Pow Wow Terminology
Powwows are open to everyone who wants to attend, learn, and enjoy the diverse expressions of Indigenous art, music, and dance. Here are some common terms and their meanings that you may encounter at a powwow:
Powwow: The word powwow comes from the Narragansett word powwaw, meaning “spiritual leader”. It was originally used to describe a healing ceremony, but later it was applied to any gathering of Native people for social or cultural purposes.
Grand Entry: This is the opening ceremony of a powwow, where all the dancers enter the arena in a specific order, led by the flag bearers, veterans, elders, royalty, and head staff. The grand entry is accompanied by an honor song sung by the host drum.
Drum: The drum is the heartbeat of the powwow. It is a large, round instrument made of wood and animal hide that is played by a group of singers who sit around it in a circle. The drum represents the voice of the Creator and the ancestors.
Singers: The singers are the musicians who provide the songs for the dancers. They usually belong to a drum group that has a name and a distinctive style. The singers must know many different types of songs for different occasions and categories of dance.
Dancers: The dancers are the participants who showcase their skills, creativity, and regalia in various dance styles. Each dancer has a personal expression and interpretation of the music and the meaning behind their dance. Dancers can compete for prizes or dance just for fun and to honor their ancestors.
Regalia: The regalia is the term used to describe the clothing and accessories worn by the dancers. It is not a costume, but a reflection of the dancer’s identity, heritage, and spirit, often handed down from generation to generation. Regalia can include feathers, beads, quills, bells, fringes, ribbons, and other items that add color, sound, and movement to the dance.
Dance Categories: There are many different dance categories at a powwow, each with its own history, rules, and style.
You can attend a powwow near you and experience it for yourself!
Music for pow-wow dance competitions and other activities is provided by a “Drum,” which is a closely knit group of singers who play a large, specially designed drum and sing traditional songs. They are also often called a Drum Group.
Pow Wow participants include dancers and drums from tribes throughout the United States and Canada, who participate in the hundreds of pow wows and Native American celebrations each year. They come from every state in the Union and every province of Canada. At times, even participants from the Native tribes of South America participate.
Drums can come from a variety of sources. Some are handed down in a family; others are donated to a drum group. Older drums are made of deer, elk or horse hides, but contemporary bass drums can be purchased or renovated, and even blessed, just as are the older drums.