By Roy Cook
The Gourd Dance is a Southern Warrior Society Dance honoring the veterans and warriors who have served in the armed forces of United States and their tribal nations. The dance ceremony is considered a sacred activity because of its role of honoring veterans who return from battle with heavy hearts and troubled minds. Many veterans experienced stress and trauma because of lost comrades and other horrific experiences. The Gourd Dance is a healing ceremony. It should be treated with utmost respect and ceremony.
This dance and these songs originated with the Kiowa tribe in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the 1700s. For a period of oppressive federal policy they were not presented in public but with the return of WW II and Korean War military veterans, in the early 1950s, there was a revival of this popular tradition.
Members of Tia Piah Society (Kiowa warrior society) were still alive who remembered the old days and the old songs. They passed those on and re-established the society as a veterans' organization. As time has gone on it has developed into an important part of the Pow Wow circuit and has engendered an intertribal social dance -- the gourd dance. Primarily a dance for veterans and their families, this dance is found throughout the various nations in the United States.
When a young man had distinguished himself enough to be considered a man he might be taken in by one of the six warrior societies. Three of these societies still exist today: The Tia Piah Society (within this also existed the Koitsenko or the ten bravest warriors). Members of this society were the protectors of the tribe. Referred to by other tribes as dog soldiers, these men were willing to lose their lives in defense of the people. They dance with a gourd and a fan. Their emblems are the bandoleer made of silver and mescal beads and a blanket made of red and blue trade cloth. The Kiowa have passed this society on to other organization and tribes as an intertribal veterans dance. Kiowa elders in 1975 officially recognized Golden State Gourd Society, at an Orange county location.
According to the story, a Kiowa warrior, the lone survivor of a battle, is trying to find his way back to the tribe. On his way, he hears music and finds Red Wolf, singing and dancing and holding a fan in one paw and a rattle in the other. Red Wolf feeds the warrior and tells him to take the songs back to the tribe. If you listen closely you will hear the call of the wolf as the songs end.
Today, most dancers must be members of a gourd society. Many are Warrior Military Veterans of many conflicts. They wear a bandoleer of metal beads and mescal seeds. Over their shoulders, they drape a wool blanket, red on one end, blue on the other. Many are decorated with war ribbons and unit patches. In one hand, they hold a fan of feathers, and in the other a gourd rattle, sometimes a metal can or saltshaker rattle.
The musical accompaniment for gourd dance songs is a large drum, along with gourd or metal rattles shaken by the male dancers. Seated males drum and sing; female singers sit behind the drummers and join in partway through the song at a higher pitch. Gourd dance songs consist of two main parts, with softer drum beats while the male dancers move around the arena, changing to sections with loud, strongly accented drum beats, during which time the men stand stationary while moving up and down to the rhythm of the drum. Women dance on the outskirts of the circle facing inwards, mirroring the steps of the men as they dance in place.
Kiowa Gourd Dance
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
The following is a set of guidelines for spectators and Pow Wow staff.
DOS AND DONTS FOR PARTICIPANTS AND STAFF:
1. No shorts in the
All honoring during the Gourd dance must have the permission of the Head Gourd Dancer.
Adolescent Children must be accompanied by veteran parents.
Respect for the fallen warriors is maintained at all times.