The rain dance was an annual ritual performed by many Native American tribes in the United States. The Hopi, Pueblo and Cherokee all had their own versions of it. The dance was most popular in the Southwest, where droughts frequently occurred and risked damage to their crops. Some tribes still perform the dance today as part of their tradition and cultural heritage.
The purpose of the rain dance by Native Americans was to protect the harvest and honor their gods. Many tribes participated in this ritual in late August. The heat of the summer often brought droughts, particularly in the Southwest, and the only relief was rain. Rain was crucial to the livelihoods of agrarian Native Americans. They believed that by performing this intricate dance, the gods would send rain and spare their crops.
The rain dance was unique in the fact that it involved both men and women. They stood in separate lines and created a zigzag pattern as they performed the dance. This pattern was another unique element, since most ritual dances were circle dances. The dance is very intricate and varies by tribe.
Rituals and traditions were something that historic Native Americans took very seriously. Men and women wore clothing specifically designed for the dance. This included very large headdresses with goat hair and feathers. Sewn into the clothing were jewels, including turquoise. The men wore their hair long and often wore colorful masks. The women wore their hair in a wrap. They also wore masks, though not all tribes practiced the mask-wearing tradition.
The rain dance costumes worn by Native Americans included feathers and turquoise, but not only for appearances. The feathers represent the wind, while the turquoise represents the rain. Feathers also represented strength and were a sign of respect and honor. Turquoise also has additional meanings, including an outward sign of wealth. In some tribes, turquoise was a symbol of fertility.
Music played a significant role in rituals and ceremonies for the Native Americans. While instruments varied by tribe, the one thing they had in common was drums, crafted from wood and animal skin. Many stories, myths and religious beliefs passed on through the generations through song, with strong drumbeats heavily featured during the rain dance.
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