Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gourd Dancing

Having grown up in the southwest, tribal dances are something I have long been aware of. Though I do not know all the background behind all the dances, I have witnessed enough of them to appreciate the artistry involved. Though I cannot claim any Indian blood in my veins, I do know the pulse of rhythm as my heart pumps to the beat of the drum. My feet want to shuffle in time to the shaking rattles.

I was searching for a Veterans Day celebration to attend with my den of cub scouts. The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park announced an event that was free to the public (score), didn't start until 11 (yay for sleeping in), and included a Gourd Dance. I have always wanted my children to be able to experience the tribal celebrations that I was privy to as a child. I saw this as a great opportunity for them to appreciate another culture, plus it passed off one of the Cub Scout Achievements.

I am not familiar with the Gourd Dance and my online search for information provided mostly ambiguity. But there was the celebratory regalia and a large drum for pounding. We had the opportunity to chat with one of the dancers prior to the event. Interestingly, he was a white man originally from Mesa who had been living in Australia for some time. Though he does not belong to a particular tribe, he refers to himself as being from the tribe of one people. Shortly before the start of the dancing, he was introduced by a member of the Kiowa tribe as his brother.

Side note - this dancer has been learning the medicinal properties of various herbs and apparently Cayenne Pepper has many purposes. Have a migraine? Take a teaspoon of pepper with a glass of water. You may pass out or vomit profusely, but the pain will disappear. I promised him I would pass on the information.


The performance took place in the community room at the museum. The drums began to pound and the dancers began to sway. The chanting started and the gourds (actually more like tin rattles) shook. I was mesmerized, taken back in time to the open courtyard of one of many pueblos. The pitch of both drum and singers rose and fell, the dancers stepped or bounced relative to the song. This is a man's dance, but the women stand behind their male counterparts and dance along.

At the end, I looked at my younglings expecting to see the admiration and appreciation I felt myself. One Cub Scout had tears streaming down his face, unfortunately not from overwhelming appreciation, but, as his fingers in his ears explained, a sensitivity to the loud pounding of the drums. A look at the others told a similar story - their young ears could not handle the intensity of noise experienced in the enclosed room.

Next time I'll have to find an outdoor arena so that they can experience this artistic culture with appreciation. With any luck I'll be able to test their palates with the richness of the food that usually accompanies these ceremonies.

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