The Tiap-iah Society of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma still to this day hosts a Gourd Dance around the first part of July. This Society can be traced back to mid 1800's and had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 members. The name "Tiap-iah" comes from the word red berry or skunk berry. It is said that this name was chosen from a battle between the Comanche and the Kiowa around an area that the "skunk berries" were growing.
Leonard Cozad Sr. is today one of the best known names in Indian country and is known for his expertise in Gourd Dance songs as well as any type of Southern style singing gave the following history of the Kiowa Gourd Dance to (Isaacs 1975).
" The Kiowa Gourd Dance is the traditional dance of the Tia-pe-go warrior society,which was one of several men's societies in the Kiowa tribe. Although Tia-pe-go distantly refers to words meaning skunkberry and brave, it's translation has become obscure over the years, and today is specifically the name of this society. The English name of Gourd Dance is derived from the special rattles held by the dancers. These were originally made from rawhide or a gourd. Now baking soda cans,salt or pepper shakers and in some cases elaborate German silver rattles are used.
Mr. Leonard Cozad Sr. goes on to say that "the Kiowa's had bands or societies, I don't know how far back. From what I got from a few of my elder's they had these dances only once a year in the summertime. In those days we had a sun dance-a bigger place to go for all the societies and organizations; and these sun dances were put on by differant societies,such as the Young Colts (Alto-yui), the Mustangs (Tae-taa-do), the Gourd society (Tia-pe-go), The Black Leggings (Ton-kon-got), and the Elite Warriors (Koe-sen-ko). Each of these societies has their own songs.
When they are going to put up a sun dance lodge, each society has a brush dance, from Gourd dance and Black Leggings on down, except for the Elite Warriors, we never heard anything about that. But these others are the ones, the people who have work to do to put up the lodge. When it is done, that's when the sun dance begins. In the meantime, all these different societies have their own places in the circle-a big circle with the lodge in the center, and they put on dances as time goes on."
Even though the last Kiowa sun dance was held in 1890,the Gourd Dance continued to be held by the original Tia-pe-go members until1927, when the last dance was held three or four miles southeast of Carnegie. After this, most of the old people died out,and the Gourd Dance was not held again until Armistice day in 1946 when it was again performed in Carnegie. There was no formal organization then, as the Tia-pe-go had disbanded,but beginning in September of 1956, some of the descendents of the original members have formed new organizations, and today the century-old warrior dance is held at least annually for armed forces days and other special occasions. It is enjoyed not only by the Kiowa's, but also many other visiting tribes.
"It's just like prayer songs, it just makes you happy, and makes people feel good. When we sing these songs, we want to help people who may be mourning and want to come back, or may be sick, or have troubles. When we hear the drum and the song, they want to live-they want to go on to hear these good things among the homes and their children" (Isaac's 1975).
Along with the skunk berries, the Kiowa have adopted three other very important symbols which all play a very important role in the structure of the Gourd Dance. These symbols are the Whip,the Rope, and the Bugle.
The legend of the Whip relates to a story that Buffaloes were sighted near camp one day and that the Gourd Society were told of this,since it had the duty of policing the camp. The head of the society notified the warriors to prepare for a hunt. A young warrior in his haste to prove himself went out and killed a buffalo, which in turn spooked the herd. The head of the society and the members agreed that the young warrior should be punished in some way. They agreed that the warrior should be punished with a whip that had been recently captured from a white man.
The Whip-Man still rules the circle to this day. If he feels that the dance lacks true spirit, he will crack the Whip and all must dance. The Whip man commands the respect of all Gourd Society members.
The legend of the Rope relates to a story of a confrontation between a returning raiding party and a group of Mexican Gaucho's. After a short battle the Kiowa greatly outnumbered were retreating when Satanta,one of the war chiefs was recognized. A Gaucho roped Satanta, while being dragged Chief Lone Wolf caught up with the Gaucho and cut loose Chief Satanta. Upon returning to camp the leather riata (or rope) was still hanging around Chief Satanta.
Since that day the Kiowa proudly display the riata as a trophy of war.
The Legend of the Bugle relates to a story of a captured U.S. army bugler. In a battle between the Kiowa and federal troops Chief Santanta took note that this man making different sounds commanded the movement of the soldiers. Although at great risk to himself he managed to capture this man. To boast of his victory he blew the bugle and saw that there was much confusion among the federal troops.
The bugle was returned to the Kiowa camp, through time the Kiowa learned how to make the calls that the federal troops used in a Retreat or a Charge. In battles after that time this was to cause great confusion to the federal troops, and was a valuable tool to the Kiowa.
To touch on the Comanche side of the dance , Comanche Lowie(1915:810) describes the na'wapina'r festival of the Comanche.
This is a long ceremony sponsored by a man who has lost a son in battle or by some other way at the hands of a enemy, which would call for revenge. The man would choose a site for the ceremony and act as a M.C., this ceremony would include a procession of the war chief's, speeches and dances by different societies. Two of the societies participating in such a ceremony could be the Horses and the Little Horses. The type of dance performed at this type of ceremony might have been the Gourd Dance. Today the Comanche Gourd Dance organization calls itself the "Little Ponies" and is said to be from a warrior society of the same name as the pre-reservation era group.
Lowie(1915:811) describes the Regalia of the dancer as follows:
"about the other dancers I was only able to learn that the Horses And the Little Horses wore Buffalo-skin sashes that lacked the slit found elsewhere, and used rawhide rattles, decorated with yellow-hammer feathers;the Horses had spears, trimmed with eagle feathers.
Further he notes that the Big Horse company acted as guides when the tribe was on a march, they also had the duties of being peace makers with other tribes.
Lowie(1915:812) also adds :
Wakini said that the Big Horses numbered around twenty and were always mature men.They had a distinctive song,but never danced by themselves. They painted their bodies red, down to the waste,and tied hawk and Sparrowhawk feathers to the back of their head, so these would flutter about as the dancers moved. They carried dewclaw rattles and wore a sash constructed of buffalo skin, this skin was from around the neck of the buffalo"
Another dance that could be a dance closely related to the Kiowa or Comanche Gourd Dance, could be on done by the Wind River Shoshone. The language and culture of the Shoshone And Comanche have many similarities.
The two main warrior societies were the Yellow Noses or Yellow Foreheads and the Logs or Big Horses.
The Yellow Noses and Logs performed exactly the same dance, (Big Horse Dance) but according to most of my authorities they generally performed it separately joining only by some special agreement when they wanted to discuss the camp movements together. On such occasions they put up a very large tipi for the dance. Otherwise, when the Yellow Noses danced, the Logs merely looked on, and vice versa. A man was not obligated to join in with his fellow members in the dance, he could remain an onlooker. The dance had no particular function, it was said to have made one feel good just to participate. The dance could be done at any time of the year, but had a special place prior to the departing for a buffalo hunt.
Ordinarily the dance took place in the daytime, starting in the morning or around noon and ending before sundown. A big buffalo tipi was set up for the dance, one or two headmen went around to let all know of the dance. The bottom of the lodge cover was raised so that other tribal members could look on. Women were seated in a circle all around the circumference of the lodge so that they might assist in singing.
In the rear of the lodge but in front of the women were several singers with hand drums. In front of the singers were the dancers. There was no difference between the songs of the two societies; there was no meaning to the songs that were sung. Several statements were made that said the steps were similar to that of the tasayuge (the war dance). This statement seems at first to be irreconcilable with the general description of the older dance as a mere jumping up and down without changing position. However, at Lemhi I was told that the old form of tasayuge also involved a dancing up and down. When a Big Horse song had been intoned, the headman went round with a quirt, to make the members get up and dance. At the close of the song the dancers would sit down to rise again on the next song. There was no special regalia. Some men wore beaded leggings and buckskin shirts, others merely a breechclout, there were also individual differences in painting.
After the dance there would be a recital of deeds of war. Finally came the feast, for which a great deal of wild-carrot stew had been prepared. With the distribution and eating of food the dance came to a close. (Lowie1915:815-816)
Recently a visitor to my site was trying to find out how the Gourd Dance affected modern day Kiowa society.
I had not thought about that question, but realized that it was very important. Most of the information I have deals with the history of the dance and personal items. I knew that I needed to try to find out answers.
Recently I attended a dance in my area, we had a gourd dance session as usual. During the session while honoring a veteran one of the women veterans passed in front of the men,went to the end of the line, turned and stayed up and danced with the men. We have seen this several times. I am used to seeing the women honoring the men, they pass behind them while doing so. I am also used to seeing the women veterans pass in front of the men then go behind them to dance.
One of the men veterans took offense that a women was up equal with the men and dancing. This man then sat down for the rest of the song.
During the next set the same thing happened. This time the same man took two big steps forward out in front of the line and proceeded to finish this song out. No one else stepped forward to join this man. After the song was finished and the money honoring the person was collected, the women was very insulted and was thinking about leaving.
Concerned parties talked to the M.C. who happened to be Comanche. The M.C. agreed that the woman even though she was a veteran should not dance up with the men. This woman is not Kiowa and is well respected in my area. She did not mean to insult or harm anyone. She has been dancing this way for a long time.
Things calmed down and apologies were exchanged. I hope no long term bad feelings are kept.
September 13th., 14th, and 15th. 2002 Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville IL. had a dance that was Sponsored by Cahokia Mounds and the American Indian Center of St. Louis. This event was called "rediscover Cahokia Days".
This was a great beginning for the new leadership of the St. Louis American Indian Center.
This dance was a contest dance and was billed to have a three hour gourd dance Friday evening. This was great, we are not used to seeing gourd dancing unless it is at the beginning of a dance or after the dinner break.
Our head gourd dancer was a Kiowa man (Elder). The Friday evening dance went well. There were several veterans attending as well as a friend of mine I had not seen for several years, Mr. David Welch( I have an article on David located on my Veterans Page). The southern drum was Otter Trail and we had several other good singers helping out. We also had a Bugler attending. This was a first for our area.
During one of the gourd sets the head veteran had not had a chance to get some one dollar bills for use to honor other dancers (American Indian equivalent to blankets or horses), I was happy to be able to give him a few during the set on Saturday. The next day after the gourd dance was over while the competition dance was going on I ran across our head gourd dancer at a vendors booth.
He saw me and asked if I was the one that had given him the one dollar bills the day before. I answered and he offered them back while I was saying it was not necessary. I accepted them, and then asked if he minded if I asked a question. He gave permission to ask.
I then asked him about the place of women in the gourd dance and explained to him the events regarding the earlier gourd dance I had attended where the woman veteran danced up in the same line as the men.
He responded to my question in kind. The gourd dance is a mans dance. It is not just a dance for veterans or warriors, rather it is just "a Mans Dance." This dance is to allow men to reaffirm the commitments they made to their families, tribe and culture. It gives the man a chance to think about his position as a man and a warrior.
He also confirmed that this dance being a mans dance should not have the women dancing up with the men. This is not out of disrespect to any woman that is a veteran or not.
"It is simply a Mans Dance"
With that I thanked him, shook his hand and returned the money he had tried to return to me (when approaching an Elder with a question or to ask for help in any way, one should always do so respectfully and offer tobacco, money or other gift out of respect).
At this point I realized that I might have just gotten a partial answer to the question posed to me by a visitor on how the gourd dance affected modern day Kiowa society.
I believe that this dance does convey strong deep feelings of respect to family, warriors and veterans. I will no longer think of this as a veteran's dance. I will also think of the family as a unit and the responsibility as a man to provide and protect family and country.
With all of the changes in the world today it has to be a good thing to be able to come together as men and visually see support from other men that are trying to keep their place as a warrior with all the responsibilities that go along with it.
I will try to talk with other Elders to find out their thoughts on this subject. I would also like to thank the visitor that posed this question to me.