Sovereign Amonsoquath Band of Cherokee

War or Snake Dance Mask



War Rites

War or Snake-Mask Dance

Equipment---Wooden mask with coiled rattlesnake carved on forehead or crown, gourd rattle of medicine type, and one or two sets of turtle leg-rattles. One example of a mask used was medium red, representing an Indian; the eyeholes were bordered with black, gray fox fur was on the top and sides of the head, and a coiled rattlesmake, the rattles inside the coils, was carved in high relief on the forehead; teeth were carved in the mouth. Another Indian-face mask had a snake carved on the black crown, with rattles showing plainly; woodchuck fur was on the head, and no teeth were represented. In an interview with Dr. Arthur Kelly in 1929, Climbing Bear said that the chief of the dance party customarily attached a live sparrow hawk to the snake mask. West Long was unable to confirm this information.

First movement---A warrior wearing a snake mask dances counter-clockwise around the fire with a slow march step. Behind him is the singer, followed in turn by a woman with turtle leg-rattles, and other warriors.

Second movement---The warrior takes a position behind the woman with leg-rattles. The singer leads the file and carries the song burden while the others sing an accompaniment.

The dance dramatizes the warrior's defiance of human enemies, of witches and ghosts, "to show lack of fear of anything" by wearing a mask in the image of a rattlesnake. Aboriginally, it was probably an enlistment dance, a challenge to others to join in a war party. Deliski Climbing Bear said that the serpent masks have no specific ceremonial value. Rather, they indicated to the other dancers that the men wearing them were soon going on the warpath against, let us say, the Catawba, the Seneca, or the English.

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