SanCarlos » Apache Sunrise Dance
APACHE CEREMONY CELEBRATES WOMEN
The San Carlos tradition of holding Sunrise Dances is unique to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
The Sunrise Dance Ceremony is a four day rite-of-transition for young Apache girls which typically takes place from March through October. The "na'ii'ees(preparing her, or getting her ready) is an ancient practice, unique to Apaches which surrounds the myth of the Changing Womany who is a powerful figure in Apache culture and is believed to grant longevity. The power of Changing Woman is transferred to the pubescent girl through songs sung by the Diiyin (one who has power).
A medicine man is joined by other tribal members in singing a series of songs, up to 32 which are believed to have first been sung by Changing Woman.
These songs are collectively known as gohzhoosih-or songs of beauty and goodness. it is believed that the power resides in the girl for four days after the ceremony and during this period she is able to cure the sick and bring rain.
In the early 1900's the US government banned Native American Spirtual practices and rituals, and as a result, the Sunrise Ceremony was considered an illegal act. Although the practice diminished, it continued throughout the 1900's albeit secretly.
Today, the practice is strongly entrenched into Apache life and dances are held almost every weekend throughout the Spring. it has been said that the practice "teaches Apache values of language, culture, food and love, prayers, respect, wisdom, cooperations, appreciation and endurance."
The dance itself requires months of planning, and with an average cost of a dance ranging from $5000 to $80000 it is no small feat for a family to host a dance for their daughter.
A Sunrise Dance typically begins on Friday afternoon with the first of many gift exchanges, and proceeds through Sunday when the Crown dancers paint the girl.
it is an act of purification and serves to wash away any bad history and clear the path ahead for future blessings.
Note: Witnessing a Sunrise Dance is a unique and powerful experience and one which provides a glimpse into the rich culture of the San Carlos Apaches. For "outsiders" it requires an inviation from a family or tribal member to attend. but as their guest, you are then enfolded into the family of dancers and fed, entertained and hosted as a member. (Photos and Text from LC Gross:"Apache Ceremony" GMT April 2006)