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October 27, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Ceremonial Objects and Honoring the Horse

11_8044Assiniboine horse stick. Made by Medicine Bear, circa 1860. NMAI 11/8044

Most successful warriors had special relationships with their favorite horses because they depended on each other to live. In order to confirm and continue this bond, a warrior would often immortalize a horse that had saved his life by creating a wood carving in the horse's image.

The famous warrior and diplomat Medicine Bear carved the likeness above in memory of his war pony, killed in battle in norther Montana in the mid-1800s; the mane and tail on this dance stick came from that pony.

Today, Medicine Bear himself is remembered by a social center named in his honor on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana.

T141566Dance stick owned by No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota), North Dakota. NMAI 14/1566

Arguably the most famous and widely copied dance stick was made by the Hunkpapa Lakota warrior No Two Horns to honor a horse that carried him to vicitory.

The details of the dance stick illustrate that his horse suffered six different wounds, as indicated by the red triangles, and the scalp replica attached to the horse's mouth may pay additional homage to the horse, or it may testify to the rider's own exploits.

The eagle feather and fancy silver bridle also suggest the importance of this animal and show that it was a cherished companion. Other interesting elements to note are the carved hoof at the bottom of the stick and the rawhide ears.

15_4760Sioux wooden pipe tamper, late 19th century (NMAI 15/4760)


Among many tribes, one of the most sacred ways to pray is through a ceremony centered on the smoking of a pipe. After the ceremonial accoutrements are carefully laid out, the pipe stem is inserted into the bowl, and the whole pipe is smudged, or cleansed, in sage smoke. Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper like the one pictured here. The pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participants as they pray. This pipe tamper is appropriately decorated with a horse icon, considered a sacred animal by the Sioux. 


A Song for the Horse Nation, which will be on view from October 29, 2011, through January 7, 2013, is curated by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota). The accompanying book, edited by Her Many Horses and the scholar George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), is available at the museum’s shops and the museum’s Web site.

For the online exhibition, visit http://nmai.si.edu/static/exhibitions/horsenation/

For an online overview, visit http://nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/item/?id=905.


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