Songs Of The Pawnee

Recordings and notes by Frances Densmore
Issued from the Collections of the Archive of American Folk Song at The Library of Congress.
One of the most interesting tribes in this series is the Pawnee, a Caddoan tribe that formerly lived in Nebraska but is now located on a reservation near the town of Pawnee in Oklahoma. Two visits were made to the Pawnee. The first was in 1919 when songs were recorded and gatherings attended, and the second was in 1920 when the writer attended a Morning Star Ceremony and a hand game, and obtained additional data. This work was done under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology.*

Eighty-six Pawnee songs were recorded and transcribed, seventeen of which are presented here. The songs were recorded from nine singers, four of whom appear in this selection. The largest number were sung by Wicita Blain and his wife Effie Blain, both of whom were totally blind. A granddaughter guided them and acted as their interpreter. Mr. Blain's Pawnee name means "He overtook the enemy," and Effie Blain's name was translated as "She led a pony into the ceremony." The two other singers are John Luwak and Horse Chief. The former was chief of the Chaui Band of Pawnee, while the latter was one of the younger men and a leading singer at dances.

Ceremonialism is more highly developed among the Pawnee than in the other tribes whose songs have already been issued in this series of Indian recordings. Their mythology is filled with symbolism and poetry. Tirawa is their highest supernatural power. Next below him is Evening Star who is regarded as a woman, and below her is Morning Star, a warrior who drives the other stars before him across the sky.

The Morning Star Ceremony of the Skidi Band of Pawnee is held in the early spring, and has for its object the securing of good crops in the coming season. Through the courtesy of James R. Murie, Chief of the Skidi Band, the writer was allowed to enter the lodge during this ceremony, and was told that only one other white person had been thus honored. Escorted by Mr. Murie, she looked at the contents of the sacred bundle which were exposed to view during the ceremony. She stayed inside the lodge only a short time, and remained immediately outside it during most of the day, listening to the songs. None of these Morning Star Ceremony songs are presented on this recording, but they may be consulted in the Bulletin of Pawnee Music already noted.

*Densmore, Frances. Pawnee Music, Bull. 93, Bur. Amer. Ethnol., 1929

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Native Words



Song Concerning The Ghost Dance Wicita Blain SONGS OF THE GHOST DANCE 4-songs

The Pawnee are deeply religious by nature and receive the Ghost dance with sympathy when it was brought to them by delegates from the Arapaho and Cheyenne in the west. According to James Mooney, "The doctrine made slow progress for some time, but by February, 1892, the majority of the Pawnee were dancing in confident expectation of the coming of the Messiah and the buffalo."*

The words "the father's own child," occurring in this song, refer to the Messiah whose coming was expected in the Ghost dance. The song was recorded by Wicita Blain. As in other songs of this series, the Pawnee words and their literal translation are omitted.**

* Mooney, James, "The Ghost Dance Religion," Fourteenth Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethnol. Pt. 2, p. 202, Washington, 1896
** A forgotten incident of field work is preserved by the sentences that precede this song on the record. It was necessary to take the phonograph to the house of an Indian at some distance from town, as no other place for recording was available. The driver of the car did not know the road and the trip was difficult. These sentences were recorded by the writer in order to show the Indian how the recording was done. With this encouragement, Wicita Blain recorded the first song of the present series and recording continued during the day.
There it is lying yonder, this stick lying here,
The father's own child gave it to me,
It is coming yonder.
The Yellow Star Wicita Blain This song was recorded by Wicita Blain who said that he composed it when waking from a trance in the Ghost dance. He dreamed of a yellow star which came to him and said,, "I am the star which you see in the sky at night." The star was in the form of a woman holding in her hand an eagle feather painted yellow. She gave him the feather, saying, "All the stars in the sky are people." A dream of the yellow star was induced by watching the star when in a Ghost dance trance. The yellow star did not appear to many dancers, but she gave to her favored friends the right to wear a yellow eagle feather upright in their hair and to us it in hypnotizing other dancers. If such a feather were used under false pretense no result would follow. The yellow star has noticed me,
Furthermore, it gave me a standing yellow feather,
That yellow star.
Ghost Dance Song A Horse Chief Certain Ghost dance songs are sung in the dancing which takes place at intervals during a hand game. The two following songs are used in that manner and have no words. Both were recorded by Horse Chief. Pawnee
Ghost Dance Song B Horse Chief Pawnee
The Herd Passes Through The Village Wicita Blain SONGS OF THE BUFFALO AND LANCE DANCES 3-songs

The ceremony of Painting the Buffalo Skull is held every spring by the Chaui Band of Pawnee and is in charge of Mr. Stacy Matlock, a prominent member of that band. The closing events of the ceremony are the Buffalo and Lance dances which were witnessed by the writer through the courtesy of Mr. Matlock, no other white person being present. The ceremony and dances were held in a large earth lodge, several miles south of the town of Pawnee. The semi-darkness of the lodge and the solemnity of the occasion made it impossible to take notes on either the music or the details of the dances, but the buffalo skull was seen lying on a folded blanket in front of the "alter" which was opposite the entrance. It had been painted a few days previously, only members of the Buffalo Society being present at that time.

The chief singer at the Buffalo and Lance dances was Wicita Blain, the blind man, who received the songs by inheritance. He led the songs, which were sung at a certain position back of the altar. At a later time he recorded several of the songs, two being presented.

This song was sung at the Buffalo dance attended by the writer and is a very old song concerning Mr.s Blain's uncle whose name was Naru'dapadi. A great herd of buffalo came to the place where the Indians were encamped, and threatened the destruction of the village. Her uncle rode toward them, shouting and firing his gun in an attempt to divert them from their course, but he was caught in the herd. There were buffalo on all sides of him as the herd swept through the camp and across the stream, carrying him with them. The song was recorded by Wicita Blain.
Listen, he said,
Now it (the man) sits among them (the buffalo),
These are his sayings,
Now it sits among them as they come,
Now they have passed through the village,
Now they have crossed the stream,
It flies above them here and there, shouting and calling.
The Buffalo And The Crow Wicita Blain This is considered one of the most valuable of the Buffalo dance songs. It is said that a buffalo heard the call of a crow and looked around thinking it might be an enemy, but he was not afraid of the crow. The song was recorded by Wicita Blain. Listen, he said, yonder it stands,
These are his sayings, yonder it stands,
Father (buffalo) was startled,
The crow was flying and shouting, but he was not frightened,
He was standing,
Father was startled but not frightened.
The Band Of The Dead Is Coming Effie Blain SONG OF THE LANCE DANCE

At a certain point in the Lance dance the decorated lances were carried around the lodge while the following song was sung. This was one of the most impressive portions of the ceremony witnessed by the writer. The song is very old and belonged to a woman who had two sons, the song being sung whenever they danced. The woman lived to be so old that she could not stand erect but it was said that "she was always singing this song while she was cooking or working." The song was recorded by Effie Blain.
Father, the band of the dead is coming. Pawnee
You Came Near Finding Them Effie Blain SONGS OF THE HAND GAME 2-songs

On two occasions the writer had the privilege of attending a hand game of the Pawnee. The first of these games was in 1919 and was opened in a ceremonial manner by James R. Murie, chief of the Skidi Band, who also recorded the guesses by means of seven decorated sticks placed up-right in the ground before him. More than 200 Indians were in attendance and the game continued more than six hours. The second hand game took place on April 16, 1920, and was given by Mrs. Good Eagle. This was said to be her hand game, not only because she gave the invitations and provided the feast, but because certain features of the game, as played that day, had been revealed to her in a dream. Both games were held in the six-sided lodge where the victory dances for returned soldiers had been held. Certain Ghost dance songs were sung in the dancing which took place at intervals during the game.

In former times this game was played only by men and the objects hidden were short sticks, but at the present time both men and women take part in the game, hiding small balls, slightly larger than bullets. The players are divided into two opposing sides which take turn in hiding the balls. The man holding the balls moves his hands above his head, puts them behind his back, and does everything possible to mystify and confuse his opponent, while the songs grow more excited as the moment for making the guess approaches. The balls are hidden by players of one side until the opponents have made five correct guesses in succession. Eight "guessing songs" used at games attended by the writer were later recorded by Horse Chief, but are not included in the present series.

This song was said to have come down from the time when only men played the hand game. The rhythm of the melody suggests the physical movements of the players and their swaying from side to side. The song was recorded by Effie Blain
Hand Game Song Concerning A Little Boy Effie Blain In explanation of this song it was said that long ago, when the Pawnee "used to go traveling," they stopped at night to rest and often played the hand game. Among them was a little boy, too young to play, who loved to watch the game. He was so little that he wore no clothing. As soon as night came this little boy ran to get wood and made a big fire so that everyone would come and play the hand game. He did not even want to eat he was so anxious for them to play. The men made this song about the little boy and sang it as they played the game. The song was recorded by Effie Blain They )the men) are coming,
One boy is running.
The White Fox Wicita Blain SONGS OF THE WOLF SOCIETY 2-songs

It was the custom of the Wolf Society to pound on a tanned buffalo hide, instead of a drum, during their songs. Only two songs of this society were obtained, both being presented.

The first song of this society was said to "go back to the time when the Pawnee lived in Nebraska where the white or silver fox was commonly found." the animal was also designated as a kit fox by James R. Murie. Tradition states that a war party heard a white fox singing this song, which was recorded by Wicita Blain.
Yonder it comes,
The expanse of earth is wide,
My brother the fox spoke and said,
"Behold and see the wideness of the earth
The white foxes know the earth is wide."
It Is Mine, This Country Wide Wicita Blain The second Wolf Society song was said to belong to an old man who lived many years ago. In explanation it was said, "Before the people had horses they traveled on foot and often became tired out from walking." The old man to who this song belonged said, "Tirawa gave us this land to walk upon and he gave us the light. I can see my way, but I am so tired that I can go no farther." According to James R. Murie this song might be sung in reference to any unfortunate circumstance or occurrence. Like the preceding song, it has a compass of two octaves and was recorded by Wicita Blain. Yonder they are coming,
Although strange misfortunes have befallen me,
Yet it is mine, this country wide.
Farewell Song Of A Warrior John Luwak WAR SONGS 4-songs

In the first song of this group a man who is going to war addresses his wife, saying, "When I die, do not cry unless you really loved me; but if you love me, you will cry, and you will not remarry soon after I die." The song was recorded by John Luwak.
Eagle's War Song Effie Blain One of the old warriors of the Pawnee was named Eagle. As a young man he was afraid of the storm and wept when he heard the thunder, but in a dream the thunder spoke to him slowly and said, "Do not be afraid, your father is coming." He heard the thunder sing this song, learned it, and sang it when he went to war. This is an interesting example of the power of a dream in the life of a man. The song was recorded by Effie Blain. Beloved, it is good,
He is saying quietly,
The thunder, it is good.
A Woman Welcomes The Warriors Wicita Blain This song was sung at the scalp dances of the Pawnee. It expresses a woman's pleasure at the return of victorious warriors. The song was recorded by Wicita Blain Hia (a woman's exclamation of surprise)
Now I have seen you.
Song For Returned Pawnee Soldiers John Luwak In World War I the Pawnee Tribe was represented by 40 young men, serving in the United States Army. Many saw hard service at the front, but none were wounded and all except one returned in full health and vigor one died in France, from disease. A Pawnee said, "While the boys were away we prayed for their return. It looks as though our prayers had been answered."

Two dances in honor of the returned soldiers were held on June 6 and 7, 1919, both being attended by the writer. The first was an occasion of general rejoicing to welcome the soldiers, and about 200 Indians were present. The second was more formal and was attended by many white people from the town of Pawnee. Old war songs were sung with new words suited to the occasion. One man had composed words which mentioned airplanes and submarines, these words being sung to an old tune. The shrill, quavering cry with which Indian women express pleasure or approval was heard throughout the afternoon.

Two of the most interesting songs heard at the gatherings for returned soldiers had their origin in two dreams by John Luwak. The melody was the same but the words referred to different dreams. John Luwak, who speaks practically no English, said that his friends translated the accounts of the war and he prayed daily to Tirawa saying, "Help our boys over there, so they will all come back strong, and let me live to see them again." One night, after such a prayer, he had a strange dream. In his dream he saw thousands of white people dancing and heard them sing this song. He had never seen white people as excited as these who were dancing and waving flags. A few days later he heard of the armistice and the scenes of its celebration. These scenes were similar to those which had appeared to him in his dream. The following song, recorded by John Luwak, was connected with his first dream. He related the dream and sang the song at a gathering of the people before the return of the soldiers. The words of the song when sung at the victory dance were connected with events of the war.
Your are coming,
You are the ones for whom I am looking.
Mother's Song For A Dead Baby Effie Blain This song belonged to Curuk'siwa, the first wife of Roaming Chief, who was a close friend of the singer. In comparatively recent times Roaming Chief was the hereditary chief of the Cahui Band of Pawnee, and Ghost dance was sometimes held for him. His first wife had a little girl who died when about 8 months old. Although she had several other children she grieved for this baby and sang this song about it. The song was recorded by Effie Blain. Pawnee
Father Gave Me A Pipe Effie Blain This song belonged to a very old woman name Ciiha'rurees, whose father was a chief. The singers at the drum sometimes started this song so that she could dance. The song was formerly used in a "dance of the chiefs" in which the daughters of chiefs took part. The song was recorded by Effie Blain. Father is good,
He gave me a pipe,
He is good.