On any weekend night of the year, native Americans gather somewhere to celebrate their culture in dance and song
PAWNEE,OKLA. — HUNDREDS of feathers and colored ribbons swirl from his body as Adrian Moore responds to the beat of the drum with an athletic and vigorous dance. He and several dozen other native-American dancers in the Pawnee Roundhouse spin and prance in a wide circle while singing fills the night air.
``On any Friday or Saturday night somewhere in Oklahoma, there's a powwow going on,'' says Donny Hamilton, a Cheyenne and Apache seated with his family at the outer edge of the circle. About 200 people are gathered here this night.
Although started several hundred years ago by Plains Indians, powwows now are held in almost every state, with dozens held on weekends across the United States in the summer months. Over the last decade, the number and size of powwows have increased because of the surge in Indian pride and cultural awareness.
``Powwow'' comes from a Narragansett word meaning ``medicine man.'' Today, a powwow is a community celebration of Indian ideas and culture in dance, song, drum, crafts, and food.
Merle Boyd, second chief of the Sac and Fox Nation, from Stroud, Okla., sings and drums at powwows. ``We go to the drum in an atmosphere of friendship to please everybody there,'' he says. ``The drum and songs have a healing effect. You can come here with emotional and personal problems and be helped.''
Some powwows are competitive, offering prizes to the dancers. This past fall, the Pequot tribe in Connecticut - flush with millions from a new gambling casino - sponsored a powwow with $200,000 in prizes, the highest purse ever offered at a commercial powwow. The Sac and Fox Nation holds a noncommercial powwow each summer that attracts up to 1,000 dancers.
In South Dakota each summer, a Sioux powwow attracts dancers from all over the US and offers $100,000 in prize money. Mr. Moore, a Pawnee teenager, says he made $1,000 dancing at powwows in 1992. His costume, with feathers, breastplate, quilled armbands, leggings, long ribbons, bustles, and headdress, was wired and sewn together over several months.
All powwows form a ring to symbolize the ``circle of life.'' At the center is a small group of men seated around one or more drums. As the dancers circle around them, the men in the middle sing rhythmic songs and drum. The dancing and singing at some powwows can last for 11 hours, with occasional breaks.
``It used to be that the circle could only be broken by dancers entering from the east, where the sun rises,'' Mr. Boyd says. ``But now dancers can enter from all sides. Indians look to the east in prayer, where the day begins.''
Powwows begin with a grand entry: The participants, in colorful dress, are led in by the head male and female dancers. Women dress traditionally, in beaded wool or buckskin dresses, or wear the jingle dress, a knee-length dress with dozens of small, metal cones made from the tops of cans. ``It used to be that women were only allowed around the edge,'' Boyd says, ``but now they are full participants.''
Other women wear beautiful shawls on their shoulders or draped over their arms. And lastly, children of all sizes, dressed like their mothers and fathers, join the dancers moving in a circle. Most dancers wear moccasins.
Through the afternoon and night, dances honor people, events, veterans, occasions, or objects (as in the gourd dance). ``Some of the older singers,'' Boyd says, ``know a thousand or more songs.''
Mr. Hamilton, seated on the wooden seats in the Pawnee Roundhouse, says ``You pay your way into the arena with gifts that show appreciation. If you want to dance, you feed the tribe by bringing food. Or some people cover the drum with gifts. This is a social event for us as well, a way for families to get together and carry on our traditions.''