Wovoka and the Ghost Dance
with Judy Trejo
Tuhva Tzi Buina (Pinenut Blessing Song)
Circle Dance Songs
Arlie Neskahi :
In the late 1800’s, a Piaute woodcutter taught his people how to be ready for the uncertain days ahead by bringing to them a dance – the Ghost Dance. Here’s the late Judy Trejo.
Originally they had called him Wavoka. He was called the second Christ. He was called the Ghost Dance messiah. He was called Jesus by many Indians, but he never claimed to be any of these things.
A day came when he fell ill. He was very ill, became delirious, reached a comatose state. This was during an eclipse of the sun. He was unconscious. And among our native people way, way back, when somebody was unconscious in a coma, they were always looked upon as visiting the other world. Some people survived. Some people didn’t. Jack Wilson was a survivor.
He came back and he had a message for people.
Ghost Dance Song
Live in studio
He said, “I visited the upper world and I saw Jesus. And he sent me back. And this is what he said: that we must do this dance. It is called a Ghost Dance. We must all dance this. We must not fight amongst each other. We must not make war with the white man. We must always do right. We must not lie. We must live in a good way and happiness is waiting for us. A better life is waiting for us.” And this was pretty much what he preached.
And he said, “We must take care of what we have. There will come a day when we will lose almost everything before we can get it back.”
And people did not understand what he meant. He said, “All race differences will be no more.” He was misinterpreted. This was a time when the plains tribes were having a very, very hard time with the military. And somebody said, “This Piaute man said that the whites are going to be wiped off the face off of the earth.” Music to many ears. They began to send delegates to Nevada to hear what this man had to say.
At one time, Chief Sitting Bull from the Lakota people made a journey to Nevada. And him and Wavoka walked on the shores of Walker Lake and visited. Wavoka, he accepted a gift from Chief Sitting Bull which was a pipe. It was a Sun Dance pipe. And it was a gift to the Piaute people through Wavoka. Sitting Bull gave him the Lakota Sun Dance way for the Piaute people in exchange for his prophesies.
He would teach people how to do this dance and it was not very different from the circle dance that our people have always done. The songs were more about nature.
They were called Ghost Dance songs.
Ghost Dance Song
Live in studio
And he’d say, “Dance! Dance for this many days. Dance for that many days. Be ready.” Our people called it “Titnomegah.” Titno means, “You’re prepared. You’reready.” They would wear their finest clothing. They would pack their most prized possessions and go to these dances. And dance and dance until they would reach such a feverish pitch in their dancings. Many of them had visions.
And this man, all he preached was peace. The military became alarmed at the multitude of people that were coming into Nevada just to come and hear this man speak. And it was something thaat they did not understand. All they heard was Ghost Dance. Something that they did not understand, naturally caused fear.
And they knew they were doomed. “All the Indians are getting together and they are going to wipe all of us off the face of the earth.” Which was one of their many fears. Not too many people stuck around to hear what he really had to say.
His teachings were not about war. They were about peace. Getting along. Stretching the golden rule to an extreme. Had a lot of Christian flavor in his teachings.
Ghost Dance song
Live in studio
And I was once asked by somebody “So what do you think about Wavoka’s prophesies?” I said, “Well, I think we are living right in the middle of Wavoka’s prophecies right now.”
Another thing I was asked. “But what about when he said ‘All the white people will be wiped off the face of the earth'”. I said “He said, ‘All racial differences would be obliterated.'” I said, “But if you want to look at it that other way and believe that he said all the white people would be wiped off the face of the earth.” I said, “If they continue marrying our children, our grandchildren, our nieces, our nephews…”
There is something there, you know. The non-natives are marrying into the very strong Indian lines. If this continues, I don’t know how long it will be. Everybody will be mixed with Indian blood. There will be no more.
A lot of people don’t agree with me on that either, and these are just purely Taheebvu Judy’s thoughts.
The late Judy Trejo was a Piaute song-carrier, an educator, and award-winning recording artist. She is deeply missed.
More of Judy Trejo
Wisdom of the Elders has made a special series of recordings by Judy Trejo available for purchase. You can find them in our Indian Marketplace.
Judy Trejo’s music is also available from Canyon Records.