My research has continued into the correct name of the Apache headdress we have on display. In a previous blog I had written about it being a Gaan Headdress also known as a Crown Headdress. Last week while updating some of the files on the Apache artifacts I came across the headdress being referred to as the Devil Dancer Headdress. What? I was definitely going to have to do more research! I ordered some books through the interlibrary loan to see what I could uncover. One of the books turned out to be very informative…
Masked dancers, “A group of masked dancer impersonating the supernatural spirits, or gaan. These dancers perform at various curing ceremonies and at a girl’s puberty ceremony. They have been variously referred to as Crown Dancers and, incorrectly, as Devil Dancers or as actually being the Mountain Spirits or gaan that they are representing.” (Ferg) In the religious belief of the Apache gaan or mountain spirits have the power to drive out evil. The Apache dance calls on the supernatural assistance of the gaan for critical moments in their earthly journey. In the past the mountain spirit was summoned for a healing. Today the dance is danced during the sunrise ceremony, a girl’s puberty rite. This ceremony is the most meaningful ritual.
The young girl becomes white painted woman, Mother Earth. The ceremony symbolically reproduces the creation of the earth, man creation, and the history of earth and man. It carries the girl symbolically through all the stage of her future life into a happy old age. The Mountain Spirit Dance, is meant to drive away the evil spirits and offer blessings to the girl, as well as the tribe. The girl is dressed in bright yellow along with a girl friend who dance in place on a special prepared ground. Five men enter the dance space, four portraying gaan and one a sacred clown, who prepares the way for the gaan. The men wear elaborate crowns painted with sacred designs and carry painted wands made from yucca. The ceremonial dance lasts for four nights, ensuing the spiritual assistance of the supernatural during this rite of passage into adult tribal membership.
Why not plan a museum trip this summer to see the gaan headdress. May the Mountain Spirit bring you blessings as well. God Bless.
Ferg, Alan. Western Apache Material Culture, The Goodwin and Guenther Collections. The Arizona State Museum. The University of Arizona by The University of Arizona Press. 1987.
Fuhrer, Margaret. American Dance the Complete Illustrated History.” Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data. 2014.