The Cherokee Stomp Dance
Creating the Sacred Fire
The fire is very sacred to traditional Cherokee. Built at the bottom of a pit below the ground, it burns constantly. The traditional Cherokee believe that soon after the creation of the Cherokee people, the creator left his throne in Heaven to visit earth. He chose four strong, healthy, good and true Cherokee women who believed in the creator with all their hearts. Each were given a name, Red Blue Black and Yellow and a wooden stick that was very straight. They were then told to place one end of the stick on a surface that would not burn and place the other end of the stick in their hands. They were instructed to give the sticks a circular, rotating motion, which would magically cause the material to burn.
When all sticks were burning, they were to go to the center of the cross where, all four would start one single fire. This fire would burn for all time and be the Sacred Fire. The Sacred Fire has been held by the Cherokee since that time. It is kept alive by the Chief, Assistant Chief, Firekeeper and Assistant Firekeepers of the ground.
Today, although some tribal members have chosen to worship through other religios denominations (Indian Baptist, Methodist, etc.), many continue to worship at regular Stomp Dances and are members of one of the several grounds in Cherokee Nation. Each ground has its own unique protocol and will vary but the general worship is similar with the same intention.
Stickball is a very rough game that is not only played by the Cherokee but also many other southeastern Woodland tribes such as Muscogee (Creek), Semilnole and others. The game is similar to the modern game of LaCrosse, using ball sticks that are made from hickory. A small ball made from deer hide and hair is tossed into the air by the Medicine Man. The male players use a pair of the sticks and females use their bare hands. In early times, only the men with the greatest athletic ability played the game. The game was often times played to settle disputes, and the conjurer for each team often became as important to the team as the players themselves.
When the ball strikes a wooden fish on the top of a pole approximately 25 feet in height, seven points are scored and two points are awarded each time the ball strikes the pole. In earlier years, a dance would be held before the game. The participants of the game were in the dance, along with 7 women, each woman representing one of the 7 clans. The conjuror placed black beads on a large flat rock, which represented the opposing team. Throughout the dance, the women would step on the black beads.
Today, Stickball is an important part of the days activities at ceremonial Stomp Grounds and it is necessary to play before the Stomp Dance can begin. There are also intertribal teams made up of players from Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Yuchi, Natchez, and other area communities. It is also a recreational sport at other times between community teams.
The Stomp Dance
The Stomp Dance is the traditional religious dance of the Cherokee and is held at a sacred dance site. The sacred fire is built at dawn by the Firekeeper and his Assistants and is kept burning constantly. Seven arbors are located around the large fire and dance area. Made from large poles with brush for the roof, each arbor is reserved for one each of the seven clans. Seats are placed between the arbors for visitors. Each clan must be represented before the dance can begin.
Women prepare a meal for the day consisting of traditional and modern foods ranging from cornbread, brown beans and chicken to all kinds of pies, cakes and other delicious treats. A-ne-jo-di (stickball) is played in the afternoon.
At sundown, the Chief brings out the traditional pipe and fills it with tobacco. He then lights the pipe with coals from the Sacred Fire and takes seven puffs. The pipe is then passed to the Medicine Man from each clan, beginning with the Aniwaya (Wolf) Clan and each Medicine Man takes seven puffs. The Chief, Medicine Men and elders hold a meeting and then call for the first dance. The first dance is by invitation, tribal elders, Medicine Men and clan heads.
All the members visit and dance until sunrise. Each individual group has its own schedule for the dances, which is a Holy place to worship God. There are two major ceremonies held at the Redbird Smith Ground. One is to commemorate the birth of Redbird Smith and the other is to show appreciation to the Creator for a bountiful harvest.
Stomp Dance participants include a leaders, assistants and one or more female shell shakers who wear leg rattles made from turtle shells and pebbles. Some wear shakers made from small milk cans. The shakers provide rythmic accompaniment while dancing around the fire. The dance can not begin without the shell shakers.
In the Stomp Dances of southeastern Indian cultures, the woman plays a very important role. The shell shaker is the woman partner of the dance singer or leader. The woman enters the dance behind the lead singer and produces music from the rattling sounds made by shuffling her feet. Legend has it that because of the natural designs on the turtle shell that look like women dancing, the turtle says "Let women dance".
A series of wampum belts serve to record and ‘read' the traditional beliefs and stories. Made of wampum beads sewn together with a form of seaweed from old Mexico, the belts are very old. The wampum belts are shown only on very sacred occasions. The history of the belts relate that many years ago, the tribe was preparing to go to war. The medicine men foresaw which would survive, and cut the original wampum belt into seven pieces. After the war, the belts were scattered, and the last one was recovered by Redbird Smith in the very early 1900s.
2007 Choctaw Indian FairClick thumbnail to view full-size
Choctaw Indian Fair in Mississippi
This first video was taken at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Philadelphia (also known as Choctaw) Mississippi. I had the privilege of attending one of these fairs several years ago and there are no words to describe the beauty that is to behold there. The Indian crafts that are available are amazing and the dances, entertainment and the Stickball games are well worth the effort to attend!
The slideshow to the right is a collection of pictures from the 2007 fair. The pictures depict only a few events you will see there. Just click the control button to begin the slideshow and pause any time you like!
If you ever have a chance to travel to Mississippi, it would be well worth your planning time to attend the Choctaw Indian Fair. They dress in full attire and it is like stepping into a whole different world the minute you enter! In the video, you will see contact information and the end of the video if you are interested in checking the schedule. I am planning to check it out myself in hopes of planning the trip south to make it this year if at all possible. If I do, I will be sure to take lots of pictures and maybe some video!
The last two videos are part 1 and 2 of the Native American Indian Segment Utah Olympics and they are both awesome. The second part contains the Stomp Dance and they are in full costumes!