Native American Ritual Dancing
“It has often been said that the North American Indians ‘dance out’ their religions” (Vecsey 51). There were two very important dances for the Sioux tribe, the Sun Dance and the Ghost Dance. Both dances show the nature of Native American spirituality. The Ghost Dance and the Sun Dance were two very different dances, however both promote a sense of community.
“The Sun Dance was the most spectacular and important religious ceremony of the Plains Indians of 19th-century North America” (Lawrence 1). The Sun Dance became a time of renewal and thanksgiving for Native Americans. Everyone had a role to play either in the preparation leading up to the dance, or within the dance itself. The entire tribe was expected to attend the ceremony. There were also some social aspects to the dance, such as powwow dancing in the afternoon and evening.
The Sun Dance was an important ceremony, which was held once a year. Turner states that ritual stresses unity of (the) group, and that is exactly what was done in the Sun Dance. Different tribes held the ceremony at different times of the year. Generally, “The Sun Dance was performed in either the late spring or the early summer, when all the bands of the tribe were reunited after the winter” (“Dance”). The Sioux tribes celebrated the Sun Dance ceremony for four days. Other tribes are reported to extend the ceremony over eight days. This dance, like other Indian rituals and ceremonies is not rehearsed.
There are many provisions that need to take place in order to prepare for the ceremony. In the week prior to the dance, the Sun Dance chief arrives early to set up his campsite and oversee the raising of the ceremonial tipi that the dancers dress and prepare in (McGaa 85). The Sun Dance chief is said to be the most respected holy man with in the tribe. The men of the tribe then join in the preparations for the dance by construct sweat lodges, which are used in the ceremony. They also collect other necessities, which are needed for the dance.
The first day before the Sun Dance is a very significant day. In the early morning hours a group of men “known for their eminence in their tribe were chosen to look for a (cottonwood) tree with a fork in the top” (“Dance”). Along with this select group went a chosen woman. She took the first chop at the tree. She then held a conversation with the tree. The Sioux’s belief is that when they cut down the tree they are ‘killing’ it. In the conversation the Sioux woman has with the tree she explains why they are ‘killing’ it, and what their plans for the tree are. After the tree is cut down, it is not allowed to touch the ground. McGaa states that the men can only set the tree down four times to rest on the way back to the reservation (86).
There is an arena set up where the dancing and other activities will take place. Once the cottonwood is brought back, the men place it in the center of this arena. Some fifty men...