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Impearls: HIC 3.09: The modern Ghost dance

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Earthdate 2005-11-12

The modern Ghost dance   by A. L. Kroeber

The first Ghost dance movement that originated among the northern Paiute reached the Yurok about 1872 via the Shasta, Karok, and Tolowa, but endured only a short time, and vanished with scarcely any effect.  It seems that groups like the southern Wintun and Pomo, whose institutions had long been suffering under Spanish and American contact, embodied considerable elements of Ghost dance doctrine into what remained of their religion.

From the Shasta of Scott River the Ghost dance spread to the Happy Camp Karok.  Report traveled, and both Tolowa and lower Karok came to see and learned to believe.  A woman of Amaikiara seems to have been the first to dream among the latter.  Many Yurok were attracted and came to Amaikiara with their dance ornaments.  perhaps they were shocked at the announcement that when the great change came these precious things would vanish.  At any rate, most of them grew tired and went home.  The Hupa either never came in numbers or failed to be seriously influenced.

The dance actually reached the Yurok from the Tolowa.  An old man from Burnt Ranch instituted it at Sta'awin, above Turip, where he came to visit a Yurok nephew.  After his return, the nephew began to dream.  The dance was then taken down the coast to Big Lagoon, and up the river to Ko'otep, then not yet resettled after the flood of 1862.  This was in the summer after the Karok had become converted.  The Yurok prophet and his Tolowa uncle announced that the dance must be held also at Weitspus if the dead of that vicinity were to return; but the movement waned before they could effect their purpose.  There seem always to have been a number of Yurok who remained unconvinced, and none, except the immediate family of the dreamer, on whose minds the doctrine had more than a passing hold.

The beliefs and practices sound as if taken from a description of the Dakota 20 years later.  The world was to end; the dead would return, true converts among the living survive, disbelievers turn to stone.  The new world was to be sexless; and in preparation men and women were instructed to bathe together without shame, and husband and wife to ignore each other.  All planking was removed from graves to facilitate the resurrection.  The prophets visited the dead in dreams and carried messages from them — once even that they would appear the next day.  The dancers, men, women, and children, formed concentric circles, revolving in opposite directions.

Local custom, however, colored the doctrine at several points.  Dogs were killed.  All valuables would turn to rubbish, it was proclaimed, unless exposed in the dance.  When there was dancing in the morning, breakfast must be deferred until after it, as in old native ceremonies.  Sometimes the dance took place indoors.  The officiating prophet remained aloof from the crowd in a house of his own, like the formula reciter of a typical Yurok rite.



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