views updated May 29 2018


POWWOW, a Native American gathering centered around dance. In post–World War II America, "powwow," derived from the Narragansett word for "shaman," became the term for the Plains Indians social dance that spread to all fifty states, Canada, and Europe. Held indoors or outdoors, powwows typically occur as Saturday afternoon or evening single events, three-day weekend events, or week-long annual events. Powwows vary regionally and attract Native Americans, non-Indian hobbyists, and tourists who travel to rural and urban tribal, intertribal, and hobbyist venues to socialize in and around the circular powwow arena. Powwows commemorate Indian culture and entertain.

Powwows originated in Oklahoma in the mid-nineteenth century, when intertribal warfare transformed into visiting and dancing networks that expanded through common experiences in boarding schools, Wild West shows, the peyote religion, and the Ghost Dance. The most popular powwow dance, the war dance, evolved from the War Dance Complex of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (a.d. 800–1500) and was aboriginal to the Caddoan-speaking Pawnees and the Dhegihan Omahas, Poncas, and Osages. From these groups the war dance diffused in the 1860s to the northern Plains tribes, where it became the Omaha dance or grass dance. In the early 1880s, the war dance appeared in western Oklahoma as the Crow dance or the Ohomo dance. By the mid-twentieth century, the Oklahoma or southern Plains variant of the war dance became the straight dance.

Heightened involvement in tourism and contest dancing in the early 1920s compelled western Oklahoma tribes to transform the war dance into the fast-paced, colorful fancy dance, which became the main attraction of powwows. A typical Oklahoma-influenced powwow features several dance styles: gourd dance, round dance, fancy dance, straight dance, traditional dance, two-step dance, women's fancy shawl and jingle dress dances, and perhaps hoop dance or shield dance. Singers in Oklahoma prefer a southern drum, whereas northern Plains singers maintain a northern drum style.


Galloway, Patricia, ed. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Artifacts and Analysis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Kavanaugh, Thomas W. "Powwows." In Encyclopedia of North American Indians. Edited by Frederick E. Hoxie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Powers, William K. War Dance: Plains Indian Musical Performance. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1990.

Benjamin R.Kracht

See alsoGhost Dance ; Indian Dance ; Indian Social Life ; Sun Dance .


views updated May 23 2018

pow·wow / ˈpouˌwou/ • n. a North American Indian ceremony involving feasting, singing, and dancing. ∎  a conference or meeting for discussion, esp. among friends or colleagues.• v. [intr.] inf. hold a powwow; confer: news squads powwowed nervously.ORIGIN: early 17th cent.: from Narragansett powáw ‘magician’ (literally ‘he dreams’).


views updated May 21 2018

powwow priest or medicine man of N. Amer. Indians; magical rites held by them XVII; conference of Indians, hence gen. congress, palaver XIX. of Algonquian orig.
Hence vb. XVII.