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do Songs and Dances
by Phil Cross
 
 
 
 

Caddo Indians own a beautiful body of music and dance that is at the core of our tribe’s culture. Many of our songs and dances are part of a rich legacy that was carried from our ancient homelands and a number of them may still be performed as they were when Hernando de Soto’s expeditionary force met Caddo groups in 1542.

 

These songs are at the center of many of our gatherings, uniting old and young, men and women, healthy and infirm, and give us a strong and direct link to the past. Moving along the treacherous trails over the years as we were disinherited from our homelands and harried and chased from one area to another, our ancestors steadfastly clung to these songs and dances in spite of the avalanche of forces that rained on us to give up our land and culture. Finally alighting in Indian Territory in the mid 1800’s, these songs and dances sprang anew in family and clan dance grounds scattered throughout the WCD reservation in western Oklahoma.

 

Today our songs and dances are probably performed less frequently than in the past, but are done so no less passionately and enthusiastically. While the songs listed here are not specifically religious in nature (except those sung in ghost dance or other special ceremonies), many Caddo people in these celebrations participate in many of the songs and dances in a prayerful and spiritual manner. And while many of the songs/dances performed now are by and large social in nature, the various animal or other names that they carry and the words that are expressed in them no doubt were in former times a recognition of and thankfulness for the bountiful natural resources provided by our creator.

 

The various separate clans and groups that finally made up the Caddo over time contributed to the songs that we inherited. Many of them have words that are of the Caddo language but are of a specific group or clan that can no longer be interpreted. An example of the scattered dialect/language sources are the songs within one of our ceremonial dances, the turkey dance. The over 50 songs that are included in this dance have words from various dialects and the meaning of many of them have been lost over time. View the Caddo

Turkey Dance here.

Intro Turkey Dance.wmv

Part 1 Turkey Dance.wmv

Part 2 Turkey Dance.wmv

Part 3 Turkey Dance.wmv

Part 4 Turkey Dance.wmv

Part 4 Final Turkey Dance.wmv

 

 

 

Old Caddo Drum on display at the Caddo Nation's Heritage Museum

Dimensions of drum: Approximately 20 inches diameter, 8 inches depth.

 

Early drums were often hand drums, sometimes filled with water. Drummers in former times sat on the ground during performances. The light beat drumming allows drums to be used for a lifetime and many Caddo drummers have drumsticks that they have used all their days. Many of those sticks are of a simple wooden shaft with soft buckskin-wrapped head and are in contrast to the modern carbon composite shafts meant for the hard, heavy pounding used by inter-tribal powwow drummers.

 

 

      

 

Drummers at Murrow Dance Ground 1938

Courtesy University of Oklahoma Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

 

After first witnessing Caddo dances, many people comment on the generally gentle nature of the songs and dances. Many of them are social dances where couples, trios, or groups of men and women join hands or link arms while performing the dance. It is said by Caddo elders that the drumbeat for our songs accompanies the singing and should complement the singing. Drummers strike the drum lightly with an occasional moderately heavy beat to begin a new song, end a song, or to restart a song.

The table below, developed through my research from 2006 through 2009 of Caddo songs from Caddo Nation archives, personal collections, and from the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma, summarizes the type and number of our songs and dances that Caddos commonly perform today. Of those, there are some 200 songs in the 13 categories listed. The Caddo Culture Club of the Caddo Nation meets often to discuss and sing these songs to help preserve them and to pass them on to following generations. The Hasinai Society also has a continuing strong effort to perform and preserve our songs and dances. Many of these songs were discussed and presented in a seminar held by the Caddo Shu Wii Ti Ti youth drum group and hosted by Caddo Nation in June, 2009. Other songs and dances that are rarely or ever performed are also listed.

 

 Table I. Songs and Dances of the Caddo


Dances Commonly Performed Today 

with No. of Songs in the Dance Category
Turkey Dance                 52
Drum Dance                   15
Caddo Round Dance*      30
Fish Dance                     6
Bear Dance                     8
Alligator Dance                1
Duck Dance                    5
Swing Dance                   5
Stirrup Dance                  1
Bell Dance                     10
Woman Dance               30
Cherokee Dance              8
Morning Dance               30
Stomp Dance                 -
Total Commonly Performed 201
  * The "Caddo Round Dance" songs are part of the Drum dance when performed and only in recent times have they been called out separately. Washaneke songs were also performed along with the drum dance.

 

Rarely Performed
Washaneke                 13
Osage                          -
Lady’s Choice               9
Quapaw Dance             7
Corn Dance                 12
Ghost Dance               56
Soldier Dance               -
Riding songs                 -

 

Some of our songs and dances may have been adopted from other tribes as Caddo people associated and lived with other Indian tribes over the centuries. For instance, the stomp dance, for which the number of songs is not known, may not have been an original dance of Caddos in ancient times but may well have been adopted as we associated with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Shawnee and other tribes that performed this dance in the past and still do today. A dance adopted from the Arapahos was the soldier dance, for which the number of songs is unknown. The number of songs in the riding songs, said to be performed only in daylight hours, is also not definite.

 

The ghost dance was given to the Caddos from the Arapaho by a medicine man named Sitting Bull. Caddos sang many of the songs created by Arapahos but also made many songs of their own. Randlett Edmonds, honored Caddo elder who is an encyclopedia of knowledge concerning Caddo songs, sings them on occasion.