by Esther Chambliss, President of TGS Arlington Gourd Patch 2005
Last November, after the 2004 TGS gourd show in Austin, my husband Wayne and I found ourselves – along with many others – watching the dancers at the American Indian Heritage Festival. Looking through the program, it came to our attention that we were watching an old ritual that had once been forgotten within the Kiowa and Navajo tribes.
The gourd dance has its origin with the Tia-Piah warrior society of the Kiowa tribe around the 1700's. Oral history explains the dance was given to the wolf (Gui-Goodle-Tay) when the Kiowa still inhabited parts of the Black Hills of Dakota and parts of Wyoming.
A Kiowa warrior was separated from the main tribe for many days, weak and despaired. Near his final hour, he heard a strange and melodic sound in the distance.
As the warrior came closer, he saw a red wolf bouncing up and down on his haunches. He had a fan in his left hand and a rattle in his right hand. The wolf was singing songs and melodies that were stirring to the warrior . At the end of the song, the wolf would raise his rattle to the sky and vigorously shake it and let out a howl. The wolf noticed the warrior and gave him some food and water and instructed him to take the songs and dance back to his people as a gift.
The dance is now performed annually on July 4, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and on other dates of recognition for veterans and fallen warriors.
At a time when the government held tight restrictions and control of Native American religious gatherings, the dance had faded and almost vanished by 1938. During this time, its song and dance were rarely performed. Then, around 1955, the dance was revived by the surviving Tia-Piah members. It has grown in popularity to what it is today.
When going to a performance of a festival, this dance is the most solemn part of the event. It is not intended to be part of the competition dancing. The dance takes place at the beginning with representatives from one of the tribes serving as the host drum for the powwow.
The ceremony begins with an "Opening' Song" that is performed by the group’s four headsmen. Upon the song's conclusion, the other seated dancers will shake their rattles in rhythm to the drum as the next song begins. As the drum beat changes, the men will rise from their seated positions to dance.
This dance receives its English name from the original tradition of the dancers using gourd rattles wrapped in rawhide.