The Sioux

From the Archive Of Folk Culture

Recorded and Edited by Willard Rhodes
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L40
The Sioux

The music of the Sioux is readily identified by its stylistic features, many of which it shared with the music of other Plains tribes. Melodies are spread over a large compass of an octave or an octave and a fifth and are patterned into a series of descending phrases that are often described as terraced. Their singing style of the Sioux is another distinguishing characteristic, for songs are pitched high and are sung with tensed vocal chords producing a sharp, clear penetrating sound. Long sustained tones are animated with a pulsating of the voice that contributes to the timbre and the rhythmic drive of the songs.

These general statements do not hold for all Sioux music, for the style of the music is influenced by the genre of the song. Ghost Dance songs were imported unchanged as they were learned from the Paiutes. Peyote songs were borrowed from neighboring tribes and served as a model for the making of new songs in the Peyote pattern and style. Music functioned importantly in the daily life of the Sioux and provided a medium of expression for a wide gamut of thoughts and emotions.

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Omaha Society Song The society songs are survivors of a long distant past that have been perpetuated by oral tradition, and today are known to only a few of the oldest Sioux. though the details of the social organization and life of these societies are forgotten, the songs have lived. Omaha na ke no la wa yu we lo The Omaha is still living
And is still dancing.
Brave Heart Society Song The "Brave Heart Society Song" states one of the basic principles of the society.

It was suggested that "Looking for a Bear" may have been the name of a leader.
Tu wa na peki opa' ke sin in
Mato a tun wan he ye lo
Whoever retreats will not be party of the Society
Looking for a Bear.
Fox Society Song Sioux
Hunka Song The "Hunka Song" is part of an adoption ceremony in which a person, child or adult, is publicly honored by being adopted by a family.

The singers are going to find the person who is to be adopted. The tying of an eagle plume to the head of the person being adopted is part of the ceremony. This custom is another example of the generosity and social consciousness of the Sioux.
Le hunka, le hunka
E'can tu'tke tipi so
Where does he live? Sioux
Brave Inspiring Song The "Brave Inspiring Song" is preceded by the following speech: "Get the place ready, get in your position." A free translation of the words of the song follows: "You asked for help, so I brought a steer (buffalo) and gave it all away." Sioux
Honoring Song The "Honoring Song" is a Sioux classic that can be heard throughout the year at any social gathering on the reservation. Since generosity is one of the four cardinal virtues recognized and stressed in Sioux culture, public giving becomes an institutionalized way of acquiring social prestige. Any act of generosity or bravery, either on a personal or social level, will prompt the singing of the "Honoring Song" as a token of public recognition.

Here the song is introduced by John Long Commander in an eloquent style that is characteristic of the oratory for the Sioux. A literal translation of his speech follows:
Now everybody listen. We will honor a man of the past by singing the "Honoring Song." so everybody listen. This person was not an educated man. But his wisdom and thinking will be used for the welfare of the Indian people. At the present time our council is not going right, so this man will bring the council much good thinking. Let us all listen to him, do as he instructed the council so that at the end we will all be as one. When an animal dies leaving an orphan, the orphan had no place to go. We are in the same shape after Turning Hawk died. "Oglala People be brave. As for myself the end of my life is here." So said Turning Hawk and he went away.
In further elucidation of Long Commander's speech, William Horn Cloud, who translated the Sioux said, "It tells about those old times and how much they miss [their leaders] when one of them is gone. It tells of this Turning Hawk, a man of good common sense who has been a real help to his people at that time."

The reference to the council was a timely one when the speech and song were recorded. The Oglala Tribal Council, recently established as a move toward self-government following the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act, had become a political issue and a subject of wide tribal interest.
Death Song 1 Death songs are sung by women who give uninhibited expression to their sorrow and grief. One may note the different manner of singing of the two women. The first singer follows the lament with ululation, a stylistic feature of Sioux women's singing. Sioux
Death Song 2 Sioux
Omaha Dance Song 1 The Omaha Dance songs are probably survivals of the Omaha Society, which has long been extinct. Today the songs provide the music for the colorful, fancy dancing that one may see at Indian fairs and powwows. These dances are in a way representative of the ethos of the Sioux. In contrast to the line dances of the Pueblos, in which each dancer submerges his personality in the ensemble, the Sioux dancer is a competitive individual who delights in the exhibition of his originality.

The Sioux dances with their freedom of movement, may be described as Dionysion in contrast with the Apollonian order and restraint of the Pueblo dances. Ruth Benedict has used these terms in describing the ethos of societies, and they are applicable in describing the dance as an expression of the ethos of the society. The Omaha Dance is no longer limited to the Sioux for with the development of Pan-Indianism these dances have become intertribal.
Omaha Dance Song 2 Sioux
Rabbit Dance Song The "Rabbit Dance Song" is typical of the music that accompanies this popular social dance in which men and women clasp hands and dance in a clockwise movement with other couples. The music is in a triple meter, with the drum beats falling on the first and third beats. The dance and the songs are a genre that probably date from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The steps of the dance are ordered with two steps forward and one step back, this pattern giving a beautiful undulating movement to the large circle of dancers.

It is customary to sing the song with vocable before repeating it with words, a practice that also holds for the Omaha Dance songs. Many of the songs begin with a vocable sung with an upward octave jump before articulating the Sioux words. Though the melody of these songs adheres to the traditional style of the Sioux music, the texts reflect the influence of white culture and also that of the "49" songs that were popular with the Plains tribes. The translation of a typical text follows:
Dearie, I think the best of you
But you are bad.
You fool me again and again.
Give be back that picture,
Then I will live away from you.
Sun Dance Song 1 The texts of the two Sun Dance sons express the relationship of the celebrant to Wakantanka, the Great Spirit. The songs are accompanied by a drum and the Sun Dance whistle, made from an eagle bone, which the dancer blows while dancing. Wakan tanka uci mala ye
wa ni kta ca le cimie
Great Spriti, have pity on me
I want to live so I am doing this.
This is a ceremonial song and cannot be used outside of it's original context, so it is not posted here.
Sun Dance Song 2 Sioux
This is a ceremonial song and cannot be used outside of it's original context, so it is not posted here.
Ghost Dance Song 1 The Ghost Dance was a revivalistic Indian religion that was initiated in the late 1880s by Wovoka (Jack Wilson), a Paiute, who preached and prophesized the return of the buffalo, the disappearance of the white man from the earth, the resurrection of the spirit of dead relatives, and the freedom and happiness of the old days. The religion spread rapidly from tribe to tribe and was brought to the Sioux by a party of Sioux who visited the prophet in Nevada. It reached a tragic climax in 1890 when a company of U.S. soldiers, fearing an uprising, fired upon a band of Sioux who were in the midst of a Ghost Dance, killing men, women, and children. This even has been recorded in history as the Wounded Knee Massacre (pine ridge Reservation). Though this incident put an end to the religion among the Sioux, the Ghost Dance continued for some time with the Kiowa and other Plains tribes.

The Ghost Dance songs are in the style of Paiute music, short in length, of limited range, and based on the principle of paired phrases, AA BB. These characteristics are evident in the two Ghost Dance songs.
Ate heyelo, ate heyelo
Makoce wan waste ni cu
pi ca yamipika lo
Father said, Father said
A country that is good is given to you
So that you will live.
Ghost Dance Song 2 Wa na wa ni ye, wa na wa ni ye
Tatanka ma ni ye, tatanka ma ni ye
Ate he ye lo, Ate he ye lo
Now I am alive, now I am alive
A buffalo is walking, a buffalo is walking
Father said so, Father said so
A buffalo is given to you so you will live.
Christian Hymn Missionaries throughout the world have found music a happy and helpful medium in carrying their message to the people to whom they minister. Christian hymns of various origin were translated into the local language and native were taught songs that had little or no relation to indigenous music. The "Christian Hymn" was recorded by Rev. Joseph Eagle Hawk, a Presbyterian minister, and a group of his friends. The hymn is one that is not to be found in the Sioux hymnals. It has been attributed to Tipi Luta, Red Lodge, a woman, who was an early convert to Christianity. The repeated tones of equal value, and the four-tone scale with its minor third cadence, give the hymn a sense of affirmation and strength. Sioux
Peyote Song The Peyote cult is a syncretic religion that combines native Indian beliefs and practices with Christian symbolism. The cult had its origin in Mexico and by the eighteenth century had crossed the Rio Grande. It has passed from tribe to tribe and has become an intertribal religion. In Oklahoma the Peyote organizations have been united under a charter and certificate of incorporation granted "The Native American Church" at Oklahoma City under the signature and seal of the secretary of state, dated October 10, 1918.

The Peyote ceremony, centering around the eating of the peyote, a small fleshy cactus with hallucinogenic properties, is an interesting combination of nativistic and Christian beliefs and practices. In the all-night meetings, which are held in a special tipi, the singing of Peyote songs constitutes an important part of the ritual. Ceremonial paraphernalia, consisting of a staff, a small gourd rattle, and a water drum, specially wrapped and tied for each meeting, are passed clockwise around the circle of participants. Each person is expected to sing four songs, and each song is sung four times. The singer holds the staff in his left hand and accompanies himself with the rattle in his right hand, while the person to this right provides an accompaniment on the drum. Peyote song are always sung by individuals, never in chorus, and with a mild vocal technique which distinguishes these songs from the other songs. At four stated intervals during the ceremony the leader sings special songs which are always sung at these points in the ritual. These four songs-"Opening song," "Night Water Song," "Morning Sunrise Song," and "Closing Song" - have been recorded by George Hunt and are available in the Kiowa album of this series, L34. The "Peyote Song," sung by Joe Sierra, is an excellent example of the Peyote musical style and the proper manner of singing. It introduces English words by spelling out J E S U S O N L Y.

The Peyote songs have an individuality that sets them apart from other categories of indigenous music. In his doctoral dissertation, Peyote Music, David P. McAllester summarized the following features that distinguish the style of Peyote music. Peyote songs are:
1. sung with a relatively 'mild' vocal technique;
2. they are fast;
3. the accompaniment is in eighth-note units running even with the voice and adding to the impression of speed;
4. they are uniquely consistent in the use of only eighth and quarter-note values in the vocal melody;
5. they have the usual Plains phrase patterns but in addition show a significant incidence in paired patterns, restricted compass and unusually long and flat codas;
6. the finals show a cumulative use of the tonic for phrase endings;
7. at the end of the typical peyote song, as diagnostic as the Christian 'amen,' comes the phrase 'he ne ne yo wa.'
Lullaby The Lullaby is softly crooned on a descending melody of four tones, interrupted only by the admonition, istima, go to sleep. Sioux
Hand Game Song 1 Game songs provide social entertainment and accompaniment to guessing games that are variously described as a moccasin game, shoe game, hand game, and stick game. The games are played by two teams of individuals who sit in parallel lines facing each other. The object of the game is to guess in which moccasin or hand certain objects have been hidden by the opposing team. Scores are kept with sticks which serve as counters and are moved from one side to the other as the game proceeds.

The songs are strong rhythmically, short in length, and subject to endless repetition as the game continues. The excitement that develops in the friendly rivalry between the two groups is reflected in the songs as they increase in volume and tempo. Betting and gambling add to the interest of the game. Game songs are widely distributed among the tribes of North America.
Hand Game Song 2 Sioux
Love Song With Voice 1 Love songs provided a medium through which the suitor could convey his feelings to the girl he was courting, feelings that could be more easily expressed in song than in speech. These songs were played on the end-blown flute and carried their message to the listener to whom they were addressed.

The two love songs were played and sung by John Coloff, who at the time of recording was in charge of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government agency that provided work for unemployed youth during the depression years of the 1930s. A free translation of the two songs follows.
All over the country I travel,
All over the country I have traveled,
Looking for a large home.
A cow with a bell I always come back to,
A cow with a bell I always come back to.
Love Song With Flute 1 The American Indian flute has become a museum relic, and its rarity today suggests that it may never have been as common in Indian musical culture as is generally believed. The technique of flute-making and flute-playing, more involved and intricate than that of drum-making and drum-playing as practiced by the Indians, would tend to limit the instrument to a small group of specialized musicians. We are especially fortunate in preserving in this album two flute melodies played by John Coloff. Sioux
Love Song With Voice 2 This picture is me,
Keep it to remember me.
This picture is me,
Keep it to remember me.
Long time you will not see me,
But every day, Brother-in-law,
You will see me in this picture.
Keep it, Brother-in-law, and remember me.
Love Song With Flute 2 Sioux