Program 104: Tribal Rhythms

Women’s Honor Song

Nico Wind

Nico Wind

with Nico Wind

Music
Tzo’kam
Women’s Honor Song
Heartbeat, vol. 2: More Voices of First Nations Women
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

 

Arlie Neskahi:
Here’s Nico Wind with Tribal Rhythms.

Nico Wind:
Helmina Makes Him First, a respected Lakota Sioux elder, will always remember the honor ceremony given for her by a friend at a gathering. It took place in Portland, Oregon not long ago. After reflections were shared about Helmina’s role in her community, she was lovingly wrapped with the gift of a Pendleton blanket. The people present stood respectfully around the circle they had formed as Helmina danced within it, the powerful sounds of the drum group and singers guiding her steps.

If Helmina had been at home at Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota, the community’s drum group would have sung a special women’s honor song that inserted her name in the appropriate place.

After an announcement describing her achievements, almost always with her family standing behind her, Helmina would dance around the circle, followed by everyone present. At the end of the song, the people would shake her hand.

Music:
Crying Women Singers
Honor Song
Our Way of Life
Canyon Records

Honor dances are often followed by a giveaway, a ritual of gift giving. Pendleton blankets, star quilts, shawls or beadwork are among the treasures that may be exchanged.

Usually honor dances include a feast. Everyone enjoys the food prepared by hard-working cooks who, along with the drum group and others, are often honored with a song before the end of the event.

Music:
Crying Women Singers
Singers’ Honor Song
Heartbeat, vol. 2: More Voices of First Nations Women
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Every day, women’s honor songs are performed by drum groups around the country. Each tribe has its own special honor songs for women, or a song may be created by the drum group as a gift for honorees. The songs may be performed at large and small powwows, at special ceremonials, or at a simple gathering held at the home of a family member. Honor songs celebrate the uniqueness of each person and their connection to community.

Ladonna Brave Bull Allard, a Lakota historian for Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, likes to talk about the honor songs for women. Honor songs are a central part of her culture. She remembered a recent event at the Prairie Knights Casino where the drum group, “Lakota Thunder” sang an honor song for six elders in their 90’s. It might have been a song that was specifically created to honor elderly women, maybe one written hundreds of years ago. The honor ceremony helped to solidify a sense of connection to and appreciation for the elders of the community.

Music:
Sharon Burch

Honor songs are performed for every conceivable event in a person’s life: the naming of a newborn, an adoption ceremony, or a coming of age ceremony for a young woman. Winning sports teams, students and teachers who have achieved special awards in school, and graduates may receive an honor song. There are honor songs connected to celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries and memorials.

Music:
Porcupine Singers
Birthday Song
Traditional Lakota Songs
Canyon Records

When a youngster is ready to leave her baby name, there is a special naming ceremony where she is honored with a song that contains her new name. It is her song that nobody else can sing without permission.

Another special time in a young Lakota girl’s life is when she is given the great honor of carrying the Sacred Pipe, or when she is chosen as Sundance maiden and blesses the cottonwood used in the Sundance ceremony. The special honor song that she receives for this event stays with her for the rest of her life.

Music
Radmilla Cody
Honor Song for a Child/Young Girl
Seed of Life
Canyon Records

The tradition of honoring people has a role in Native cultures that goes beyond just that of recognition. Of course, it makes a person feel good to know that others are proud of him or her. But that’s only a portion of it, according to Ladonna. Honor songs strengthen tribal bonds and bring people into the circle of tribal life.

Music
Sissy Goodhouse
Children’s Song
Third Circle

Ladonna said, “The song is only part of it. It makes you feel good for people to come and say ‘We’re really proud of you.’” But songs may also be sung to honor people whose greatest contributions may have been to themselves. Women who are dealing with addictions are one example.

Music
Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing
All My Relations [Four Cousin Songs] Orenda
Silver Wave

Your people are taking you into the circle. It builds your self esteem when you are in the center like that and the other people get up and shake your hand and say, “We’re behind you and we support you for the rest of your life. No matter what you do in your life, you’re never alone. There are always people around you who are proud of you.”

In the women’s sweat lodge ceremonies, Ladonna explained, they do all the same songs as the men do except for two: one is to honor elderly women and the other is to honor all women.

Music:
Sissy Goodhouse
The Women’s Song
The Third Circle
Makoche

The words entreat the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka: “Have pity on us. We are the center of the nation. We need your strength. We need your wisdom. Help us.”

Sissy Goodhouse’s CD, called the Third Circle, features a number of women’s honor songs, including a women’s song that pays respect to Lakota women and their contributions in the strengthening of the Lakota world.

Sissy asserts that the music of her people is central to everything they do in life. “It’s one of the reasons you’ll always see women taking their babies to the drum at powwow,” she explained. “It makes little ones listen to the music so they have the drum’s heartbeat in them. As they grow it is something they always go back to and remember. The words to the songs may change, but the drum and the heartbeat become part of who they are.”

Music
Young Grey Horse Society
Sharp and Bear Medicine Championship Honor Song
Generations
Canyon Records

Helmina Makes Him First recalled feeling really happy about being honored. Her only regret was that her family was not present at the time. Honor songs are meant to solidify families and communities, strengthening their spiritual qualities and acknowledging the importance and unique value of each individual. Listening to women’s honor songs can benefit all people everywhere, for their simple lessons affirm the cherishing and loving of all human beings.

Women’s honor songs are about giving and receiving, supporting and acknowledging achievements. They nurture and strengthen the circle of life.

Neskahi:
Tribal Rhythms is produced by our Music Director, Nico Wind and written by Anne Morin, with special thanks to Brian Freeman.