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Impearls: HIC 3.02: Costume and steps

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

Costume and steps   by A. L. Kroeber

The Deerskin dancers wear aprons of civet cat or a deer-hide blanket about the waist, masses of dentalium necklaces, and forehead bands of wolf fur that shade the eyes.  From the head rises a stick on which are fastened two or four black and white eagle or condor feathers, so put together as to look like a single feather of enormous length, its quill covered with woodpecker scalp; or, three slender rods of sinew, scarlet with attached bits of scalp, rise from the stick.  The dancers also hold poles on which are white, light gray, black, or mottled deerskins, the heads stuffed, the ears, mouths, throats, and false tongues decorated with woodpecker scalps, the hide of the body and legs hanging loose.  A slightly swaying row of these skins looks really splendid.  The singer in the center of the line, and his two assistants, add to the costume of the others a light net, reaching from the forehead to the middle of the shoulders and terminating in a fringe of feathers.  Their apron is always of civet-cat skins.  The step of the entire row is merely a short stamp with one foot.  At each end of the line and in front of it is a dancer who carries an obsidian blade instead of a deerskin.  Over his wolf-fur forehead band is a strap from which project like hooks half a dozen or more curve-cut canine teeth of sea lions.  From the head hangs down a long, close-woven or crocheted net, painted in diamonds or triangles, and feather fringed.  A double deerskin blanket passes over one shoulder and covers part of the body; or is replaced by an apron of civet or raccoon skins.  Under the left arm is a fur quiver.  These two dancers advance and pass each other in front of the row of deerskins several times during each song, crouching, blowing a whistle, and holding their obsidians out conspicuously.  In the final drama of the ceremony they may number four instead of two.  All the dancers are painted with a few thin lines of soot across the cheeks or down the shoulders and arms; or the jaw is blackened, or the chin striped.  The painting is quite variable according to individual, and decorative, not symbolic.

The Jumping dance varies between two steps, which are never changed while a song is in progress.  In the first the hand holding a dancing basket is raised, then swung down and the knees bent until the fingers touch the ground, whereupon the dancer hops about half a foot into the air.  In the second form of dance one foot is stamped violently as the basket descends.  The drop or stamp coincides with the beat of the music; the leap itself is therefore begun at the end of a bar of song.

The principal ornament worn in this dance is the buckskin band, tied over the forehead with the ends flapping.  Its central portion is carefully covered with 50 large woodpecker scalps, and bordered with lines of other feathers and a strip of white fur from a deer belly.  Before the dance reaches its height, this band is often replaced by a stuffed head ring of skin, to which about five large woodpecker scalps are glued and sewed with sinew.  Either headdress is topped by a long white plume on a stick.  From the neck hang masses of dentalium beads; about the hips is folded a double deerskin blanket, the fur side inward.  In one hand is a cylindrical basket, slit along one side.  This has no utilitarian prototype, nor do the Yurok put anything but grass stuffing into it or attach any symbolic association to it.  This basket, ego'or, suggests in its shape an enlarged native money box; but the Yurok do not see the resemblance.  Face and body paint is slight, as in the Deerskin dance.

Not one of the ornaments worn or carried in either of the two ceremonies appears to have the least mythological or ritualistic significance.  All the dress is standard, but by meaningless custom alone.  Also, not a single one of the numerous ornaments is in use among any of the California tribes except the few adjacent to the Yurok who practice the identical ceremonies.  The woodpecker scalp bands alone have some analogues in the lower Sacramento Valley, where belts and headpieces of the type appear in the Kuksu ceremonies.  These seem, however, to have been often made on a close network, instead of buckskin, and when intended for headwear to have been broad in the middle and tapering toward the ends.  One such specimen of this shape has been found among the Hupa, only a few miles from Weitspus; but its history is unknown, and it may either represent an ancient type or be a traded article.  Outside of the partial similarity of these bands, there is no specific resemblance between the northwestern regalia and those of central and southern California.  Whether the same uniqueness applies also toward Oregon is not known.



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