Native American Powwows
A Native American Powwow is a large meeting held among Native American tribes for social reasons. It usually involves singing and dancing. Some say that the word 'powwow' comes from the Narragansett word Pawwaw meaning 'spiritual leader.' Another explanation of the origin of the word is that it comes from an Algonquin word 'paupau' which means a gathering of spiritual leaders or medicine men where healing would be attempted. In the 1800's, the word was mispronounced by explorers to the United States and became 'powwow.' Foreigners used the term for any Native American meeting. Soon Native Americans began to use the word too.
In the 1890's, the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not allow Indian dances, so it is hard to date just when the powwows began, although it is thought they began about 100 years ago. Records show that the Flathead reservation in Montana tried to have a powwow on July 4, 1891, but the government stopped it.
A drum is the central item involved in a powwow. A group of men who play the drum is also called a 'drum.' They stand around a dance arena. The lead singer is followed by a 'second' who repeats the line of the leader. There are different types of songs for different dances. Sometimes people want a certain drum for a song.
Those who request a special song from the drum pay a sum of money to the drummer. Drummers are usually men, but women are sometimes seen. They may even form their own group. Some drums make recordings. The drum which is hosting the powwow sits nearest the master of ceremonies. Each drum plays when its name is called out.
The drums play different types of songs. Northern songs are higher pitched than Southern songs. Each song is sung four times because the number four is a sacred one for Native Americans. Often during dinner, a group of Aztec drums play. They have a very different rhythm and the beat is intense. Native Americans consider the Aztecs as the original natives of America.
The Powwow is a very important part of the lives of Native Americans today. At first, they were held only on reservations. Now they are held on college campuses, in public and fairgrounds. About 90% of all Native Americans attend a powwow. They are usually held on weekends and mainly in spring and summer although powwows to honor veterans are sometimes held on Memorial Day.
Some Indians spend the whole summer visiting and participating in powwows. They travel on the 'Powwow Trail.' They sell arts and crafts, dance and join in the Indian rodeos. Thousands of dollars are available to those who win awards in dancing and rodeo activities.
Powwows help to maintain Native American culture. They are opportunities to meet old friends and make new ones. Today modern sound equipment has been added, but the basic songs and dances remain the same. Visitors say that what they enjoy most about going to a powwow is the socializing, meeting lots of friendly people.
Years ago, Indians danced before they left for a battle or for hunting. They also danced when they returned to celebrate a success. In the last century, Indians from various tribes have joined together to celebrate their common heritage through dancing at powwows. It has become a large social gathering.
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