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Kiowa Began Gourd Dance
by Dennis W. Zotigh
The Gourd Dance (Tdie-pei-gah) originated among the Kiowa in the 1700s. Oral history explains this dance was given to the Kiowa by a red wolf (Gui-Goodle-Tay) when the Kiowa still inhabited the area around what is now known as the Black Hills and Devils Tower area in South Dakota and Wyoming.
A Kiowa warrior became separated from the main camp. After traveling for many days, the warrior became weak and destitute from hunger. Near his final hour, he heard someone singing in the distance. He cautiously followed the sound until he came to the top of a hill. One the other side was a red wolf. This wolf stood on its hind legs as it sang one beautiful song after another. At the end of each song the red wolf gave a strong howl.
The warrior became entranced by the haunting melodies that ensued for the greater part of an afternoon. Toward dusk, the red wolf invited the warrior to come down for some food and water. While gaining his strength back he listened to the instructions of the spirit creature that saved him from death.
The red wolf instructed the warrior to take the song and dance back to his people as a gift. "These songs and dances will remain with the Kiowa as long as they uphold and continue their Kiowa traditions in a good way," counseled the red wolf. "Always remember me by giving a wolf howl at the end of each song." Thus, this request is honored to this day at the end of all Gourd Dance songs.
A society was formed that utilized the directions of the red wolf. It fell into place among the hierarchy of Kiowa warrior societies, made up of warriors and rough riders whose duty it was to police and protect their camps. This society also made sure the young warriors did not leave the camp prematurely in major buffalo hunts. Their ranks came from individuals from respected families. The principle ceremony of this society was the Gourd Dance. During their ceremony, the original songs given to the Kiowa by the red wolf and other society songs were sung.
In time the Kiowa were forced to give up their Northern Plains homeland by a larger Lakota and Cheyenne tribal alliance. As they moved south they kept this dance intact as well as their sacred Sun Dance (Ka-Do). In the late 1880s, the federal government forbid the Kiowa to pratice the Sun Dance, but the Kiowa Gourd Dance Clan continued as an important part of Kiowa culture. In the 1920s, the rights to do this dance were given to the Otoe Tribe. By the late 1930s, the Kiowa Gourd Dance Clan ceased to exist.
In 1955, a group of Kiowa men who remembered some of the songs and the dance revived the Kiowa Gourd Dance, presenting it at the American Indian Exposition in Anadarko, Okla. In January 1957, the Kiowa Gourd Dance Clan was officially organized. In the 1960s the popularity of the Gourd Dance spread across the southern half of the nation. The modern version of this dance is done in the afternoon of most Southern Plains-style pow wows.
Modern Gourd Dance regalia consists of a red and blue blanket draped over the shoulders. (This accessory represents night and day). Some dancers change the blanket to rest over the heart red during the day and blue after dark. A skunk berry (Ka-hole) and silver beaded bandolier fastened on the left shoulder is draped across the heart. The red skunk berry bandolier was added as a memorial tribute to a battle fought with Cheyenne warriors. The aftermath left the land covered with red blood and is represented by the red skunk berries. A handkerchief bundle of Indian perfume, gathered from the foothills, is tied to the back of the bandolier.
A metal rattle to accompany the drumbeat and a feathered fan usually are held in opposite hands. Normally Kiowa Gourd Clan members do not use real gourds in this dance because they are associated with the Native American Church ceremonies.
Traditionally dressed gourd dancers wear buckskin leggings and a long, red breechcloth. These are covered by a black fringed shawl wrapped above the black shawl to secure it. Today these are accompanied with a long sleeved shirt, bolo tie or tie.
Head attire can include hair wrapped with otter wraps, a roach or otter cap. Following Kiowa protocol, it is considered disrespectful to wear ball caps, T-shirts, cowboy hats or boots while participating in this dance. The four Kiowa headsman of this society urge its members to dress with dignity and discretion.
The Gourd Dance should be danced with pride and respect. It is important to remember it is a male warrior's dance and protocol should be observed. Women should never begin dancing before or in front of the men. However, when an individual is being honored, women may dance behind the honoree. A series of Buffalo Dance songs must follow immediately after the last Gourd Dance song is sung. This also follows Kiowa protocol.
Today three Kiowa Gourd Clans hold annual celebrations on or near July 4 when the days are the longest and the hottest. The Kiowa Gourd Clan is a prestigious men's organization consisting of veterans, doctors, lawyers, educators and other Kiowa men who will bring honor to the Kiowa people.
[Article published courtesy of the Indian Country Today]