The beat of the drum circle thrummed through the body, sounds of shakers and singing filled the air. There were moments of electric beauty and honor as dancers moved about the ceremonial space. Spectators circling the ceremony space couldn't help but tap their toes and watch in awe at the events that unfolded before them. This spellbinding ceremony was the Annual Gourd Dance held by the Granite Mountain Gourd Society to honor the fallen Granite Mountain Hot Shots.
To understand a bit more about the Gourd Dance, let’s go back in time to the legend that originated this ceremony. Long ago, there was a young warrior who got lost on his way back to the village. He was cold, hungry, and thirsty. As he wandered, he heard drumming and following the sound, came upon a scene. A red wolf was singing a song and chanting. The boy stayed hidden from view, but the wolf knew he was there and called the boy down sharing with him food and water. The red wolf told the boy to go home and share the stories with his family and friends. Thus, began the ceremony to honor warriors. In the native tradition, the term warrior does not strictly belong to those who have gone to battle in a war but also honors police, firefighters, and educators.
The first Gourd Dance held for the Prescott Hot Shots began in 2013 within days of the tragic loss. Each year the Gourd Dance is held and each year, something unique happens. In 2013 as the dance was taking place to welcome the fallen nineteen home, it began to rain which is considered a blessing. Just last year, a black bear came into Frontier Village during the time of the Gourd Dance. Authorities attempted to track the bear, but it eluded them and disappeared back into the wilderness that same day.
This year’s ceremony held and sponsored by the Frontier Village Shopping Center, had approximately fifteen male gourd dancers and seven members of the Strictly Southern singers participating in the traditional ceremonial songs and dances. Dancers dressed in dress shirts and pants, some wearing moccasins, others wearing dress shoes. All wore wraps with symbols seen on them including the Gourd Society patch. Dancers held fans made of feathers, some containing feathers from the eagle, as well as shakers made from various materials. Each dance and song lasted twenty minutes with continuous dancing, drumming, and singing.
I was humbled to witness such a wonderful event filled with tradition and was honored to learn about the history of the ceremony. The Granite Mountain Gourd Society also announced the upcoming Prescott Powwow taking place at Watson Lake Park on September 20th. I don't know about you, but I, for one, will be there. An experience like this is not one to miss.