November 16, 2009

What's in a Pow Wow?

As he paces, turning, then plodding onward around the encouraging drum beat pulsing at the center of the dance arena, he searches the blue sky for something...



Saturday, I ventured out beneath the bright sun to a Pow wow because I've been teaching my 4-year old all about Native Americans. She was dying to go, to see the dancing, and to buy a Pocahontas outfit.... Kids!

As an anthropologist, I'm always surprised at what I expect and actually see. Then, I'm always stunned at what irritates me and entertains others. That said, I called my sister-in-law whose sister-in-law is Lakota. They met when my sister-in-law (Irish American) moved to the reservation when her mother became the reservation social worker. My sister-in-law attended reservation school and has attended 100s of pow wows. She reassured me that my grumbles were about things she had never witnessed. But she grew up in South Dakota. I'm in Texas. Grant it, the pow wow circuit spans the US like the rodeo circuit and had made me worry that the pebble in my shoe was just tourist-trap garbage. So, I was happy to hear my grumbles were a one-time fluke. For anyone who is interested, there is much to glean from a trip to a pow wow. That is aside from fry bread, Indian tacos, handmade dance ecoutrements, Native-American reference books (my favorite), Native-American music & movies (I'm a music and documentary junkie), and interesting art--not what I'd expect as traditional Native-American art but very very unique. So, I'm going to share an anthropologist's perspective on the event with you.

The dance event followed what I read online. The opening and recognition of veterans was standard. I was disappointed in all the praying to God. I expected something a little more "Native American" and felt the praying to God was to boost audience sympathies for monetary donations (I have no problem with donating money to the cause) or to reassure the audience that Native Americans weren't against the Christian society they operated within. Understanding what is happening in this country with the fear of muslims, I understand why they never said Great Spirit or Creator. Or something deep down inside of me--that same conservative impulse that drove my life-long interest in Native Americans--just wanted reassurance that these cultures still existed. Not in a vacuum, mind you. Anthropologists see value and significance in all cultures. But, hey, I realize most people aren't packing my sensitivity to terminology or love of the incredible cultural diversity of humans. With my bias declared, I can safely attempt to stop boring the masses... Here come the pictures!

I loved, loved, loved the adult male costumes. I found myself watching the guy with a turkey headdress walk and hunt like our fine feathered friend. Yes, he strutted and cocked his head around like a turkey. But the *&^%$#!~ orange netting blocking the dance area from the bleachers kept obstructing/ruining my photographed memories of the guy's footwear. Since I know little about the turkey guy's costume, I decided to google "pow wow turkey dancer". Nothing. :( However, I found other links I'll leave for your enjoyment. Click on hyperlinks! ;)

LADIES FIRST...


This young lady made a point to cross the dance arena and begin her dance in front of the judges. The intricate beadwork on her buckskin outfit and the way she painstakingly paced her way around the arena as if she searched for something showed she proudly danced. We didn't stay to see who won. But she seemed quite pleased when returning to sit on the bench below us...



BUCKSKIN DANCER -- he was always searching the ground as if hunting for scat or tracks like the guy I call "Turkey Dancer"...



FEATHER DANCERS -- at a greater distance to view leg wear...


MALE HEADDRESSES



FEATHER DANCERS -- here are some views of bustles...



TURKEY DANCER (?) -- here you can see his headdress and the back of his outfit...


TURKEY DANCER (?) -- somewhat frontal view of breastplate, etc.


TURKEY DANCER (?) -- best view of his leg wear... Note the bells at his knees. He's wearing buckskin and bells. So, I have no idea if he's a jingle dancer or buckskin dancer... Does anyone know? I'd like to know more about this figure in the greater workings of the pow wow and what he represents in cultural context.


That's enough or this post will run on forever. I've always been a huge fan of Native-American cultures. That's what drove me to study anthropology in graduate school. My novel, FORBIDDEN ETERNITY, is a paranormal romance with a shape-shifting shaman hero... It's not your traditional time-travel, Celtic, or Native-American tale. But if you like Druids, shaman, fairies, large cats, and kilts, you just might fall in love on an astral plain while reading FORBIDDEN ETERNITY. In both print or e-format.

Dare to walk in their footsteps...

"FORBIDDEN ETERNITY ... spine-tingling suspense. The story is dynamite; it explodes off the pages and leaves you breathless for more." ~Tulip, LASR

"... a unique blend of mystic Medieval Gothic and romance…and a true blood-curdling thriller." THE SPELL OF THE KILLING MOON ~Snapdragon, LASR

"Arthur is a masterpiece..." HE OF THE FIERY SWORD's King Arthur ~Diane Mason; The Romance Studio

Skhye's Website
Skhye's Blog (about reference books, writing, and contests)

Thanks for having me over, Anna K.! ~Skhye

13 comments:

Chicks of Characterization said...

Wow, Skhye! That looks like a great time! I might have to add that to one of the things I must do- ya know- the Bucket List! lol, so did your wee one get her Pochantas outfit??

Andrea :O)

Skhye said...

Hi, Andrea! I told my husband that I was looking at the dance music--pow-wow drumming. My daughter ran over, grabbed one, and turned to him, "I want this one." Luckily, it was the cheapest one. Then, she had to have a leather drawstring bag with beaded medallion on it... I told her it was a medicine pouch. So, she stuffed it full of plastic jewelry and her pirate scarf. Yes, pirate scarf. Then, she just had to have a feather. I told her that was all she could have. I tried talking her out of the music just until we had seen all the clothing. But she wouldn't hear of it.

And I always buy something from an artist when I attend these events. I bought a flute CD from James Yellow Hawk Snow, SONGS FROM THE ANCIENTS collection 1. The petroglyphs on the cover art spoke to me... And he signed the cover art for me. Nice guy. LOL. I have no problem in autographing my novels. ;) Anyway, you should take the boys. My daughter got to touch a few rattlesnake hides and some rodent skulls. Very very cool for the weans. ;)

You can backpack your lunch in too. We did even though they had to buy fry bread and a taco.

Skhye said...

Oh, there were no Pocahontas outfits to be found. My husband and I never expected to find one. The Native Americans we saw probably preferred something more traditional and less Hollywood-ized...

Nightingale said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I'm part Native American (1/8) and I, too, like to read about NA culture. I've always wanted to attend a Pow-wow.

Skhye said...

Hi, Linda! I'm like a 54th Native American of which means nothing. LOL. But I tend to go with the underdog in a fight and find the Native Americans always the underdog in US history. Guess I'm just a softie. People who know me call me a drill sergeant though. Check the pow wow schedule. Traders Village hosts them. And my sister-in-law lives up in Dallas. She approves of the pow wows up there! ;) You can drive up if it's there before it passes through here again next year.

Skhye said...

Oops. Everyone, Anna K, Linda Nightingale, and I are in the Houston area. :)

Mary Ricksen said...

I have never been to a pow wow, although I have a friend who was a regular. She was Lakota. I am 1/8 Abenaki, which you never hear about.
But they seem like so much fun!
A great celebration.

Skhye said...

Now that's some interesting heritage to bring up here. Everyone, check out the Abenaki here

http://www.abenakination.org/

And there's a bustle! ;) They've also got an online shop! Thanks for stopping by, Mary.

Emma Lai said...

Are we to assume every tribe engaged in pow wows? Did different tribes have different dances? Were there common themes?

Skhye said...

No, Emma. I didn't set this up as the history of the pow wow. ;) But that's an excellent question. Pow wow history is fuzzy. Here's an informative link to your answer:

http://www.powwow-power.com/powwowhistory.html

Pow wows are the distorted white man's term for something very sacred when viewed before tribes were shoved into each other during the great Western expansion. Manifest Destiny undoubtedly got in the way resulting in the creation of reservations neatly relocating and corraling the indigenous peoples who got in the way. I'm certain ideas were shared and rituals adopted on the compounds. I've heard that singing and dancing was a way for the various cultures to interact on a plane where their differing languages couldn't take them... metacommunication in dance.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Skhye. Thanks for posting today and what a fasinating post, too. Thanks for sharing your pictures and your knowledge.

Skhye said...

Thanks, AK. I did try not to bore the masses. ;)

P.L. Parker said...

Skhye - if you ever have an opportunity, go to the Pow Wow at the Pendleton, Oregon, rodeo. I think that's where they have an Indian beauty contest too. It was so fantastic. Gorgeous costumes, etc. I love how they take the lids from snuff cans and make cones out of them and tie to the costumes. Looks so wonderful and makes the best sound. My great-grandmother was full Cherokee and her husband was three-quarters Cherokee. My husband is one-quarter Cherokee so we make a good pair.