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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

The "Shawnee" Dance

Editor's Note:

The Sauk, like all other indigenous peoples, performed a variety of ceremonies to greet the changing seasons, for passge from one stage of life to another, to sanctify adoptions, and for other purposes. We have not tried to determine the specific reason for the dance described here, and it is not specified by Marsh.

August 1st Fri.

Weather very warm. Spent the A.M. in writing, & the P.M. partly in the wood in reflection etc.

During the day [?] three young [?] went [to] solicit provisions for a feast and night dance called Ah-ne-pap-ne. For this again neat preparations were made. In the evening I was invited to attend and after supper went in. They danced the Shawnee dance as they call it, in which they dance in a ring, going round one after another, the men taking the lead and the women and girls following in train.

In their dancing the motions of the body are up and down among the women, but the men generally carrying a war club in their hand or something else make every possible gesture with the greatest agility; in the mean time the drum is beating whilst others are singing and whooping or yelling. They stamp the ground with their feet, spring round, brandish their arms in every direction, sometimes with body partly bent down and other times strait. Whilst the painting of their bodies, faces, besmearing of their heads with white clay, the pole-cat tails, and other ornaments about their feet and ankles all in motion presents a most singular and eerie appearance.

In this dance the women sat in one corner by themselves, and no notice was taken of them by the men nor did [they] have but conversation with each other. A sister of the head chief engaged in this dance. She was clothed in scarlet and her shoulders and back parts were covered with silver broaches…

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