Native Americans perform rain dances as part of a ceremony to encourage the gods to bless their land with rain. The ceremonies are full of dancing, brightly colored outfits and music. Each tribe has its own unique customs, but the Native American rain dance is one of the few traditions that every tribe practices.
Many Native American tribes lived through long dry seasons, or droughts. Droughts are dangerous, as lack of water leads to poor crop growth and dehydration. During droughts, Native American tribes performed rain dances to bless their land, and people, with water. Rain dances were most commonly performed by tribes in the Southwest United States, as that area experienced the longest and most severe droughts.
Rain dances are unlike many other Native American ceremonies, as both men and women partake in the festivities; many ceremonies are performed by men only. The unique thing about a rain dance is that, although it is a deeply religious ceremony, much of it is improvised. Rain dances have a general format, but many details are left to the performer. Men and women form lines or a large circle. While spinning in clockwise circles, each performer begins chanting. Each individual creates his own chant; the chant's repetition, not its wording, is the important part of the custom. The performers repeat their chant over and over while dancing in clockwise circles.
During a rain dance ceremony, men let their hair down. Men wear a mask with a headband that has a turquoise stripe that goes from ear to ear, decorated with blue, yellow and red rectangles. A tuft of horse hair hangs from the back and three white eagle feathers rest on top. Men don tribal body paint and are given special beads sewn into necklaces and bracelets. The men wear a fox skin and a white apron.
Women wear a black dress that covers the entire body, with the exception of the feet. Over the dress, they wear a brightly colored shawl; a black and a white shawl are worn on top of that. The woman's mask is similar to the man's, but the stripe is white and it is not decorated with colored rectangles. The top of the mask features goat hair along with eagle feathers that hang over the woman's face.
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