of the strange, portentous stir that fills the air, and affects man and beast, when the mighty storm is seen blackening the horizon. The power and naturalness of this song are noteworthy.”


    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


    • #3
      Part 3

      “After the ceremony of painting was completed, the Leader took up the pipe belonging to the society, which the giver of the feast had already filled, and scattered some tobacco on the earth; then he lifted the stem of the pipe upward, paused a moment, and slowly pointed it to the north, east, south and west. During these movements the society sang this prayer:

      “Wa-kan-da, tha-ne ga-thae-kae.
      Ae-ha tha-ne hin ga wae-tho-hae tho.
      Wakanda (God), I give tobacco (in this pipe).
      Wilt thou not smoke the tobacco.”

      “The last four words are musical syllables. The music is a dignified choral. After this prayer and offering, the pipe was passed around, each member in his turn taking a whiff, and the opening ceremonies came to an end.”

      “Shortly, the singers about the drum struck up one of the songs belonging to the society, a song suitable for dancing, and whoever was so moved rose, and dropping his robe in his seat, stepped forth nude, except his embroidered breech-cloth and decoration of grass or feathers. Bells were sometimes worn about the ankles, or bound below the knee, and added a castanet effect, marking the rhythm of the song and dance, and adding to the scene, so full of color, movement and wild melody.”

      “As the members danced they exhibited in a conventionalized pantomime their exploits on the warpath. A variety of steps were taken; the foot was placed strongly and flat upon the ground with a thud; the limbs were lifted at a sharp angle to the body, which bent and rose with sudden and diversified movements. There was not a motion of foot, leg, body, arm or head that did not follow in strict time the accent of the song. The throb of the drum started the pulses of the spectator, and held him to the rhythm of the scene, as the eye followed the rapid, tense action of the dancer, and the ear caught the melody which revealed the intent of the strange drama.”

      “The intense character of the dance, it’s violent movements, made it impossible to be sustained for any length of time; the songs and dances are therefore short. Resting songs followed a dance, during which dancers sat muffled in their robes, dripping with perspiration, and panting to regain their breath.”

      “All this time the food was cooking over the fire, for little if anything was prepared beforehand, and when the viands were nearly ready the two Servers advanced, and performed a peculiar dance to certain songs which belong to this peculiar ceremonial way of announcing to the company that refreshments were about to be served. The two Servers must be men who have broken the necks of an enemy, either in aggressive or defensive warfare.”

      “It is a custom in the Hae-thu-ska Society to serve the food with two sticks; if these were not provided, then the naked hand must be thrust in the boiling pot to take out the meat. The choice portions were selected and given to the bravest man present. If a dish of dog was among the dainties, the head was presented to one who had broken the neck of an enemy.”

      “After all the members were served, the Leader rose, and in an address of some length, replete with native eloquence, thanked the host of the evening for the feast he had provided. The Leader discoursed upon the vital need of food for the preservation of the race; how it was sought amid trials, dangers and hardships, so that food represented both a man’s valor and industry, and was the greatest of gifts, since without it no man could live.”

      “Such a gift being provided, no one should partake of it without first thanking the giver, not forgetting to include his wife and children, who have relinquished to strangers, their share in this great necessity of mankind. At the close of this speech each one betakes himself to the food so graciously offered and received.”

      “When all had finished, the man to whom the dog’s head was given held up the bone, now destitute of flesh, and recounted the stories of his battles. The singers struck up a dance song, and the narrator rose and acted out the story he had just recited.”

      “If the warrior possessed dramatic talent, he was not apt to let the opportunity slip of recording a triumph not only for his skill in war, but for his histrionic powers.”

      “On entering the tent all members turned to the left, and passed around the lodge to their respective seats. The same order was preserved in going out; he who sat with the door to his left hand passed out first, and so on round the lodge, every one moving to the left. At the close of the evening, the song of dismissal was sung:”

      “Ku-tha na-zhe-thae,
      Ku-tha ma-the-thae.
      Friends arise,
      Friends walk forth!”

      “All joined in this grand choral, as the members sedately moved out into the night, the last man completing the circle of the tent as the final note was sounded under the stars.”

      (Fletcher, 1892, pp. 136-142)

      From: “The Omaha Tribe”, by Alice C. Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche, 1911, Bureau of American Ethnology 27th Annual Report 1905-06, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

      “Among the Omaha the ceremonies of the Hethu’shka formerly partook of tribal importance. The Kon’ce, or ‘Wind People’, were the custodians of the two pipes sacred to the rites observed in the opening ceremonies when the members met together. There were occasions when the Hethu’shka members moved in a procession around the hu’thuga (tribal circle), following their two pipes, borne by their Kon’ce keepers. The office of keeping and filling the two pipes was hereditary in a family of the Kon’ce gens that today is represented by one surviving member. It is said that the object in establishing the Hethu’shka society was to stimulate an heroic spirit among the people and to keep alive the memory of historic and valorous acts. Thunder was the tutelar god of the Hethu’shka. The destructive power of the lightning, with it’s accompanying thunder and clouds so terrifying to man and beast, was recognized in the ceremonies and songs of this society.”

      “Among the Osage the Hethu’shka society is spoken of as the Ingthon’ushkon, ‘those who partake of the nature of the thunder.’ The society is known not only to the close cognates but to the Iowa and Oto tribes as well...”

      “...The membership of the Hethu’shka in the Omaha tribe was restricted to warriors; it included chiefs and ‘privates’ but all were on an equal footing. The one requisite for eligibility was that the man should have received public war honors before the Packs Sacred to War.”

      “Entrance to the society was by unanimous consent. A desirable candidate was ‘picked’ by a member and invited to a meeting, where if no one offered objection to his joining the society, he was accepted as a member from that time.”

      “The officers of the society were the hereditary keepers of the Hethu’shka pipes held as sacred, a leader and a herald. The leader held his office during lifetime or until he chose to resign. When the office became vacant, the aspirant for the position had to be a man high in the respect of the tribe and a successful leader in war. The candidate made known his desire for the vacant office by inviting the members to a feast. At the feast his candidacy was discussed and if no objection to him were raised, he was accepted as leader. The herald had to be a reputable warrior and possessed of a strong, clear voice so that his messages might be distinctly heard. At each meeting the leader appointed two or more young men to act as servants in attending to the fire and assisting in the ceremonies. These servants were sometimes young men who had not yet attained to the distinction requisite for membership and it was considered an honor to be thus chosen and permitted to serve.”

      “The meetings were held at irregular intervals, usually about once a month, always in the same place – in the commodious dwelling of some member who was respected in the tribe. He did not contribute anything besides shelter to the society, except when he chose to be the host, or feast-giver. Some members always volunteered to act in this capacity for each meeting; it was the duty of the host to furnish the requisite food for the ‘feast’ and the tobacco for the pipes, though he could not fill these or prepare them for smoking, as that could be done only by the hereditary Kon’ce keeper. The host had also to prepare the black paint, made of charred box-elder wood mixed with water, and put it ready for use into a wooden bowl, the property of the society, kept for this purpose.”

      “At the meetings of the society each member had his appointed place in the circle within the lodge. The leader, who must always belong to the highest grade of warriors, sat in the middle at the back part of the lodge, opposite the door. The men who were his equals in their grade of war honors sat next to him on his right and left; then came those of the next lower grade and so on, by grades, down to the door."

      "The men who were his equals in their grade of war honors sat next to him on his right and left; then came those of the next lower grade and so on, by grades, down to the door. The honors by which the places of the members were graded were those that had been publicly given the warriors at the Wate’gictu.”


      "Be good, be kind, help each other."
      "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

      --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


      • #4
        Part 4

        “(The term Wa-te’-gi-ctu is made from the words ‘wa-te’, meaning ‘things accomplished,’ referring to the acts accomplished by warriors; ‘gi’ meaning ‘possession’; and ‘ctu’ meaning ‘to collect or gather together.’ Collectively then, the term’s implied meaning is, ‘the gathering together of acts accomplished.’”

        “The term Wate’gictu was the ceremony which took place shortly after the return of warriors from a victorious battle, whereby all the acts or brave war exploits of a warrior were duly authorized and ceremonially awarded, giving the warrior the rites, honors and privileges each graded war honor held.)”

        “On each side of the entrance sat the servants appointed by the leader. Near the door on the right as one entered was the place set apart for the host or feast-giver of the meeting.”

        “Regardless of rank, the leader or anyone else had to leave his appointed seat and occupy this place on the evening when he acted as host.”

        “The drum was placed at the left of the leader’s seat. The men singers, two to four of whom used drumsticks, were grouped around it. Immediately behind the men sat a few women who possessed fine voices. This choir led in the singing of the songs, in which all the members, when not dancing, generally joined.”

        “No clothing except the breechcloth was worn by the members and a long bunch of grass representing scalps the wearer had taken was fastened to the belt at the back.”

        “Later, but how long ago it is now impossible to ascertain, the members entitled to wear the scalps, substituted therefor the bunch of long grass. In time this decoration became part of the Hethu’shka dress or regalia and as such was worn by all the members without regard to personal achievements. When the ‘dance’ became known to the Dakota tribes and the Winnebago, the significance of the bunch of long grass having been forgotten, they gave the name ‘Grass dance,’ or the ‘Omaha dance,’ the latter name in recognition of the tribe from which the ‘dance’ had been obtained.”

        “Each man painted himself in accordance with the directions given him at the Wate’gictu and wore the decorations conferred on him at that public ceremony when he received his grade of war honors. The leader had to be of sufficient rank to be able to wear ‘the Crow’, a decoration of the highest order. Sometimes bells were tied about the legs and ankles, adding a sort of clicking, castanet accompaniment to the song and dance. Not only were the members of the Hethu’shka chosen from among the brave men but the rules and influence of the society tended to enforce peace and harmony in the tribe.”

        “If a member became quarrelsome, a disturber of domestic or tribal affairs, the herald was sent to proclaim him to the people. He would give the man’s name and say: ‘My friend, the door of the society is closed against you, that you may remain among the common people where such acts {naming his offense} are committed.’ This punishment was considered a great public disgrace.”

        “When a meeting was to be held, all the belongings of the family were removed from the lodge for that evening and the place was left vacant for the society.”

        “The young men who had been appointed servants brought the necessary wood for the fire and the host sent the food to be cooked, for nothing was prepared beforehand. Just before the hour for assembling, the host placed the bowl of paint and the two pipes, which had been filled and made ready for smoking, before the place belonging to the leader. Everything was then in readiness.”

        “When all the members were in their places the leader took up the bowl of paint and the following song was sung by all present:” (Note: musical notations omitted from text)

        “Nun-xthe the-te hi-tha-ki-un te thun-ahi-de
        Nun-xthe the-te hi-tha-ki-un te thun-ahi-de
        Nun-xthe the-te hi-tha-ki-un te thun-ahi-de
        Nun-xthe the-te hi-tha-ki-un te thun-ahi-de
        Nun-xthe the-te hi-tha-ki-un te thun-ahi-de”

        “Literal translation: Nun-xthe, charcoal; the-te, this standing before me; hi-tha-ki-un te, to paint or decorate himself with; thun-ahi-de, I wearily wait, or wait until I am weary.”

        “Free translation
        Before me stands, awaiting my touch, coal-black paint,
        Heavy black clouds filling all the sky o’er our head.
        Upon our faces now we put the black, coal-black cloud.
        Honoring war, weary for the fight, warriors’ fight,
        Waiting to go where the Thunder leads warriors on.”

        “The words were not intended to convey the idea that the members were literally tired of waiting for the wood to char in order that the ceremony of painting might take place, but rather that the desire for action was so strong within the warrior’s breast that he was weary of the restraint, of the lack of opportunity that withheld him from heroic deeds of war.”

        “The music expresses more than the words alone convey. It not only expresses the warrior’s eagerness but the portentous stir that filled the air with flying birds when the black storm clouds arose. The song strikingly suggests both the psychical and natural influence of the symbolic thunderstorm, the visible sign of the warrior god.”

        “During the singing of the song the leader dipped the fingers of his right hand into the paint and touched his forehead, cheeks and chin, and both sides of his chest. Then the bowl was passed by the servants about the lodge and as the song was repeated each member put on himself the black paint, the insignia of the Thunder god.”

        “When all had been painted, the leader took the pipes, dropped some tobacco on the earth, lifted the stems upward, paused a moment, and slowly turned and pointed them to the north, east, south and west; he then lighted the pipes and handed them to the servants while this prayer was sung:” (Note: musical notations omitted from text)
        “Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Eha tha-ni hin-ga we tho he thoe
        Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Wa-kon-da tha-ni ga the ke
        Eha tha-ni hin-ga we tho he thoe”

        “Literal translation: Wa-kon-da, the power that moves and gives life; tha-ni, modification of ni-ni, tobacco; ga, here; the, this; ke, something long-indirect reference to the pipe; eha, now; hin-ga, modification of inga, to draw with the lips, as in smoking. The indirect reference to the pipe indicates that the article is unimportant, a mere vehicle, the real offering being the tobacco smoke.”

        “Free translation”
        “Wa-kon-da, we offer this smoke,
        Wa-kon-da, accept now our prayer,
        Let the smoke rise upward to thee,
        It bears our prayer, Wa-kon-da, to thee.”

        “The words and music of this song are in marked contrast to the one that proceeded. The descriptive character and the impatience expressed in the opening song here give place to stately measures in which the thoughts of the members are turned from the objective display of the Thunder gods toward the invisible Wakon’da, the directive life force which permeates nature and all forms of life. The beat of the drum is in 4/8 time while the music is in 6/8 time. The contrasting rhythm and syncopation express the restraining influence of the rite.”

        “The pipes were passed in the following order: One pipe was started at the door and was smoked by all seated on the half of the circle between the left side of the entrance and the leader. The other was started with the leader and ended with the member at the right side of the door. As the pipes were passed among the members, the ascending smoke carried with it each warrior’s appeal, voiced in the prayer to the invisible Wakon’da. With this rite the opening ceremonies of the Hethu’shka came to a close. Shortly after, the choir began a song in fast time and whoever was so inclined arose, dropped his robe in his seat and stepped forth.”

        “Then is a conventional pantomime he acted out one of his experiences in war from which he had gained a public war honor at the Wate’gictu. A good dancer was light of foot and agile. A variety of steps was taken; the foot was brought down on the ground with a thud, making a synchronous accompaniment to the resonant drum beat and the voices of the singers; the limbs were lifted at a sharp angles; the body, was bent and raised with sudden and diversified movements, as in a charge, or as if dodging arrows or averting blows from weapons. In all this dramatic presentation of an actual scene there was not a motion of foot, leg, body, arm or head that did not follow the song in strict time, yet keeping close to the story that was being acted out. The throb of the drum started the pulses of the spectator, and held him to the rhythm of the scene, as the eye followed the rapid, tense action of the dancer, while the ear caught the melody which revealed the intent of the strange drama so full of color, movement, and wild cadences. The intense character of the dance, made it impossible to sustain it for any considerable time; therefore the dance and song, although the latter was repeated, were always short. Rest songs, slower in time, followed a dance, and during these songs the dancers sat muffled in their robes, often dripping with perspiration and panting to recover their breath.”


        "Be good, be kind, help each other."
        "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

        --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


        • #5
          Part 5

          “When the food was ready, two men, each of whom had broken the neck on an enemy, were designated by the leader to act as servers. Then the choir began the song that was the ceremonial call to the feast, to which the two men danced.” (Note: musical notations omitted from text)

          “U-hon the-te ni-de tho
          U-hon the-te ni-de tho
          Inda-ku-tha ni-de tho
          U-hon the-te ni-de tho he
          Inda-ku-tha ni-de tho he tho”

          “Literal translation: U-hon, the food now cooking, the feast; the-te, this; ni-de, it is cooked or ready to eat; in-da-ku-tha, an ancient term meaning friend or comrade; tho, he, tho, vocables.

          “Free translation”
          “The feast awaits you--come, eat,
          The feast is awaiting you,
          Members, comrades, come and eat.
          The feast awaiting stands before you, come,
          Members, comrades, come and eat! He tho.”

          “Two sticks were used in serving, and the choicest pieces were given the bravest man present. After all had been served except the host, or feast-giver (for he observed the tribal custom of not partaking of the food he had provided for his guests), the leader arose and made an address, in which he thanked the feast-giver and discoursed on the need of food for the preservation of life. He told of the trials, dangers and hardships encountered in securing food, so that the quest represented both a man’s valor and his industry; and since no one could live without it, food was a gift of the greatest value. Therefore no one should partake of it without thanking the giver and he should not forget to include the giver’s wife and children who relinquish to outsiders their share in this great necessity of the family.”

          “At the close of this speech each member partook of the food provided. When the repast was over, the member who had received the choicest part of the meal held up the picked bone and acted out in a dramatic dance the story of his exploit. Sometimes this exhibition was of a remarkable histrionic character.”

          “When the time to disperse came, usually short after this dance, the choir began the song of dismissal. During the singing of the first part the members rose in their places and at the beginning of the second part the member who sat with the door to his right passed around the lodge and fire place and was the first to leave, each one following in his turn, all singing as they walked and passed out under the stars. When all had gone, the choir rose from about the drum and left the lodge in silence. This dismissal song is choral in character and yet has the rhythm of a march.” (Note: musical notations omitted from text)


          “Ko-tha non-zhin the
          Ko-tha non-zhin the
          Ko-tha non-zhin the
          E-ha non-zhin hi-tha-me tho he thoe”


          “Ko-tha mon-thin the
          Ko-tha mon-thin the
          Ko-tha mon-thin the
          E-ha mon-thin hi-tha-me tho he thoe”

          “Literal translation: Ko-tha, an archaic term for friend; non-zhin, arise or stand; the, vocable; e-ha, now; hi-tha-me, they say; tho he, vocables; thoe, close of stanza; ko-tha, friend; mon-thin, walk. The words indicate that the members address one another: ‘Friend, we stand; Friend, we will walk.’

          “Free translation”
          “We say, Friend, arise!
          Arise, Friend, we say.
          Arise, Friend, we stand.
          We say, Now arise and stand.”

          “We say, Friend, now walk,
          Now walk, Friend, we say.
          We say, Friend, now walk.
          We say, Friend, now walk we away.”

          (Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911, pp. 459-469)

          From: “Ponca Societies and Dances”, by Alanson Skinner, 1915, Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.

          “When the young people wish to get up a hel’ocka lodge, four youths get together and choose a man to take care of the drum and the hel’ocka round house in which the dancing is to be done and prepare the feasts. They take a pipe to him, and if he accepts, he is committed to the office. Besides the “drum owner,” (nerhexgakogelithere) are the following officers:”

          “8 leaders (nodahunga)
          2 tails (sinde)
          8 drummers (xoka)
          4 women singers (hola’ze) to sit behind the men
          2 judges (wawethihethun) who sell the horses and other gifts made by individuals to the society as a whole and act as treasurers of the proceeds.
          1 date setter for the dance (ohanithigthun) who also tell what food to cook for the feasts.
          1 pipe lighter (ninitha’ne) No one can light a pipe for himself during this ceremony.
          2 starters, or whip bearers (wanacis)
          2 waiters (ohan’cigre)
          2 heralds, or announcers (wa’gra)”

          “Braves only are allowed to wear the feather dance bustles and deer hair roaches during the ceremony. All wore their war honor feathers, etc., while dancing. None wore grass.”

          “During one particular song, the bravest man present is called up to dance in a circle of other dancers who dance ‘in a stationary position’ while he dances in a circle round and round. Suddenly, he falls over as though he were shot and all whoop. This is repeated four times. The dance is called ex’gianwatcigahre. The brave wears the feather bustle...”

          “...The hel’ocka helps people mourn for their dead, and makes collections of gifts for bereaved people to help dry their tears. When other tribes come to visit these people, they entertain them, and also take up collections for outsiders who ask for help. No matter how poor a man is he is not helped unless he asks for it.”

          (Skinner, 1915, pp. 784-785)


          "Be good, be kind, help each other."
          "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

          --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


          • #6
            Part 6

            From: “The Ponca Tribe”, by James H. Howard, 1965, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 195, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

            “The last of the three Ponca dances which Peter LeClair considers most important is the Hedu’ska or ‘War’ dance. In his ‘History’ (p. 21) he writes: ‘The best dance is called Hay-thu-schka, known as the war dance; it is said that anyone that is not well and feeling bad and anyone that is mourning, the sound of the drum will revive them and make them happy.’ Skinner (1915c, pp. 784-785), in his discussion of Ponca societies, gives and excellent description of the dance.”

            “This dance, which was at one time merely one of several ‘owned’ by Ponca warrior societies, was apparently borrowed from the Pawnee at an early date. It has now been a part of Ponca culture for so long, however, that they consider it their own, and even have an origin legend which explains it’s introduction. Skinner (ibid., p. 784) writes: ‘According to Charlie Collins, this society originated among the Ponca, and was founded by a woman who dreamed she went to another world where she saw Indians dancing.’ My own informant, Sylvester Warrior, was quite indignant when I suggested that the Ponca had borrowed the dance from some other tribe, saying: ‘There are too many songs in the dance which tell of Ponca being blessed by Wakanda.’”

            “As mentioned above, the Hedu’ska was originally a warriors dancing society. Like other societies of this type, it had a roster of officers, including a drumkeeper, eight dance leaders and two whipmen who started each dance episode and who whipped reluctant dancers across the legs to make them get up and perform. The characteristic ornaments of the dance were the porcupine and deer-hair roach headdress and the ‘crow belt’ or feather dance bustle. The latter was emblematic of a battlefield, and it’s use was restricted to certain officers of the society who were distinguished warriors. Both of these ornaments were ritually fumigated during the ceremony by holding them over a cedar needle smudge.”

            “About 1880, with the decline of intertribal warfare, the Hedu’ska society began to take on a religious flavor. Instead of the war speeches and coup countings of the earlier dance there were long prayers for the benefit of the group by designated officials. Gift giving, rather than war honors, was the basis of admission. It was also about this time that women were admitted as dancers.”

            “Students of American Ethnology will recognize the form of the dance as that which diffused from the Dakota tribe to the Central Algonquian groups as the ‘Dream dance’ or ‘Drum religion.’ The Hedu’ska persisted in this form, in both Oklahoma and Nebraska, until about 1925, and is still retained by the Osage, who seem to have secured some of their ritual from the Ponca, as their ceremonial War dance or ‘Man’s dance.’”

            “Today the Ponca dance has entered a third phase, which might be termed ‘Pan-Indian.’ Most of the religious elements (except for song texts) have been lost, and the dance is, for most participants and observers, merely a ‘big time’”...“Costumes have become quite baroque, and the symbolism of the roach and crow belt have been forgotten.”

            “Choreographically speaking, the Hedu’ska consists of individual dancers performing any steps they choose while circling the drum. The traditional progression around the drum was clockwise, but the Southern Ponca, as observed in 1952, 1954, 1959 and 1961 moved in a counterclockwise direction. Peter LeClaire and older Southern Ponca attribute this change to the influence of Southeastern tribes, such as the Creek and Cherokee, whose dances progress in a counterclockwise direction. Many of the Ponca Hedu’ska songs refer to the exploits of Ponca heroes in the wars with the Dakota. A few have been borrowed from other tribes and some are slightly reworked versions of songs formerly used by other Ponca warrior societies, now obsolete.”

            “Beginning in 1958 there was an attempt to revive the old Hedu’ska organization among the Ponca, and several performances of the dance in the old form have been held. Active in this revival were Sylvester Warrior and Clyde Warrior.”

            'The annual Southern Ponca powwow, which features the Hedu’ska in it’s secular form, is held each year during the last week of August. It is one of the principal ‘Indian’ events in Oklahoma, and draws large crowds. As many as three or four hundred dancers, representing a score of tribes, take part. Among the Northern Ponca the Hedu’ska has not been performed since about 1935...”

            “...Otto Knudsen and Peter LeClaire (Northern Ponca informants) both mentioned a dance called Oha’dize or ‘Reach-in-the-boiling-kettle.’ This dance is known to the Dakota and certain other Prairie-Plains tribes as the ‘kettle dance.’ Dancers circle a kettle of cooked dog meat four times, then, on a certain musical cue, the leader dips into the pot with his bare hand and arm and seizes a piece of meat. Usually this is a dog’s head. Peter LeClaire said that this dance was originally a part of the full Hedu’ska performance, but later evolved into a separate dance. The dance is still performed by the Teton Dakota and the Winnebago.”

            (Howard, 1965, pp. 106-108)

            Among the Ponca, according to Sylvester Warrior, the Headman of the Ponca Hethuska from the time of it’s revival in 1958, until his death in 1973, the Hethuska Society was,

            “ organization of men who were braves or warriors of the tribe, and men who were important in the tribe as tribal leaders, as well as being the, perhaps son of a great chief, or even the grandson, or anyone who proved himself to be a good citizen of the tribe, and men who were know for their ability to talk and to live in a good way. To show themselves as good people.”
            (Warrior, 1967)

            As seen through the above quoted sources, the origins and history of the Ponca Hethuska Society are not consistent. There are many versions, from both anthropological sources which are often slightly inaccurate, as the observers may not have fully understood the culture they were studying, and oral tribal history which is only as good as the memory of it’s keepers. However, we can determine the main emphasis of the Hethuska Society by pulling general themes from all these sources.

            We know that the Hethuska Society was once a men’s warrior society among the Omaha approximately 300 years ago when the Ponca and the Omaha were part of the same larger Dhegihan linguistic group. In fact Duncan (1997) states, “In 1884, Alice Fletcher believed the Hethuska song which referred to the famous Ponca warrior named Ishe’buzhe was at least one hundred fifty years old, dating the song to circa 1734.” (Duncan, 1997, p. 45) This would put the age of that particular song at 271 years old from the date this work was publish, and the society structure was already in place. In addition, evidence suggests that the Hethuska’s earliest roots may have gone back to the ancestors of the Omaha/Ponca in the Middle Mississippian Culture over 500 years ago.

            Later, when the Omaha and Ponca split to form separate tribes sometime in the early 1700s, both tribes continued their versions of the Hethuska Society, which have evolved separately but remain very similar. Because these men of the Hethuska had proven to have above average hunting skills and above average warfare skills, they pledged to look after those in need among the tribe. Especially taking great care of the widows and orphans of warriors killed in battle, who might otherwise starve without their help.

            During the time of intertribal warfare in the 1800s, the dance ceremonies held by the Hethuska Society would help to preserve the valorous war exploits and deeds of heroism of it’s members, both past and present, in the actions of the dance and the words of the songs. In this way, it was thought, younger men and boys would be inspired to follow the examples of bravery in defense of the tribe, which the men of the Hethuska portrayed.

            Shortly after the Ponca were forcibly moved from their home near Niobrara, Nebraska to a reservation in north central Oklahoma in 1877 (now referred to as “White Eagle”), it is said that the Ponca Hethuska Society “passed the drum” to their new friends in the area, the Kaw (aka Kansa), in 1881. This “passing of the drum” was considered a gift from the Ponca Hethuska Society to the Kaw tribe. This gift, in effect, was the permission to have the rites and privileges to perform the Ponca Hethuska dance ceremony. The Ponca would make a drum and give it to a man who would be the leader of the society within the tribe that received it. This new Headman would also be given a set of Honor Songs (now known as Committee Songs) and instructions on how to choose leadership positions, as well as core traditions of the dance. Lastly, the new Headman would have been admonished to “make his own way” and create a unique society based on the core of Ponca traditions and songs. (Conklin, 1985)

            In a typical cultural tradition, the Kaw would have responded to this enormously generous gift, by responding with material gifts to the Ponca Hethuska leadership to formerly thank them for the gift. This may be how early anthropologists, misunderstanding cultural intricacies, assumed incorrectly that the rites to the dance were being purchased.


            "Be good, be kind, help each other."
            "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

            --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


            • #7
              Part 7

              It is known that by 1883, the Ponca Hethuska, with Standing Buffalo as it’s Headman, “passed the drum” to the “Dwellers of the Hilltop” band of Osage living in the Grayhorse District, with John Black Bird, Sr. becoming the first drum keeper of the Osage Inlonshka at Grayhorse. (Callahan, 1990, p. 25) By 1884, the Kaw tribe could not continue the responsibilities of the Hethuska Society and three Kaw men, Little Jim, Barly Delano, and Jim Pepper, “gave away” the Hethuska Drum that the Ponca had given them, including it’s traditions, to the “Dwellers in the Thorny Thicket” Band of Osages living in the Pawhuska District of north central Oklahoma, with Ben Mashunkashay becoming the first drum keeper of the Osage Inlonshka at Pawhuska. (Cooley, 1985, p. 8) (Callahan, 1990, p. 19) Soon after in 1885, the “Dwellers in the Upland Forest” Band of Osage living in the Hominy District, learned these Hethuska / Inlonshka traditions from the Pawhuska District Osage, having come from the Kaw. (Stewart, 1975, p. 14) All three Osage Bands have made the Hethuska society traditions into a uniquely Osage tradition now referred to in their language as IN’-loN-shka. (Conklin, 1985)

              According to Howard (1965), the Southern Cheyenne brought a “little moon” or “half moon” version of the Peyote religion to the Ponca in 1902. (Howard, 1965, p. 122) During this time the Ponca were also trying to follow their “prayer pipe” religion and annual Sun Dance as noted by George Dorsey, Curator of Anthropology at the Field Colombian Museum, in his work titled “The Ponca Sun Dance” published in 1905.

              The following year in 1906, Ed Primeaux (aka “Pack Horse”) participated in the Ponca Sun Dance. However, after receiving a Peyote “fireplace” from the Comanche Peyote religion leader Quannah Parker, Ed Primeaux had converted to the Peyote religion. (Howard, 1965, p. 74) (Duncan, 1997, p. 86)

              The influence of the Peyote religion on the Ponca Sun Dance traditions and Hethuska traditions at this time cannot be underestimated. Although the Ponca continued to distribute their Hethuska traditions to other tribes, it was declining in popularity amongst themselves as the Peyote religion was becoming the more dominant tradition. In some cases, tribes sought out the Ponca, in order to obtain the Hethuska traditions. The emerging popularity of the Peyote religion had also effected the Osage Inlonshka so that by 1914, the Osage Inlonshka in one of their districts, had just five dancers. (Duncan, 1997, p. 86)

              According to Ponca elder Henry Snake, who was a Tail Dancer in the Hethuska at the time, the Poncas “passed the drum,” giving a drum and the rights to perform the Hethuska to the Comanche tribe in 1916. (Snake, 1976) In addition, it has been said that, “...the Poncas passed the drum to groups of Sac and Fox as well as Cheyennes.” (Stewart, 1975, p. 14)

              After the U.S. participation in World War I, the Ponca found new ways of honoring their warriors who had fought on behalf of the U.S. Government, and were now recognized as veterans. In 1918, the first “all Indian” American Legion Post, called “Buffalo Post 38” was formed at White Eagle, Oklahoma on the Ponca Reservation. The Buffalo Post 38 Ladies Auxiliary became a strong organization of women who honored and supported their veterans with Scalp Dances and other culturally based activities.

              At the beginning of the 20th Century, the popularity of Wild West Shows, such as Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West Show and the Miller Brother’s 101 Ranch Wild West Show, as well as State and County Fairs, provided the Ponca with many opportunities to sing the Hethuska songs and dance in the Hethuska style. These exhibitions also allowed for interaction with dancers from other tribes, and inter-tribal gatherings became more popular.

              By 1922, the Ponca warriors/veterans had splintered into at least four groups that were closely associated to women’s Scalp Dance organizations and met at various times to sponsor Scalp Dances and Hethuska style dances. The known groups were (1) Nu-doN meaning “war” or “warrior,” (2) Pa-tha-taN meaning “drinkers of strong or bitter drink” {coffee is implied}, (3) Pa-thiN-ge meaning “without heads” or “head takers” {in reference to the old custom of taking a enemy’s head as a trophy}, and (4) He-thu-ska. (Shea, 2004)

              With the pressures from the popularity of the Peyote religion, the U.S. Government’s attempts to “Christianize” and “civilize” Indian children in boarding schools, the loss of land and general poverty, by the time of the Great Depression beginning in 1929, the cultural disorganization had made the Hethuska Society among the Ponca, and the Comanche’s version of the Hethuska Society, as dormant cultural entities.

              Neither the Ponca nor the Comanche could continue to hold their Hethuska dance ceremonies and perform benevolent tasks for the needy, as basic survival became critical for all tribal members. However, the Hethuska songs were not restricted to the Hethuska membership, and the Ponca singers were singing the Hethuska songs routinely at other Ponca cultural events such as the Annual Ponca Pow-Wow, while Ponca men danced in the Hethuska style (aka the “Tail Dance” style).

              Interestingly, due to a variety of reasons, including the monetary benefits of the discovery of oil on their land, the three villages of Osage, being Grayhorse, Hominy and Pawhuska, were able to afford the cost of holding their Inlonshka dance ceremonies. During this time that the Ponca Hethuska lay dormant, the Ponca singers were still called upon to sing the Hethuska songs at the three Osage village Inlonshka ceremonies, which helped to preserve the songs. Ponca singers also sang the Hethuska songs for other War Dance organizations such as the Pawnee Iruska, and the Oto Heloshka. (Howard, 1965, p. 107)

              After World War II, the Gives Water Service Club was formed in 1945 at the Bois d’arc settlement of the Ponca Reservation to honor Poncas who had served in the military during World War II. Often dance celebrations sponsored by the Gives Water Service Club and the Buffalo Post 38 Ladies Auxiliary, which was still functioning as an organization since 1918, would incorporate Hethuska dance styles and dance clothes, along with Hethuska songs. However, the dance celebrations would not be considered Hethuska Society events done in the formal manner of years ago, and frequently, new Veteran’s Honoring Songs would be composed in the Hethuska style, to honor the new Ponca warrior/veterans.

              In the early 1950s, Sylvester Warrior (Ponca) set out to see if the dormant Ponca Hethuska Society could be revived, especially in honor of the recent Ponca Veterans of Word War II and the Korean War. In addition to being a World War II Veteran himself, Sylvester Warrior had a deeper personal interest in the Hethuska Society as his grandfather, Standing Buffalo, was a prominent sub-Chief the Ponca in late 1800s and the Nu-doN’-hoN-ga or Headman of the Ponca Hethuska Society when the society “passed the drum” to the Grayhorse village of Osage in 1883, and his mother, Grace Warrior was “keeper” of the tribal pipe. (Conklin, 1986) After many years of gathering information from Ponca elders and singers, Sylvester Warrior, through a long and very involved process, gained the blessings and permission to revive the Ponca Hethuska Society in 1958 at White Eagle, Oklahoma, becoming it’s Headman. (Conklin, 1985)

              By 1972, Melvin Kerchee (Comanche) had effectively reorganized the dormant Comanche version of the Hethuska Society which the Poncas had given the Comanche in 1919. The revived Comanche War Dance Organization as it was called, was then attended by and sanctioned by Sylvester Warrior and the Ponca Hethuska. (Kerchee, 1985)

              With the death of Sylvester Warrior at the age of 60 in August 1973, the next person elected to be Headman of the Ponca Hethuska was Jonas Steele (Ponca/Winnebago). However, Steele’s time in that position was very short as he passed away unexpectedly in February 1976.

              In the Fall of 1976, Abe Conklin (Ponca/Osage) was elected to be the new Headman of the Ponca Hethuska. When Abe Conklin passed away in December 1995 at the age of 69, Damon Roughface (Ponca), son of the late Paul Roughface, was elected to become the new Headman or NudoN’hoNga of the Ponca Hethuska Society and to date, holds that position.

              Today, the Ponca Hethuska gathers to have their dance ceremony twice a year, usually in April and October, on or near the Ponca Reservation at White Eagle, in north central Oklahoma. The Hethuska dance ceremony now consists of one afternoon dance session, an evening feast for all dancers, singers and spectators, followed by an evening dance session. Each dance session lasts for about four hours, with periodic water breaks.

              The Grayhorse, Pawhuska and Hominy villages of Osage continue to hold their Inlonshka ceremonies once a year in June. Each village has their own dance with separate committees. Each Inlonshka dance ceremony lasts four days, usually from Thursday through Sunday with afternoon and evening dance sessions on each of the first three days and an extended afternoon session on Sunday.

              The Comanche War Dance Organization continues to hold their dance ceremony twice a year, usually in April and October, for one day with and afternoon and an evening dance session separated by a feast. There continues to be a great deal of visiting and association between members of the Ponca, Osage and Comanche organizations as many support each others dance.

              It should be noted, that there are other “War Dance” organizations with traditions related to the Omaha-Ponca Hethuska among other tribes. However, these organizations do not have a direct association to the Omaha-Ponca Hethuska in the same way the as Osage and Comanche.


              "Be good, be kind, help each other."
              "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

              --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


              • #8
                Part 8 (end)


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                1994. Pow-wow, Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, edited by Mary B. Davis, Garland Publishing, New York.

                Skinner, Alanson B.
                1915-a. Societies of the Iowa, Kansa and Ponca Indians. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, Part 9, New York, NY.
                1915-b. Kansa Organizations. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.
                1915-c. Ponca Societies and Dances. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.

                Young, Gloria Alese.
                1981. Powwow Power: Perspectives on Historic and Contemporary Intertribalism. Ph.D. dissertation., Department of Anthropology, Indiana University.

                Wissler, Clark.
                1906. Diffusion of Culture in the Plains of North America. Proceedings of the International Congress of Americanists, Vol. 15, Quebec, Canada.
                1912. Societies and Ceremonial Associations in the Oglala Division of the Teton-Dakota. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, No. 1, New York.
                1915. Costumes of the Plains Indians . Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 17, No.2. New York.
                1916. General Discussion of Shamanistic and Dancing Societies. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, No. 12, New York.

                Conklin, Abe. (Ponca/Osage – Headman, Ponca Hethuska from 1976-1995)
                1985. Personal Interviews on 3-8 April 1985, Guthrie and White Eagle, OK.
                1986. Personal Interviews on 2-7 April 1986, Guthrie and Ponca City, OK.
                1987. Personal Interviews on 3-8 June 1987, Guthrie and Greyhorse, OK.
                1988. Personal Interviews on 17-22 August 1988, Guthrie and White Eagle, OK.

                Kerchee, Melvin. (Comanche – Headman, Comanche War Dance Organization from 1972-2007)
                1981. Personal Interviews on 29-30 May 1981, Woodstock, CT.
                1986. Personal Interview on 23-24 May 1986, Spencer, MA.

                Shea, Kathleen D. (Linguistic Anthropologist, Kansas University)
                2004. Online interview conducted via email on 25 October 2004.

                Snake, Henry. (Ponca – Elder)
                1976. Talk with Henry Snake. Recorded by Abe Conklin, 7 October 1976 at Guthrie, OK.

                Warrior, Sylvester. (Ponca – Headman, Ponca Hethuska from 1958-1973)
                1967. Interview by Tyronne H. Stewart. Recorded by Tyronne H. Stewart, on 24 August 1967 at Oklahoma City, OK.
                Last edited by Historian; 01-04-2009, 05:00 PM.

                "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


                • #9

                  how many years did that take? (to research AND type)

                  very good info, thanks historian.

                  (by the way, i printed that bird article in that newsletter this month, you will probably get it next week)
                  There are 2 types of people in the world...
                  Really stupid people who think they are smart
                  Really smart people who think they are smart.


                  • #10
                    I agree Historian, that was some good stuff. I had been told some of that info but as you know Oral traditions don't always give us "The Rest Of The Story".

                    Thanks for taking your time and sharing this research/knowledge. I don't think I need to ask you to ID yourself and your Qualifications.


                    • #11
                      Shazam Historian! Great Info!


                      • #12
                        Thanks for the kind words. I have been blessed with many good teachers and mentors over the last 34 years that I have been studying this tradition, in addition to my academic research. However, there always seems to be something more to uncover. Learning is an "ongoing" process.

                        "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                        "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                        --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


                        • #13
                          Just wondering...has this information been useful to anyone?

                          "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                          "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                          --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)


                          • #14
                            Very good info Historian keep up the work.
                            Asema Is Sacred
                            Traditional Use, Not Misuse
                            Wakan Tanka please have compassion on me.
                            OK Niji we are running a train with red over yellow at this powwow.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Historian
                              Just wondering...has this information been useful to anyone?

                              YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! read only part of it during abreak from studies, will read rest later.


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