Also found in: Dictionary, Wikipedia.
Wovoka(wōvō`kə), c.1858–1932, PaiutePaiute
, two distinct groups of Native North Americans speaking languages belonging to the Shoshonean group of the Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock (see Native American languages).
..... Click the link for more information. , prophet of a messianic religion sometimes called the Ghost DanceGhost Dance,
central ritual of the messianic religion instituted in the late 19th cent. by a Paiute named Wovoka. The religion prophesied the peaceful end of the westward expansion of whites and a return of the land to the Native Americans.
..... Click the link for more information. religion. Also known as Jack Wilson, he was influenced by his father (a mystic) as well as by the Christian family for whom he worked and the ShakerShakers,
popular name for members of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also called the Millennial Church. Members of the movement, who received their name from the trembling produced by religious emotion, were also known as Alethians.
..... Click the link for more information. religion. Wovoka claimed that during an eclipse of the sun (Jan. 1, 1889) he had had a vision in which God had given him a message—the time was coming when the earth would die and come alive again; all whites would disappear from the earth's surface, and all native people, living and dead, would be reunited to live a life free from death, disease, and misery. In order to bring this about, however, the Native Americans would have to follow Wovoka's doctrine of pacifism and practice the sacred dance he taught them. To make his message more convincing, Wovoka proved his supernatural powers by simple tricks, one of which, the supposedly bulletproof ghost shirt, was to play a tragic part in the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded KneeWounded Knee,
creek, rising in SW S.Dak. and flowing NW to the White River; site of the last major battle of the Indian wars. After the death of Sitting Bull, a band of Sioux, led by Big Foot, fled into the badlands, where they were captured by the 7th Cavalry on Dec.
..... Click the link for more information. . Before long his stature grew from Paiute prophet to Messiah, and his religion, which spread rapidly through the western indigenous nations, took on warlike overtones never intended by its founder. The great popularity of Wovoka's ghost dance waned as his prophecy failed to materialize and as his converts were forced onto reservations.
See biography by P. Bailey (1957, repr. 1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
Wovoka(?1858–1932) Paiute visionary, founder of the Ghost Dance religion; born on the Walker River in present-day Nevada. His father, a religious mystic, died when Wovoka was about 14 and he went to work with a white family, the Wilsons; he was known to whites as Jack Wilson. At the end of 1888, he had a vision that drew on a mixture of Indian and Christian religious teachings: he claimed that the Messiah would return Native Americans to a pre-contact existence—and rid the continent of whites—if Indians would live in harmony and in traditional ways and, above all, dance the Ghost Dance. His message spread quickly among the tribes of the Great Plains and the Northwest and they began to adopt the Ghost Dance and regard Wovoka as a great deliverer. The Sioux became especially fervent in their adoption of this cult; their restiveness culminated in the murder of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance cult lost its appeal for most Indians, and during the next decade, Wovoka moderated his message and advised Indians to accommodate themselves to the whites' ways. He spent his final years on a reservation in Nevada.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.