Stickdance

Stickdance

Spring
Observed by the Athabascan Indians of Alaska, Stickdance is a week of ceremonies to grieve for the dead. The ancient ceremony, usually held long after the deaths of those memorialized, is now observed only in two villages on the Yukon River—Kaltag and Nulato.
Each evening of the ceremony, people go to the community hall with traditional foods—moose, salmon, beaver, rabbit, ptarmigan (a kind of grouse)—for a meal called a potlatch . After the meal, the women stand in a circle, swaying and chanting traditional songs for the dead. The hall becomes more crowded each night. On Friday night, as the women dance in a circle, the men carry in a tall spruce tree stripped of branches and wrapped in ribbons. The tree is erected in the center of the room and wolf and fox furs are draped on it. The people then dance around it and chant continuously through the night. In the morning, the men tear the furs and ribbons from the stick and carry it away to the Yukon River, where they break it into pieces and throw the pieces on the river's ice.
On Saturday night, people representing the dead are ritually dressed in special clothes. Somberly, they leave the hall and go to the river where they shake the spirits from their clothing. On their return to the hall, the mood becomes festive; gifts are exchanged and a night of celebration begins. The following morning the people who have represented the dead walk through the village shaking hands with people, sharing food and drink, and saying farewell.
Stickdance is held at irregular intervals, since it takes months or longer to prepare for it. People must choose those who will represent the dead being honored and make their clothes, and they must also save up to buy gifts.
The Athabascans, who may have descended from bands who crossed from Asia, have lived in Alaska longer than the Eskimos have and speak a language that is in the same family as that spoken by Navajos and Apaches.
SOURCES:
EncyNatAmerRel-2001, p. 286
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