Ghost dance – a Native American tale of sorrow


By Allen Hamrick

The cool evening settles to reveal the soft white winter clouds.  The gray smoke of the night fires drifts lazily about the village, staying close to the ground, signifying an approaching winter storm.  The fires are still warm and the embers glimmer red as they burn.  Wind gusts from the north, continuing to howl an acrimonious harmony, piercing the ears of its listeners.  Today is a new day; the wintry bleakness matters little to those who are to dance.  They are shielded from the callous chill with the intensity of their determination which surpasses any regard for the conditions around them.  It is a new day, a new day to dance.

They once were and now are once upon a time.

Slowly the dance evolves; a buffalo skin drum begins to sing its song with a low defined beat, a call to those who are to dance with the ghosts.  The fires are given new life with fresh kindling, a vehement passion fills the air as the dance begins, and feet tread heavily on the frozen ground.  Wisps of the evening’s snowfall puff into the air with each step.  Arms are lifted into the air as the circle moves gradually from right to left, reaching out to those who have already returned to the dust and have become part of the circle of chiefs in the land of mists.

The drum renews the energy of the dance with its steady heart beat, and songs are sung in remembrance of a time when they ran as the deer on the mountains. The dance becomes progressively faster.  Darker, more threatening clouds loom on the horizon now, increasing the pace of the snowfall. Cries of a dialect understood only by those within the circle resound in the wind as it carries them to the four corners of the earth.  The dancing continues.  Snow covers the dancers with a fresh layer, and their breathing turns to a white mist with each chant as sweat trickles down their faces.  The cold cannot penetrate passion; they are warm with spirit and compassion for a time long gone, but, for a moment, these dreams can be realized once again.

Watchers, scared of the unknown, are now warmed with the idea of reprisal.  A sense of tranquility and ambiance can be experienced in this moment; the wind carries the drum beat and songs across the prairie, pronouncing a song of remembrance of a time when they were free.   Through hatred and foreboding and with blue shielded arms holding high their rifles in deadly salute, the drum beats stop.  Voices that once echoed in the wind with song are now silent and feet are motionless to the music – the dance has concluded in sorrowful silence.