Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In Blackfoot mythology there is also a supernatural world, dominated above the natural world by the sun, and below by the beaver. The sun is sometimes personified by the part human Napi, or Old Man. The area in which the Blackfoot lived was created by Old Man exploring the area on his way north. (Nettl, 1989)
The numbers four, the cardinal directs, and seven, the six principle points and center, are important in Blackfoot mythology. Communication occurs between the supernatural world and Blackfoot through visions of guardian spirits, during which useful songs and ceremonies may be imparted, such as that of medicine bundles. Ceremonies include the Sun Dance, called Medicine Lodge by the Blackfoot in English. Napi also gave the Blackfoot visions, and by implication Blackfoot music: "Now, if you are overcome, you may go and sleep, and get power. Something will come to you in your dream, that will help you. Whatever these animals tell you to do, you must obey them....Whatever animal answers your prayer, you must listen to him." (Nettl, 1989)
The Sta-au are a type of ghost, specifically the ghost of cruel men and women.
The Buffalo Dance
One of the primary sources of food and other needs was the American Bison. The typical hunting method was drive a herd off a cliff and butcher them after they died at the bottom of the cliff. Similar methods were used in ancient Europe.
The night before, the shaman ceremonially smokes tobacco and prays to the sun. His wives are not allowed to leave their home, nor even look outside, until he returns; they were to pray to the sun and continually burn sweet grass . Fasting and dressed in a bison headdress, the shaman led a group of people at the head of a V formation. He attracted the herd's attention and brought them near the cliff; they were then scared by other men hiding behind them, who waved their robes and shouted. The bison ran off the cliff and died at the rocks below.
According to legend, at one point the bison refused to go over the cliff. A woman walking underneath the cliff saw a herd right on the edge and pledged to marry one which jumped down. One did so and survived, turning into many dead buffalo at the bottom of the cliff. The woman's people ate the meat and the young woman left with the buffalo. Her father went in search of her. When he stopped to rest, he told a magpie to search for his daughter and tell her where he was. The magpie found the woman and told her where her father was located. The woman met her father but refused to go home, frightened that the bison would kill her and her father; she said to wait until they were all asleep and would not miss her for some time. When she returned to the bison, her husband smelled another person and, gathering his herd, found the father and trampled him to death. The woman cried and her husband said that if she could bring her father back to life, they could both return to their tribe. The woman asked the magpie to find a piece of her father's body; he found a piece of his spine. The woman covered the bone with her robe and sang a song. She was successful and her father was reincarnated. Impressed, the woman's husband taught them a dance which would attract the bison and ensure success in the hunt and which would restore the dead bison to life, just as the woman had restored her father to life. The father and daughter returned to their tribe and taught a small group of men, eventually known as I-kun-uh'-kah-tsi ("all compatriots"), the dances.
The Blackfoot also dance the Grass Dance , which they absorbed from the Assiniboin in the 1890s. (Nettl, 1989, p.106)
- Nettl, Bruno (1989). Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives. Ohio: The Kent State University Press. ISBN 0873383702
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