Apache Dance Essay

Becoming an Apache Woman, Something Only a Girl Can Do
In some cultures, an adolescent’s transition into adulthood is celebrated with an extravagant soiree, while other’s are expected to recite religious scriptures. Meanwhile for the Apaches, a native American tribe that lives in the southwestern United States, the leap into womanhood is marked by a symbolic four-day Sunrise Ceremony. The young Apache girl’s physical endurance is tested during this event, where it is believed that she will enter into a new realm of spirituality and maturity. This event is different from other cultures’ adulthood initiations because of the extensive preparations, elaborate costume, spiritual emphasis, and challenging physical demands during the several phases
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The commencement of the ceremony involves the girl being dressed by her godmother. The first piece that is placed on the young girl is a fringed buckskin cape that represents fertility. A feather is placed in her hair for longevity, and a T-necklace for a lifetime of wealth. “An important ritual item that the initiate must have in her possession for the 4-day dance is the wooden staff or cane (gish ih zha ha). The cane has eagle feathers (representative of protection) and oriole feathers (symbolic of a good, happy disposition) attached to it; these are also reflective of the hope for long life” (Markstorm). Each of these items carries a great spiritual significance for the Apaches. “More precisely, the dressing prepares the initiate to assume the power that makes her holy.” …show more content…
The Apache believe that the manner in which the girl handles herself throughout these phases is a strong indicator on how she will carry herself for the rest of her life. “A further purpose of the Sunrise Dance is to shape the physical and psychological qualities of the girl.” (Markstorm) Before the ceremony begins the girl is completely isolated and for the next four days she is only allowed to drink liquids through a straw. The first phase is bihl de nił ke (“All alone, she dances”) and it consists of the girl dancing to the beat of the drum and the songs of the medicine man for a time span of 4-5 hours. This is followed by more dancing in phase two called niztah (“Sitting or kneeling”). The difference this time is that the girl is kneeling while swaying back and forth to the music. After the strenuous dance marathon, comes phase three nizti (“Lying”), where the girl lies on a buckskin hide and the co-sponsor steps into play and massages the girl once again. “The purpose of the massage is essentially the same as her massage during the initiate’s first menses. She is being shaped into the image of White Painted Woman— both in her character and her physical demeanor.” (Markstorm) The forth phase gish ih zha ha yinda sle dił ihłye (“Cane set out for her, she runs around it”) requires the co-sponsor to take the cane and place it to the east for the

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