Crown Dance Sunrise Dance

White Mountain Apaches


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(Sunrise Ceremony)

On the White Mountain Apache Reservation, there exist 4 different versions of NA'II'EES, the girl's puberty ceremony. After a girl's first menstruation, the girl is massaged and prayed for by an elder female relative. Then, the girl's family decides which ceremony will be sponsored, which medicine man to choose, and whom to ask to be her godparents and cosponsors of the ceremony.

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mother and daughter

The family can choose between 16, 32 or 64 song contracts. There are two versions of the 64 song contract, the White Mountain and the San Carlos version, differing mainly in the Painting Ceremony on Sunday. It takes several months before everything is prepared for the ceremony.


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During the week before the ceremony, two food exchanges take place that involve the girl's family and her godparents family. On Friday afternoon, the Dressing Ceremony takes place: the girl is dressed up by her godmother with an eagle feather, an abalone shell, and a buckskin dress.


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The eagle feather symbolizes a long, healthy life, and the abalone shell pendant on her forehead is the sign of Changing Woman and represents the girl's purity. Then, the medicine man hands the sacred cane to the girl. During the ceremony, the girl takes on the role of Changing Woman.


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From the beginning of the ceremony to its ending, the girl is not allowed to take a bath/shower, to scratch her skin with her hands and; therefore, has to use a scratching stick, and she has to drink through a yellow reed only. In the course of the ceremony, the girl recapitulates the four Apache life objectives through symbolic action: physical strength, good disposition, prosperity; and a sound, healthy, uncrippled old age.


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On Friday evening, social dances take place. The Sunrise Dance starts on Saturday morning. In the evening, the GAAN appear. On Sunday, the Painting Ceremony takes place: in the White Mountain Apache version, the girl is painted by her godfather; in the San Carlos Apache version, she is painted by the GAAN.


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basket used in Sunrise dance

In the afternoon, the crowns and the swords of the GAAN are blessed in the girl's camp and another food exchange takes place. On Monday morning, the girl is "undressed".

NOHWIKE' BAGOWA (House of Our Footprints) - White Mountain Apache Culture Center (Ft. Apache, AZ), January 1998
Apache Consultants: Gwendolyn Gloshay, Hedy Kelewood, Beverly T. Malone, Edgar Perry, Ann Skidmore, Karen Way


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doll's cradle board

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Crown Dance Sunrise Dance

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