July 27, 2012

Apaches perform no-rain dance

Tribe dance for Games sunshineLondon has experienced one of its wettest summers to date, and with just hours to go until the biggest sporting event in the world, the 2012 London Olympics, British Airways is hoping to encourage the recent bout of clear weather to continue, by flying in an Apache tribe to perform a sacred dance.

The Native American ‘Yellow Bird Indian Dancers’ from Arizona, USA performed their traditional dance in London’s Butler’s Wharf on Thursday.

Chief Ken Duncan, from Yellow Bird Indian Dancers, said: “We are honoured to be asked for our support by the people of London.

Over the past week I have begun daily prayers and requests to the Creator, asking him to speak with the rain on our behalf. I have visited with and asked my spiritual elders from various tribes to pray with me. Many will be with me in spirit as I approach the rain, and the prayers will continue until I return to Arizona.

“I am asking the rain to watch from afar and see the many people from the many lands come together and play as one.”

To carry on the spirit of keeping the good weather, the tribe spent the morning training the BA Lawn Captains, who will be entertaining crowds at British Airways Park Live, so that they can perform it if needed.
Comment:  So many layers here!

Some background on Yellow Bird Productions:International renowned "Yellow Bird Productions" under the direction of Ken Duncan, member of the Apache Tribe specialize in presentations that celebrate the unique spirit of the American Indian.

Yellow Bird is a professional family dance compay based in Phoenix, Arizona. They include the current 2011 World Champion Hoop Dancer and former "Miss Indian World."
For starters, it's not clear that the Yellow Bird Indian Dancers performed a rain dance or a no-rain dance. It seems as though they performed the same "traditional dance" they always perform. From photos, we can tell this involves hoops, which aren't involved in rain-related ceremonies.

Nor is it clear that the dancers are Apache, much less an "Apache tribe." According to its website, Yellow Bird has "champion Hoop Dancers, Great Plains pow wow dancers and Apache dancers." So only some of its dancers are Apache.

But let's assume this was an Apache group, as the press implied.

The Apache may consider their traditional dance, whatever it is, a prayer to the Creator. It seems "Chief Ken Duncan" added a prayer to keep the rain away. If I'm right, the dance was a generalized prayer to God with a specific prayer voiced separately. The dance itself wasn't about rain; it was transformed into a "no-rain dance" by the circumstances.

As another note, you generally don't call the head of a dance troupe "Chief." But perhaps that was the British press's doing, not Yellow Bird's.

Praying for money?

Someone on Facebook said her first response to this dance was that it perpetuates stereotypes. Her second response was that it's sad to see Natives praying for money. Both are good points.

Does Yellow Bird Productions really have a dance to keep the rain away? Or did they just say that to get a free trip to London? Couldn't Duncan have prayed for sunshine without the trip and the dance? Do Apache elders really have nothing better to do than help an athletic competition keep dry? What about all the war, poverty, hunger, and disease in the world?

The Olympics is a billion-dollar athletic competition, I'm sure. Suppose rain would cost the Olympics 1% of its profits, or $10 million. If the "no-rain dance" works, will the Olympics give that 1% to indigenous causes? If the Indians earned it, why not?

We don't know if Yellow Bird was paid, but they got a free trip, at least. If that isn't praying for money, it's close. Couldn't the dancers have prayed and danced back in Arizona? Was their presence in London really necessary? Or was it all a show--to prove the Brits weren't taking the possibility of rain lightly?

Indians are weather wizards?

The dance certainly perpetuated the idea that Indians have some supernatural power over rain. Did the dancers think of saying, "No, we don't dance to bring rain or to keep it away. That's a common myth. Even the Pueblo Indians don't do that, and we're Apache, not Pueblo."

Or did they say to themselves, "Free trip! Tell the Olympics we'll do whatever they want! Take our usual hoop dance, slap a prayer on it, and voilá...it becomes a pseudo-magical anti-rain dance! Pack your bags, everyone!"

I don't know, but I suspect the latter. If so, I'd say it's a stereotypical abuse of traditional Native culture.

The typical rebuttal would be: "Why take this dance so seriously? Whether it works or not, it's just a bit of entertainment." If that's the case, why not dress up some white men as Plains Indians and have them make up a dance? If the no-rain dance isn't a legitimate part of an actual Native culture, who cares who does it?

In other words, if the dance has no cultural connection to rain, having real Indians perform it doesn't make it right. All it does is legitimize the stereotypical belief that Indians can control the rain.

For more on rain dances, see Atheists Criticize Rain-Dance Wish and No Such Thing as Rain Dances.


Anonymous said...

I'd say it might be irony. Indians are generally good at irony, judging by the Zapatistas.

Britons are also good at irony, judging by every British comedy ever.

Rob said...

Maybe, but no one reported it that way. Everyone reported it as if it were a serious cultural endeavor. That means the naive public took it that way, because most people can't sense irony in these things.

Rob said...

The dancers basically admitted the dance was a joke. Alas, they didn't do anything to dispel the stereotype they contributed to: that Indians can control the weather.


Phoenix-based dancers return from London Olympics

"The anti-rain dance request had my wife and I laughing," he continued, "but then we remembered we were cultural teachers and dealt with such questions in our many treks throughout the world."