Yavapai Dances

Among our time travelers is a sibling group (Zach, age 10, and twins, Helena and Yelena, age 9) who are one quarter Jewish and one quarter Native American, from the Yavapai tribe. The girls are ballet dancers back home and therefore pick up other styles of dance quickly. They’ve learned a few dances from their time attending Yavapai ceremonies and events with their family.

Yampai Indians,” British Library digitised image from page 51 of “Report of an expedition down the Zuni and Colorado Rivers by Captain L. Sitgreaves. (Also here) [Note: Yampai is a Yavapai county town about 70 miles NW of Prescott, which is near Barberry Lake.]

The early Yavapai practiced traditional dances such as the Mountain Spirit Dance, War Dances, Victory Dances and Social Dances. The Mountain Spirit dance was a masked dance, which was used for guidance or healing of a sick person. The masked dancers represented Mountain Spirits, who were believed by Yavapai to dwell in [four mountain peaks] near present-day Prescott….The modern Yavapai take part in several dances and singing, such as the Apache Sunrise Dance and the Bird Singing and Dancing of the Mojave people.

Yavapai. Wikipedia.

Since our siblings were born in 1985 and 1986, they would have learned the modern dances.

The Sunrise Dance is a four-day rite-of-transition for young Apache girls, which typically takes place from March through October. The sunrise dance is an ancient practice, unique to the Apache. It is related to the myth of the Changing Woman, a powerful figure in Apache culture who is believed to grant longevity. The power of Changing Woman is transferred to the pubescent girl through songs sung by the Medicine Man. A medicine man is joined by other tribal members in singing a series of songs, up to 32 which are believed to have first been sung by Changing Woman….

Originally part of the culture of the Mojave people of the Colorado River region, bird singing and dancing has been adopted by modern Yavapai culture…According to Mohave elders, the bird songs tell a story. An entire night is needed to sing the whole cycle, from sun down to sun up. This story tells the creation of the Yuman people and how they came to be. Bird songs are sung accompanied by a gourd, usually painted with various designs and made with a handle made of cottonwood. Modern bird singing and dancing is used for various purposes such as mourning, celebration and social purposes.

Yavapai. Wikipedia.
Weapons, ornaments, utensils of Mohave, Yampai and Chimehwhuebe Indians, Le Tour du Monde, volume 1, 1860. [Note: it’s hard to tell what’s what in this drawing, but the cup/rattle on a string in the lower left could be a musical instrument, or a toy.]

Mountain Spirit dancers in New Mexico perform at night. But Western Apache Mountain Spirit dancers (from Arizona) can perform during the day. A UCSB article has photographs of both ceremonies.

Mountain Spirits perform healing rites, as well as dancing at na ih es, the girls’ puberty rite. The masked dance performances may be used to protect against illness, to cure (even when witchcraft is the cause), and to control the weather….Mountain Spirit masks are buckskin hoods, usually painted black, that fit snugly over the head and are secured by a drawstring gathered about the neck. Tiny holes are cut for the eyes and sometimes one is cut for the mouth.

Attached to the top of the hood is a complex upright structure, brightly painted and decorated, sometimes referred to as horns. Its basic framework is a construction of wooden slats. On each side hang short wooden slats (earrings) that strike against one another, making the distinctive sound of the approaching Mountain Spirits….

Often appearing with the Mountain Spirit dancers is a clown figure, known variously as ”Gray One,” “Long Nose,” or “White Painted”….He carries messages between the masked dancers and the people. He makes fun of everything and creates fun by enacting foolishness as requested by the audience.

Apache Indian Legends: Apache Indian Mountain Spirits Legend.  Native American Art. 2010. [Note: please see article for a photograph of the dancers.]

A detailed description of the 4 day long coming of age ceremony for girls, along with multiple photographs, is at YAN News. More descriptions and pictures of an “Apache Girl’s Puberty Ceremony, “Na’ii’ees”, the Sun Rise Ceremony” are on Pinterest.

Video from an Yavapai-Apache Exodus Day commemoration shows the main portion of the dance as heavy-footed stepping (some dancers turn it into a skip) in patterns and in a snaking line around a large circle. Both men and women dance, often in non-touching pairs, and there are some children as well. The men wear the elaborate headdress described in the Mountain Spirit dances.


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