The Pawnee

Plains: Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Caddo, Wichita, Pawnee

Recorded and Edited by Willard Rhodes
Folk Music Of The United States Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song L39
Of the Caddoan-speaking tribes, the Pawnee is perhaps the best known. The tribe consisted of four bands, each of which, prior to the contacts of the nineteenth century, acted independently in its relations with people of other linguistic groups. They were discovered by Coronado, the Spanish explorer, on his expedition to Quivira in 1541 and are known to have bartered with French traders before 1750.

They lived in permanent villages of earth lodges, almost conical in shape with a covered entrance facing east. After acquiring horses they combined their sedentary life as agriculturists with buffalo hunting. Following the spring planting of corn, squash, pumpkin, and beans, they would leave for the summer buffalo hunt, returning in time to harvest their crops. During the hunts they lived in skin tipis, Each band had its hereditary chief and a council of leading men that attended to the affairs of the tribe.

The Pawnee were noted for their tribal religion in which myth, symbolism, and poetic fancy were important elements of their rites and ceremonies. Cosmic forces, the sky, stars, sun, and the moon, were deified in their creation myth and arranged in a hierarchy to explain the mysteries of life. A Supreme Being, Tirawa, generally spoken of as Father, communicated with men through his messengers, the animals. Next in power to Tirawa were Evening Star and Morning Star, female and male deities whose daughter became the mother of the people of the earth by the son of the Moon and Sun.

Frances Densmore, who was the first to record and study the music of the Pawnee in 1919-1920, wrote in her monograph, Pawnee Music, "A sacred bundle of the Skidi Pawnee was associated with Morning Star and its ceremony was held in the early spring, having for its object the securing of good crops in the coming season." The Calumet Ceremony was celebrated for the peace and prosperity of their people.

By a series of treaties, dating from 1833 to 1876, the Pawnee ceded all their lands in Nebraska and accepted new lands in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), where they now live. An immigrant trail through their country introduced disease and dissipation, leaving them less able to counter the devastating raids of their enemy, the Sioux, and the hardships they endured during their removal to Indian Territory greatly reduced their number. Mooney estimated a population of ten thousand Pawnee in 1780. By 1906 it had fallen to 649. The Bureau of Indian Affairs lists the number enrolled in 1982 at 2,249.

Throughout their history the Pawnee have been loyal to the United States. Their scouts rendered signal service to the government during the nineteenth century, and in the present century they have furnished soldiers for two World Wars in the various military services.

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Native Words



Pawnee Prayer Song This prayer is directed to Tirawa, whom the suppliant addresses as Father. Father, have pity for me.
Show me mercy.
Pawnee Hand Game Song Game Songs provide social entertainment and accompaniment to guessing games that are variously described as moccasin games, shoe games, hand games, and stick games. 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 as they 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. Game songs are widely distributed among the tribes of North America.
Pawnee Hand Game Song Pawnee
Pawnee Ghost Dance Song The Ghost Dance was a revivalistic Indian religion that was initiated by Wovaka (Jack Wilson), a Paiute, who preached and prophesied the return of the buffalo, the disappearance of the white man, and a return to the old Indian culture.

According to James Mooney, "The Ghost Dance was brought to the Pawnee . . . by delegates from the Arapaho and Cheyenne in the west. The doctrine made slow progress for some time, but by February 1892 the majority of the Pawnee were dancing in confident expectation of the speedy coming of the Messiah and the buffalo. Of all these tribes, the Pawnee took most interest in the new doctrine, becoming as much devoted to the Ghost Dance as the Arapaho themselves" (Mooney, 1892-93, pt. 2, p. 902).

The songs are easily recognized by their pattern of paired phrases, in which each phrase is repeated before proceeding to the next phrase, AA, BB.
Pawnee Ghost Dance Song Pawnee
Pawnee Flag Song This song was made by Frank Murie after World War 11. It honors the veterans and acknowledges Tirawa, the Supreme Being ("He's the Boss of all things"). Hail to the flag.
You veterans (Warriors) defended us.
God, the Father is Supreme.
Pawnee War Dance Song War was an ever-present possibility for Indians in the past, and they had a repertoire of war songs in preparation for warfare as well as for the celebration of victory. Today the War Dance songs have lost their functional role and serve for colorful, exhibitionistic dances at powwows and fairs. Indians distinguish between a slow war dance and a fast war dance. Pawnee