Native American Pow Wow

A Native American pow wow is a gathering of a tribe, whether it be social, a congress, or a meeting.

Native American Pow Wow

Recently, a Native American pow wow came to mean a meeting between Native Americans and non-Native Americans which would include dancing, singing, and socializing. A Native American pow wow can vary in length from hours to days. Major pow wows usually last about a week long.

Pow wows are not sudden events. Planning a pow wow may take months or even a year in time. There are many people involved in the planning of a Native American pow wow. Usually there is a sponsor of the pow wow. This may be an Indian tribe, a local college, or an organization. From that, a committee is formed to designate certain positions. The arena director is in charge of the Native American pow wow while the head staff serve under him to actually run the actual event. The arena director makes sure that things run smoothly, such as the dancers knowing the routines and assigning the judges to any contests. The master of ceremonies is the voice of the pow wow, keeping everything running smoothly in front of the public. There are head dancers that are responsible for leading the other dancers in both dance and an entry parade to begin the Native American pow wow. The host drum is the group that provides music for the dancers.

Native American pow wows are usually set up in a series of circles, with the large center circle being known as the dance arena. The dance arena is also where the master of ceremony has his table as well as where the drum groups sit. Outside the dance arena are circles used as a sitting area for spectators and an area for booths for vendors selling food or arts and crafts.

A Brief History of the Native American Powwow

Find out what goes on during a Native American Powwow.

Pow Wow Arena

The term powwow is the white man’s version of the Indian word “pau-wau” which originally stood for a healing ceremony conducted by the spiritual or religious leaders of various tribes.  When the white man started settling around Native American lands, they witnessed these powwows.  Soon, the “powwow” term referred to any type of Indian gathering, regarding of its purpose.

How the powwow got its exact start is not known, but it was thought to have originated with the Pawnee tribe as a religious ceremonial meeting, filled with dancing and other rituals.  Other Indian tribes adopted the practice of the powwow and added their own traditions.  Indians held these ceremonies to celebrate a successful hunt and to thanks the spirits for a bountiful harvest.  Powwows also spiritually prepared a warrior for an impending battle.

Native Americans were big believers in all things living and spiritual and viewed life and death as an inevitable circle. Some of the powwow ceremonies they conducted celebrated this circle with tribal drums, dancing, food, chanting and traditional healing rituals.  They acted out ancient stories handed through the generations, which kept their history alive.

Today, the powwow tradition is still alive.  Usually centered on the changing seasons, you can find powwow ceremonies located near areas with a large concentration of Native American tribes.  In addition, there are some powwows that travel around the country providing educational lessons of the Native American culture. More of a festival-type of feel today, the powwow has the traditional dances as well as various religious ceremonies re-enacted for the general public. In addition, you can find Native American arts and crafts as well as food items and other wares for sale.

In the old days, the powwow was tribal specific and no women were allowed to actively participate.  However, because the number of Native Americans has dwindled, different tribes often collaborate together to put on a powwow to share in each other’s heritage not only amongst themselves but also the general public as well. In addition, Indian women are now an accepted part of the powwow tradition.

American Indian Drums

American Indian Pow Wow Drums - The Heart Of Indian Tribal Culture

Drum Beats

Native American drums are arguably the most well known Native instruments among Native Americans and non Native people alike. Drums for centuries have certainly been at the center of American Indian lifestyle, forming what has become the central point of religion and spirituality as well as special days where a pow wow drum is at the center.

Indian tribes in North America history have all used drums in various ways to connect with a higher power known to most as the Great Spirit. To Native people, Indian drums are much more than just decorations or interesting musical instruments. American Indian drums are believed to speak to the drummer. Native drums being made in a circle represent the earth and life. The most identifiable being hoop drums and shaman drums which are Indian hand drums used in many personal healing and religious ceremonies as well as public ceremonies such as a Native American powwow.

The skin of the animal that is pulled over the ring brings with it unique characteristics of the spirit of the animal and brings a sense of life to the drum when played. Many people think of pounding a drum to make a sound, but to Native American drummers and those involved in modern drumming groups and drum circles, the desire is to draw out the sound. The beating drum is compared to the beating of a human heart and is said to represent the heart beat of the earth which is a belief that is classic Native American. Drums in this way become the central point to connect one's spirit with that of the earth and the Great Spirit through out the history of American Indians.

Drum groups play several different kinds of songs, some of which are very old and traditional. Each drum has it’s own style, such as Nothern or Southern. Northern singing is a higher pitch than Southern. Songs are sung four times, a sacred number in the Native American tradition. Most songs have no actual words but are syllables that carry the melody and the meaning of the song. These syllables heard in the singing are called vocables and some songs are sung in English or traditional languages or sometimes you can hear a combination of both.

Native American drums have a rich culture and because they are so important they are used in not only music but art and dance as well. Decorating a drum becomes a very personal task to the owner. The Indian drummer becomes an artist and communicates impressions of his inner feelings and beliefs which adorns his drum. Some American Indian tribes use images of animals to personalize their drums and others use geometric patterns and everything in between. In some tribal Indian cultures the drummer will place some item of personal value inside the drum to permanently join himself with his hand drum.

The beautiful Native American designs that the artwork on the drums depict is often painted with natural earth colors taken from nature. Some are dull and others are bright coming from flowers, roots, berries, bark or herbs that are boiled to release their unique earth tones. Other Native American drums are adorned with iron oxide which is a naturally occurring red rock that can be easily crushed. When mixed with water, it produces a rich orange red dye that is much like paint and is indicative if the surrounding hillsides and rock formations like those of the beautiful Arizona red rock canyons. The region of Sedona is thought to be a special place with spiritual power like the energy created by American Indian drums.

The goal of Native American Education except for those Indian boarding schools that have tried to stamp out Native culture has always involved the sharing of beliefs through music, songs, stories and legends. It is in harmony with these means of learning that the communication and cultural importance has been found in the use of drums. If you are interested in the spiritual aspects of life as pertain to Indian beliefs, you would enjoy having and playing Native American drums.

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American Indian Pow Wow Etiquette   
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