The Caribou Dance

: Things To See In Springtime

Horns for the Caribou Dance Horns for the Caribou Dance

The easiest of our campfire dances to learn, and the best for quick presentation, is the Caribou Dance. It has been put on for public performance after twenty minutes' rehearsing, with those who never saw it before, because it is all controlled and called off by the Chief. It does equally well for indoor gymnas

um or for campfire in the woods.

In the way of fixings for this, you need only four pairs of horns and four cheap bows. Real deer horns may be used, but they are scarce and heavy. It is better to go out where you can get a few crooked limbs of oak, cedar, hickory or apple tree; and cut eight pairs, as near like those in the cut as possible, each about two feet long and one inch thick at the butt. Peel these, for they should be white; round off all sharp points of the branches, then lash them in pairs, as shown. A pair, of course, is needed for each Caribou. These are held in the hand and above the head, or in the hand resting on the head.

The four Caribou look best in white. Three or four hunters are needed. They should have bows, but no arrows. The Chief should have a drum and be able to sing the Muje Mukesin, or other Indian dance tune. One or two persons who can howl like Wolves should be sent off to one side, and another that can yell like a Lynx or a Panther on the other side, well away from the ring. Otherwise the Chief or leader can do the imitations. Now we are ready for


The Chief begins by giving three thumps on his drum to call attention; then says in a loud, singing voice: "The Caribou have not come on our hunting grounds for three snows. We need meat. Thus only can we bring them back, by the big medicine of the Caribou Dance, by the power of the White Caribou."

He rolls his drum, then in turn faces each of the winds, beckoning, remonstrating, and calling them by name; Kitchi-nodin (West); Keeway-din (North); Wabani-nodin (East); Shawani-nodin (South). Calling last to the quarter whence the Caribou are to come, finishing the call with a long KO-KEE-NA. Then as he thumps a slow single beat the four Caribou come in in single file, at a stately pace timed to the drum. Their heads are high, and they hold the horns on their heads, with one hand, as they proudly march around. The Chief shouts: "The Caribou, The Caribou!" After going round once in a sun circle (same way as the sun), they go each to a corner. The Chief says: "They honour the symbol of the Great Spirit." The drum stops; all four march to the fire. They bow to it together, heads low, and utter a long bellow.

Then the Chief shouts: "They honour the four Winds, the Messengers."

Then the Caribou back up four paces each, turn suddenly and make a short bow, with a short bellow, then turn and again face the fire.

The Chief shouts: "Now they live their wild free lives on the plain." He begins any good dance song and beats double time. The Caribou dance around once in a circle.

The Chief shouts: "Full of life they fight among themselves."

The first and second Caribou, and third and fourth, close in combat. They lower their heads, lock horns held safely away from the head, snort, kick up the dust, and dance around each other two or three times.

The music begins again, and they cease fighting and dance in a circle once more.

The music stops. The Chief shouts: "They fight again." Now the first and fourth and second and third lock horns and fight.

After a round or so the music begins again and they cease fighting and again circle, dancing as before.

The Chief calls out: "The Wolves are on their track."

Now the howling of Wolves is heard in the distance, from the fellows already posted.

The Caribou rush toward that side and face it in a row, threatening, with horns low, as they snort, stamp, and kick up the dust.

The Wolf-howling ceases. The Caribou are victorious. The Chief shouts: "They have driven off the Wolves." They turn away and circle once to the music, holding their heads high.

Now Panther-yelling (or other menacing sound) is heard in the other direction. The Chief shouts: "But now the Panthers have found them out."

Again the Caribou line up and show fight. When it ceases, the Chief cries out: "They have driven off the Panther." Now they dance proudly around, heads up, chests out as they step, for they have conquered every foe.

Then the Chief calls out: "But another, a deadlier enemy comes. The hunters are on their trail." The hunters appear, crawling very low and carrying bows. They go half around the ring, each telling those behind by signs, "Here they are; we have found them," "Four big fellows," "Come on," etc. When they come opposite the Caribou, the first hunter lets off a short "yelp." The Caribou spring to the opposite side of the ring, and then line up to defy this new noise; but do not understand it, so gaze as they prance about in fear. The hunters draw their bows together, and make as though each lets fly an arrow. The first Caribou drops, the others turn in fear and run around about half of the ring, heads low, and not dancing; then they dash for the timber. The hunters run forward with yells. The leader holds up the horns. All dance and yell around the fallen Caribou and then drag it off the scene.

The Chief then says: "Behold, it never fails; the Caribou dance brings the Caribou. It is great medicine. Now there is meat in the lodge and the children cry no longer."