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Feel the Rhythm: The I'n-Lon-Schka Ceremonial Dance


Becky and I were on a quest to learn all about Osage Indians and their culture, so we headed to Pawhuska, Oklahoma. We trailed into town expecting to see Osage culture at its finest and shockingly we discovered a ghost town. All we found were deserted buildings and empty streets. Why was the town so dead on a weekend night? It was definitely a mystery. Becky and I, much dismayed, decided to head out of town. On our way out, we stopped at a gas station and ran across a local paper that proved to be a turning point in our evening. The headline story caught our eye as it declared that tribal dances were being held that weekend on the outskirts of town. Dancing? Well, that sounded a lot more fun than staring at dark buildings all night long. We got directions, put our dancing shoes on and were on our way!

The dances were being held in a large, rectangular, open-walled "arbor" with packed bleachers on all four sides. And, voila! we found all the missing people from Pawhuska. It was no wonder there were so many people there -- this was the I'n-Lon- Schka, an Osage ceremonial dance that is held only once a year. And we were lucky enough to be there!

I'n-Lon-Schka means "playground of the eldest son," and is a chance for the first-born son of each family to participate in a very important religious and cultural ceremony. Eldest children are considered to be special blessings, something the younger kids come to accept.

The drum is the center; both literally and figuratively, as it is not only placed in the middle of the arbor, but is also viewed as a sacred instrument in the ceremony. An eldest son is chosen to be the drumkeeper for a year, with his main duties being to protect and care for the drum. As soon as the music started, the eldest sons sitting on the perimeter of the arbor got up and started dancing around the drum circle. The men were all in traditional dress, which included otter hides and an array of colorful beadwork and ribbonwork crafted by the women. As they danced, the sounds of the drum along with the movements of the men created an amazing rhythm that made the entire place come alive with the beat. Becky and I were enthralled, allowing ourselves to be immersed in the entire experience.

In the I'n-Lon-Schka, the emphasis is supposed to be on the total package -- the music, the dance, the ceremony, and the dress -- rather than on any one specific element. For this reason, the men's dancing is a ceremonial style that involves some bending down but is not as elaborate as the fancy dancing that occurs at pow wows. The dance steps are passed down the generations through observation so that these men are quite literally following in their fathers' footsteps!

The I'n-Lon-Schka is thus one of the few authentic ceremonial dances remaining in the U.S.

Not only did this event draw people from all over the state, but I am also aware of a couple of trekkers who had come from California (that's Becky and me, for those of you keeping track) and had been completely drawn in by the experience. We may have been inadvertent visitors, but I feel so blessed that we were able to encounter this important ceremony and be a part of the rich Osage tradition.

P.S. Since the Irquote n-Lon-Schka is such a spiritual event, taking pictures or video is strictly prohibited. We are sorry that we cannot show you this amazing ceremony, but we of course needed to respect the wishes and traditions of the tribe.


Please email me at: neda@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Daphne - The mysterious ways of the secretive Publeos
Nick - Getting in touch with the Native American past through the heart of a woman
Team - The first inhabitants of North America: A picture of a proud and strong people