Rim country residents and visitors can experience the color and excitement of a Native American tradition at the first annual Tonto Apache Tribal POW WOW, Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 at the Payson Event Center.
Many tribes around the country now hold pow wows, a contemporary link to the past that features singing, dancing, drumming, colorful regalia and Native American food, arts and crafts. While outsiders consider them entertainment, pow wows are a spiritual legacy for Native American families, a time to reflect on traditions and honor the past.
The term "pow wow" is an adaptation of the Algonquin word "Pau Wau," and the dances that have become featured events were once called Grass Dances and were held by members of elite warrior societies.
As Native Americans began to live on reservations, non-survival activities like dancing became more important, gradually evolving into contest dancing where dancers compete for cash prizes. At today's pow wows, contest categories are based on dance styles and age groups, and dancers are judged on their regalia as well as their dancing abilities.
The dance arena, called an Arbor, is blessed before the pow wow begins and is considered sacred ground for the duration of the celebration. Each dance session begins with a procession of dancers known as the grand entry, and a master of ceremonies keeps the pow wow running smoothly while explaining to spectators what is taking place.
The Tonto Apache event features multiple tribes with dancers from around the country competing for over $18,000 in prize money. Grand entries are scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m., with gourd dancing commencing one hour before each grand entry.
Gourd dancers carry gourd rattles and feather fans and are attired in red and blue robes, beaded and fringed sashes, and mescal bead bandoliers.
In addition to dance competitions in golden age, adult age, teen, junior and tiny tots categories, a drum contest will be featured at the Tonto Apache Tribal POW WOW.
Dances included within the categories include the following:
Grass dance: dancers wear yokes, breech cloths and either a bandana or a porcupine headdress.
Northern traditional: represents a warrior scouting before a battle. Dancers wear a headpiece of eagle feathers, a bone hair pipe choker and breastplate, and carry a dance staff and fan made from an eagle's wing.
Southern straight: dancers are elaborately attired in an otter skin trailer decorated with mirrors and beadwork or ribbon work, bone hair pipe, bead bandoliers, silver choker, and beaded belt.
Fancy shawl: most important is the shawl, worn over the shoulders and held out as the dancer steps and twirls. The legend behind the dance is of a butterfly who lost her mate in battle and went into a cocoon until she could begin life anew.
Admission to the Tonto Apache Tribal POW WOW is $2 for adults and $1 for students, with a three-day pass available for $4. Arts and crafts and food booth spaces are also available.
For more information call Hubert Nanty at 474-7021 or Lee Williams at (480) 965-5224.