XVI. The Sun Dance

IN outward activities the Crow Sun Dance (ackíirua) resembles its equivalent among other Plains tribes, but it has highly distinctive features. The native name of the ceremony gives no clew to its significance: it refers to a miniature lodge such as children put up in play. Some, to be sure, interpret it to designate a miniature of the Sun's lodge, but this explanation does not shed much additional light. The Sun is the great Crow deity and therefore enters significantly into many religious situations; but the ackícirua cannot, as a whole, be regarded as a ritual of Sun-worship.

Essentially, the Crow Sun Dance was a prayer for vengeance. A man overcome with sorrow at the killing of a kinsman resorted to this as the most effective, if most arduous, means of getting a vision by which he might revenge himself upon the offending tribe. The difficulties were such that only an exceptional mourner would shoulder the burden, hence the performance was not periodical -- in contrast to that of other tribes -- and might lapse for years. Between 1830 and 1874 the average interval between successive performances was probably not less than three or four years. Indeed, Young-crane, a River Crow about eighty years old, recollected only six dances, and a still older woman not more than five. Obviously, the ceremony was bound to pass out of existence with the establishment of peace in the West. Further, because the primary object was the killing of an enemy, the Crow ceremony had no fixed duration. No sooner had the pledger announced that he had gained his end than the performance automatically stopped. Indeed, in one exceptional case even the vision proved unnecessary: on the first night of the festival an enemy was found and killed in camp, which was felt to fulfill all requirements, so that the dance at once ended. This was interpreted as an unusual stroke of good fortune for the mourner, whose suffering was forestalled by this initial happening.

Normally the Whistler (akō+″oce) -- as the pledger was called

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