AskDefine | Define powwow

Dictionary Definition

powwow n : a quick private conference [syn: huddle] v : hold a powwow, talk, conference or meeting

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Alternative spellings

  • pau wau
  • almost all capitalization, punctuation, and spacing variants are attested, such as pow wow, Pow-Wow, and so on.

Etymology

From Algonquian or Massachusett pauwau or Narragansett powwaw or Natick pauwau, practitioner of magic, a shaman, from .

Noun

  1. A Native American council or meeting
  2. A Native American shaman, or a ritual conducted by such a shaman
  3. A short, private conference

Verb

to powwow
  1. to hold such a meeting

Extensive Definition

A pow-wow (also powwow or pow wow or pau wau) is a gathering of North America's Native people. The word derives from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning "spiritual leader".
A modern pow-wow is a specific type of event where both Native American and non-Native American people meet to dance, sing, socialize, and honor American Indian culture. There is generally a dancing competition, often with significant prize money awarded. Pow-wows vary in length from one day session of 5 to 6 hours to three days. Major pow-wows or pow-wows called for a special occasion can be up to one week long.
The term also has been used to describe any gathering of Native Americans of any tribe, and as such is occasionally heard in older Western movies. The word has also been used to refer to a meeting, especially a meeting of powerful people such as officers in the military. However, such use can also be viewed as disrespectful to Native culture.

Organization

Planning for a pow-wow generally begins months, perhaps even a year, in advance of the event by a group of people usually referred to as a pow-wow committee. Pow wows may be sponsored by a tribal organization, by an American Indian community within an urban area, a Native American Studies program or American Indian club on a college or university campus, or any other organization that can provide startup funds, insurance, and volunteer workers.

Pow-wow committee

A pow-wow committee consists of a number of individuals who do all the planning prior to the event. If a pow-wow has a sponsor, such as a tribe, college, or organization, many or all members of the committee may come from that group. The committee is responsible to recruit and hire the head staff, publicize the pow-wow, secure a location, and recruit vendors who pay for the right to set up and sell food or merchandise at the pow-wow.

Staff

The head staff of a pow-wow are the people who run the event on the day or days it actually occurs. They are generally hired by the pow-wow committee several months in advance, as the quality of the head staff can have an impact on attendance. To be chosen as part of the head staff is an honor, showing respect for the person's skills or dedication.

Arena director

The arena director is the person in charge during the pow-wow. Sometimes the arena director is referred to as the whip man, sometimes the whip man is the arena director's assistant, and many pow-wows don't have a whip man. The arena director makes sure dancers are dancing during the pow-wow and that the drum groups know what type of song to sing. If there are contests the arena director is ultimately responsible for providing judges, though he often has another assistant who is the head judge. The arena director is also responsible for organizing any ceremonies that may be required during the pow-wow, such as when an eagle feather is dropped, and others as required. One of the main duties of the arena director is to ensure that the dance arena is treated with the proper respect from visitors to the pow wow.

Master of ceremonies

The master of ceremonies, or MC, is the voice of the pow-wow. It is his job to keep the singers, dancers, and general public informed as to what is happening. The MC sets the schedule of events, and maintains the drum rotation, or order of when each drum group gets to sing. The MC is also responsible for filling any dead air time that may occur during the pow-wow, often with jokes. The MC often runs any raffles or other contests that may happen during the pow-wow.

Head dancers

The head dancers consist of the Head Man Dancer and the Head Woman Dancer, and often Head Teen Dancers, Head Little Boy and Girl Dancers, Head Golden Age Dancers, and a Head Gourd Dancer if the pow-wow has a Gourd Dance. The head dancers lead the other dancers in the grand entry or parade of dancers that opens a pow-wow. In many cases, the head dancers are also responsible for leading the dancers during songs, and often dancers will not enter the arena unless the head dancers are already out dancing.

Host drums and drum groups

Music for pow-wow dance competition and other activities is provided by a "Drum," a group of performers who play a large, specially designed drum and sing traditional songs. The number of members of a drum group may vary, but is usually at least four people, and can be far more. Some members of the drum group may wear traditional regalia and dance as well as drum, other times drummers simply wear street clothing. Drums usually rotate the duty of providing songs for the dancers, each taking a turn at the direction of the pow-wow management.
The Host Drum of the pow-wow is a drum group primarily responsible for providing music for the dancers to dance to. At an Intertribal pow-wow, two or more drums are hired to be the host drums. In some places there is a Host Northern Drum and a Host Southern Drum. Depending on the size of the pow-wow and the region where it is held, there may be many drums, representing nearly every tribe or community attending the pow-wow. At some pow-wows, the drums are judged on the quality of their performances, with prize money awarded to the winners. Each drum has a Lead Singer who runs his or her drum and leads the singers while singing. Host drums are responsible for singing the songs at the beginning and end of a pow-wow session, generally a starting song, the grand entry song, a flag song, and a veterans or victory song to start the pow-wow, and a flag song, retreat song and closing song to end the pow-wow. Additionally, if a pow-wow has gourd dancing, the Southern Host Drum is often the drum that sings all the gourd songs, though another drum can perform them. The host drums are often called upon to sing special songs during the pow-wow.
Famous host drums include Black Lodge Singers, Cozad Singers, and Yellowhammer.

The event

Setup

A pow-wow is often set up as a series of large circles. The center circle is the dance arena, outside of which is a larger circle consisting of the MC's table, drum groups, and sitting areas for dancers and their families. Beyond these two circles for participants is an area for spectators, while outside of all are designated areas with vendor's booths, where one can buy food (including frybread and Indian tacos), music, jewelry, souvenirs, arts and crafts, beadwork, leather, and regalia supplies.
At outdoor pow-wows, this circle is often covered by either a committee-built arbor or tent, or each group, particularly the MC and the drums, will provide their own. While most of the time, a tent provides shelter from the sun, rain can also plague outdoor events. It is particularly important to protect the drums used by the drum groups, as they are sensitive to temperature changes and, if it rains, they cannot get wet. Most vendors provide their own tents or shelters at an outdoor pow-wow.

Opening

A pow-wow session begins with the Grand Entry and, in most cases, a prayer. The Eagle Staff leads the Grand Entry, followed by flags, then the dancers, while one of the host drums sings an opening song. This event is sacred in nature, some pow-wows do not allow filming or photography during this time, though others allow it.
If military veterans or active duty soldiers are present, they often carry the flags and eagle staffs. They are followed by the head dancers, then the remaining dancers usually enter the arena in a specific order: Men's Traditional, Men's Grass Dance, Men's Fancy, Women's Traditional, Women's Jingle, and Women's Fancy. Teens and small children then follow in the same order. Following the Grand Entry, the MC will invite a respected member of the community to give an invocation. The host drum that did not sing the Grand Entry song will then sing a Flag Song, followed by a Victory or Veterans' Song, during which the flags and staffs are posted at the MC's table.

Dances

  • Fancy Dance or Fancy Feather Dance (Northern and Southern styles): A dance featuring vivid regalia with dramatic movement, including spins and leaps. Often the biggest crowd-pleasing competition of a pow-wow. Aside from bright color and non-traditional materials, fancy dancers are also distinguished by use of a two-bustle design on their regalia. There are two styles of the roach: In the North, it is the same as the grass dance roach, in the South, the roaches have rockers, two feathers on springs that rock back and forth.
  • Northern Traditional (simply "Men's Traditional" in the North): A dance featuring traditional regalia, authentic design and materials, single or no bustle, and movements based on traditional dances.
  • Southern Straight:
  • Grass Dance: A dance featuring regalia with long, flowing fringe and designs remniscent of grass blowing in the wind. Dance movements are more elaborate than the traditional dancers, but less flashy than the fancy dancers.

Women's dances

  • Traditional (seen at Northern powwows): A dance featuring traditional regalia of cloth or leather, featuring authentic design and materials, and dancers who perform, with precise, highly controlled movement.
  • Buckskin and Cloth:A traditional dance from the South. The name refers to the type of material of which the dress is made. The regalia is similar to its Northern counterpart, however, in the South, buckskin and cloth dancers are judged in two separate categories. The dance steps are the same for both regalia categories.
  • Fancy Shawl:A dance featuring women wearing brilliant colors, a long, usually fringed and decorated, shawl, performing rapid spins and elaborate dance steps.
  • Jingle Dress (healing dance):The jingle dress includes a skirt with hundreds of small tin cones that make noise as the dancer moves with light footwork danced close to ground.
Normal intertribal dancing is an individual activity, but there are also couples and group dances. Couples dances include the two step and owl dance. In a two step each couple follows the lead of the head dancers, forming a line behind them, whereas in an owl dance each couple dances alone. Group dances include the Snake and Buffalo dance, where the group dances to mimic the motions of a snake in the beginning of the dance, then change to mimic the actions of a herd of buffalo.
At pow-wows where there is a large Southern Plains community in the area, the Gourd Dance is often included before the start of the pow-wow sessions. The gourd dance originated with the Kiowa tribe, whence it spread, and is a society dance for veterans and their families. Unlike other dances, the gourd dance is normally performed with the drum in the center of the dance arena, not on the side.

Music

While the drum is central to pow-wows, "the drum only helps them keep beat. Dancers key on the melody of the song. Rhythms, tones, pitch all help create their 'moves'." (p.85) Note that Bill Runs Above did not mention the lyrics of the songs, and while they are no doubt important, most lyrics of most songs employ vocables, meaningless syllable sounds such as "ya", "hey", and "loi" (p.86). This is particularly evident in intertribal songs, such as the AIM Song, which cannot be biased towards a certain language.
The song structure consists of four pushups, singing the chorus and verse through four times. In each chorus the melody is introduced or led off by the lead singer whose is then seconded by another singer who begins to vary the melody before the end of the leader's first line. They are then joined by the entire chorus for the rest of the pushup. Three down strokes or hard beats mark the end of the chorus and beginning of the verse, and during these drummers while alter their dancing such as by hopping low like fancy dancers. An increase in tempo and volume on the last five beats marks the end of the final verse. The dancing stops on the final beat and then a tail, or coda, finishes the song with a shortened chorus.
Singing differs by region in that a high falsetto produced deep in one's throat is used in the north while in the south a lower range is used. "To the unfamiliar listener, Indian singing sounds exotic, different, and difficult to comprehend," and the contrast in the quality or timbre of voice used in traditional Indian and European musics may have much to do with that difficulty. However, "to the trained ear, melodies flow, ascend and descend" while dancers react to changes in the structure of the melody and the song. Boye Ladd says, "if you give me a stink song, I'll dance stink. If you give me good music, I'll give you a great show," implying that one can appreciate the music through the dancing, which is readily appreciated by everyone.
Talented singers also sing off-the-beat, placing the words between the drum beats rather than on them, which "is probably the non-Indian's greatest obstacle in trying to learn Indian songs.

Genres and change

In the 1970s drums had began incorporating native words in addition to vocables. Groups such as the Black Lodge Singers have released songs with English words, such as on their children's albums. Given the inter-tribal style of pow wow music it may be viewed as less traditional or valuable though the music is also used to support tribal identity and display the value of a living culture.

Drum etiquette

To help oneself understand drum protocol a drum may be thought of a person or being and to be regarded and respected as such. Drum etiquette is highly important and receives extra emphasis in the south and is the central symbol of Oklahoma powwows and is located in the center of the dance floor and powwow (which are themselves shaped in concentric circles). Southern drums are suspended by four posts, one for each direction. Northern drums are set up on the outside of the dance area, with the host drum in the best position. Musicians may not casually leave the drum, which may never be left by itself till it is carried out at the end. Water boys alleviate the effort involved. The drum is offered gifts of tobacco during giveaways and musicians acknowledge this by standing.

References

Works cited

  • Hatton, O. Thomas (1974). "Performance Practices of Northern Plains Pow-Wow Singing Groups", Anuario Interamericano de Investigacion Musical, Vol. 10, pp. 123-137.
  • Kyi-Yo (2007). Kyi-Yo Celebration. Kyi-Yo student organization, Native American studies, University of Montana.
  • Nettl, Bruno (1989). Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives. Ohio: The Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-370-2.
  • Roberts, Chris (1992). Powwow Country. ISBN 1560370254.

See also

External links

powwow in Afrikaans: Pow-wow
powwow in German: Powwow
powwow in French: Pow wow
powwow in Japanese: パウワウ
powwow in Polish: Pow-wow
powwow in Finnish: Pow-wow
powwow in Turkish: Pow Wow

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

advise, advise with, audience, bargain, bargaining, bargaining session, call in, collogue, compare notes, conclave, confab, confabulate, confabulation, confer, confer with, conference, confrontation, congress, constitutional convention, consult, consult with, consultation, convention, council, council fire, council of war, counsel, county convention, deliberate, discuss, discuss with, discussion, exchange observations, exchange of views, exchange views, eyeball-to-eyeball encounter, have conversations, high-level talk, hold conference, huddle, interchange of views, interview, meeting, national convention, negotiate, negotiations, news conference, nominating convention, palaver, parley, political convention, pourparler, preliminary convention, press conference, put heads together, quadrennial circus, reason with, refer to, seance, session, sit down together, sit down with, sitting, state convention, summit, summit conference, summitry, take counsel, take up with, talk over, treat
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