Monday, December 12, 2011
Learning Through Historical Research
I have long appreciated any story in which the American Indian plays a part, and while researching information for my first historical novel, Prairie Peace, I fell in love with the Lakota Sioux. I cannot tell you exactly why that particular tribe attracts me, but I migrate to that tribe when selecting a home for my heroes.
In Prairie Peace, I describe quite a few of the rituals undertaken by the Lakota, and I'm particularly interested in tiny facts I discovered. For instance, the meaning of the symbols painted on the horses, the direction in which the lodges face and why, all the many things made from the buffalo and why the animal's demise impacted the Indians so severely, and so many other things I'll be sharing with you on this blog.
Today, I'd like to share a scene from Prairie Peace, specifically the Sun Dance which was a twelve-day religious ceremony which testified to the courage and endurance of the people. The Lakota, considered part of the 'plains Indians' were major participants in this summer ritual.
In this scene, Cecile, later known as Green Eyes, is speaking with her husband, Lone Eagle.
"What is the Sun Dance?" There was still so much she didn't know.
"During the celebration, tribes gather to honor the Great Spirit. We dance to thank him for his blessings. Many braves will participate with their bodies painted in symbols and colors telling how much pain they are willing to bear. Some will only dance, while others will endure great suffering to commune with the spirits. Those who have skewers placed through their skin and hang suspended from a pole until the flesh tears endure the greatest agony. It is through our discomfort that we receive direction from the Great Spirit."
Lone Eagle bore scars on his body, and by the way his chest puffed with pride while describing the festivities, Cecile knew he'd been a worthy participant. She couldn't imagine what would drive someone to go through such a test, and her body shivered at the thought of hanging from a pole by her skin. "Isn't there more to the Sun Dance than that?"
"Of course." Lone Eagle continued. "It's also an opportunity to visit with friends from other tribes who we see only once a year. Just think of the new friends you will make. The sun dance is a festive time enjoyed by the entire tribe."
Although there is no set pattern to the way the tribes celebrated during the Sun Dance, it was a rare year when the Lakota didn't attend. The first four days were festive, a time for the bands to come together, swap stories and bond.
The second four days were a time of segregation for those electing to dance. They were instructed by the Shamans/Medicine Men about the meaning of the ceremony and the part they would personally play in honoring the Great Spirit, or Wakan Takan as 'He' was called.
The final four days were the most sacred. The women of the Sioux were charged with locating and 'capturing' a cottonwood tree, representative by the shape of the leaf to the tepee in which families lived. The tree would be the centerpiece for the celebration, and the object around which a war dance was held. Painted in four different colors, the trunk of the tree also held cutouts of a buffalo and human, both male, at which the braves would shoot arrows. The final day of the celebration marked the sacred dance. The ceremony ended when the final 'dancer' ripped free.
I hope you'll join me in the coming days when I'll share some more Indian lore with you. My favorite book, America's Fascinating Indian Heritage, from Reader's Digest has been a most valuable asset for me in learning about the Lakota and I'll be using it as a reference point here on Cowboy Kisses.