The Shawnee marriage dance


Last Updated: 5 years

Allan W. Eckert, describing the marriage of Blue Jacket and Wabethe, gives this explanation of the Shawnee marriage dance. The Shawnee marriage dance was held in late evening, while onlookers took seats on the ground in a broad oval before a fire that had been built in the principal clearing of the village.



Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket

Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket

Blue Jacket (c1743 – c1810) was a famous war chief of the Shawnee tribe

Prior to the War of Independence he led victorious battles against General Josiah Harmar and General Arthur St. Clair.

He fought against the American colonists on the side of the British but was then forced to cede Ohio lands to the United States

He joined the Western Confederacy in an attempt to regain Shawnee lands. Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket died in 1810.

The male participants of the Shawnee marriage dance entered in single file, clad in striking costumes of the finest doeskin, which had been sun bleached almost white and well decorated with intricate beadwork, interwoven with feathers, shells, porcupine quills, and shiny brass baubles.

They were barefoot, and those with long hair were wearing it loose to their shoulders and combed to a gloss that reflected the firelight. Their was no ornamentation in their hair, not in the short tufted hair of those who had shaved their heads except for the crest and temple patch.

None wore any kind of necklace, but all wore wide bracelets and upper arm bands of beaten silver as well as strands of painted shells about their ankles, which clinked in a melodious chorus as they walked.

A similar number of barefoot young women then entered the area, slipping at random through the seated guests and taking their places in a line some fifteen feet from the men, facing them, each positioning herself opposite the man of her choice.

They, too, wore the superbly tanned and bleached doeskin, theirs in simple pullover shifts which covered them to their knees and were similarly adorned with beadwork, quills, brass and plumes. Their hair, also well combed, hung down their backs to their waistlines or even longer.

The men generally showed no expression but the women smiled boldly at them, eyes glittering with reflected firelight. Now and then they shook themselves so vigorously that their hair flared wildly and their forms became outlined within their shifts.

Every so often they stamped their feet, sometimes individually but most often in unison so that the clinking of shell anklets became a delightfully tinkling cadenced chorus.

Close to the fire would sit a group of musicans with hand drums and rattles, along with a stringed instrument and a xylophonic arrangement of wooden cylinders depending from a cord.

The musicans would begin a collection of sounds which quickly resolved themselves into a rhythmic pattern that became surprizingly melodious.

An older man sitting within the circle would rise and take a position at one end of the line, his motions timing themselves to the beat of the melody even before reaching his place. He immediately began a monotonous yet strangely compelling chant that would fluctuate to the music.

“Ya ne hoo wa…ya ne hoo wa no…ya ne no hoo wa no…”

The opposing lines of men and women would begin swaying with the weird tune and gradually inch toward one another, until less than a foot separated them, the dancers themselves would then take up the chant in an alternating manner, first the soprano voices of the women, then a response by the deeper voices of the men.

Some repeated the same meaningless words of the chanting, while others put words to the rhythm. Through all of this they would continue their forward motion until now they were separated by only an inch or so, all with their hands clasped behind them.

Wabethe, excited and her dancing eyes locked on Blue Jacket, chanted the first words to pass between them. Leaning forward so that her face was very close to his and her breasts were pressed against his broad chest, she sang softly, melodiously, in time with the chant,

“Psai-wi ne-noth-tu” –Great Warrior.

The whole line leaned the other way and now it was Blue Jacket who pressed himself against her, bending slightly at the waist and feeling the warmth of her breasts against him, the deep rich sounds rolling from his lips,

“U-le-thi e-qui-wa”–Beautiful woman.

Back and forth they continued swaying in this manner, letting only their eyes and the touch of their bodies and the soft chantings convey their meanings.

“K-tch-o-ke-ma,” she murmured. Great Chief.

“Ke-sath-wa a lag-wa,” he replied. You are sun and stars.

“Oui-shi e-shi-que-chi.” Your face is filled with strength.

“U-le-thi oui-thai-ah.” Your hair is lovely.

“Oui-sha t’kar-chi.” Muscular legs.

“U-le-thi ski-she-quih.” Pretty eyes.


Similar utterances were coming from all the other dancers, though none were saying exactly the same thing except when they lapsed back into the same meaningless chant that had originated the Shawnee marriage dance.

The result was a gripping murmur of sensual exchange as each of the dancers in turn whispered compliments in his or her own way.

Wholly lost in themselves, the couples became oblivious to what was going on around them except the underlying musical rhythm and chant, hearing nothing of what other dancers said, not even those beside them, each couple lost in the importance of their own chantings and in the rising heat within them.

The tempo picked up and the swaying quickened, with greater dips and pressures. Tiny beads of perspiration pearled themselves on Wabehte’s upper lip and the firelight glinted in little sparkles from Blue Jacket’s forehead.

“U-le-tha beh-quoi-tah,” she murmured, pushing her stomach firmly against his.
Your belly is handsome.

“Ah-quoi-teti beh-quoi-tah,” he responded as they leaned the other way and he pushed back against her.
And yours is warm.

“Cat-tu-oui ni-i-yah.”Your body is perfect.

“Psai-wi uske-to-ma-ke.” Your breasts are ripe melons.

“Ps’ qui ah-quoi te-ti.” Your blood runs hot.

“Qui-sah ke-te-hi.” Your good heart is full of understanding.

Within just a few beats the tempo of the Shawnee mariage dance slowed, the dips becoming longer lasting and the body pressure stronger and more filled with passion.

For the first time their hands came into play, gripping and holding the one bending backward to prevent a fall, both parties fondling and caressing as they straightened, only to bend the other way.

Now came the crucial moment of the dance; if either Wabethe or Blue Jacket remained silent or simply chanted

“Ouisah meni-e-de-luh” — Good dance

they could part at the end of the dance and each go their own ways, without the embarrassment or perhaps humiliation of a plainly stated rejection.

But at this moment Blue Jacket leaned hard against Wabethe and his words were urgent.

“Ni haw-ku-nah-ga.”

You are my wife.

“Ni-wy-she-an-a,” Wabethe replied softly in his ear, smiling and resting her cheek against his.

And you are my husband.