Pow wow is a fascinating gathering of Native American Indians which may last from days to a week. Pow wow is an important cultural expression of the Native American heritage.
The name pow wow derives from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning shaman. It has since come to be used to describe any gathering of Native Americans of any tribes. An early twenty-first century pow wow is a specific type of event held by Native Americans.
Pow wows have evolved from a formal ceremony of the past into modern blend of dance, family reunion and festival. Over time Pow wow traditions have adapted and changed into a bright, fast and exciting event geared towards Native Americans and visitors alike.
Pow wows can vary in length from a single session of 5-6 hours to three days with one to three sessions a day. Major pow wows or pow wows called for a special occasion can be up to one week long.
This occasion is filled with colorful regalia of the participating dancers from the different Native American Indian tribes. As the dancers parade around the arena, different kinds and types of regalia can be seen. Almost every Native American Indian wears feathers and beads, not just on their headdresses but also on their body apparel. Some of them display different kind of jewelry and even bells dangling on their attire.
The head dancers consist of the Head Man Dancer and the Head Woman Dancer, and often Head Teen Dancers, Head Little Boy and Girls Dancers, Head Golden Age Dancers, and a Head Gourd Dancer if the pow wow will be having gourd dancing. The head dancers are responsible for leading the other dancers during a song and often dancers will not enter the arena unless the head dancers are already out dancing. The head dancers also lead the other dancers in the grand entry or parade of dancers that opens a pow wow.
The Host Drum of the pow wow is a drum group responsible for providing music for the dancers to dance to. At an Intertribal pow wow generally two or more drums are hired to be the host drums, often a Host Northern Drum and a Host Southern Drum. Each drum has a Lead Singer who runs his drum and leads his singers while singing. Host drums are responsible for singing the songs at the beginning and end of a pow wow session, generally a starting song, the grand entry song, a flag song, and a veterans or victory song to start the pow wow, and a flag song, retreat song and closing song to end the pow wow. Additionally, if a pow wow has gourd dancing, the Southern Host Drum is often the drum that sings all the gourd songs, though another drum can perform them. The host drums are often called upon to sing special songs during the pow wow.
Pow wow is normally set up as a series of large circles. The center circle is the dance arena, outside of which is a circle consisting of the MC’s table, drum groups and sitting areas for dancers and their families. Beyond these two circles for participants is often an area for spectators, while outside of all are several rings of vendor’s booths, where one can buy supplies, food, or arts and crafts.
The Pow wow begins with what is called the Grand Entry. All the dancers line up by dance style and age. Then they enter the arena while one of the host drums sings a special song. Pow Wows are full of Native American dancing, singing, educational displays, and authentic food. The pow wow is the Native American’s way of expressing their cultural heritage. Most dancers seen at Pow Wows today perform social dances which might have had different meanings in earlier days.