Apache Indian Legends
Apache Indian Mountain Spirits Legend
Representatives of the Mountain People, appear
among the Apache Indian people in masked form
and are called the Crown Dancers. Apache Indians
tell many stories of the Mountain Spirits, usually
attesting to their power to cure and protect, or
to the ill consequences of showing disrespect for the Mountain Spirits.
Mountain Spirits perform healing rites, as well as dancing at na ih es, the girls' puberty
rite. The masked dance performances may be used to protect against illness, to cure
(even when witchcraft is the cause), and to control the weather.
Apache Indian stories attribute to the Mountain Spirits the freeing of the animals
from a subterranean region where Crow kept them prisoners.
Apache Indians who perform Mountain Spirit healing rites acquire the masked images
they personify through personal vision. Mountain Spirit masks are buckskin hoods,
usually painted black, that fit snugly over the head and are secured by a drawstring
gathered about the neck. Tiny holes are cut for the eyes and sometimes one is cut for
Attached to the top of the hood is a complex upright structure, brightly painted and
decorated, sometimes referred to as horns. Its basic framework is a construction of
wooden slats. On each side hang short wooden slats (earrings) that strike against one
another, making the distinctive sound of the approaching Mountain Spirits.
Feathers are attached to the ends of these earrings. The masker's upper bodies and
arms are painted, and they wear yellow buckskin skirts and tall moccasins. The dance
ground on which the Mountain Spirit dancers perform contains a large fire. When the
dancers enter the dance ground, they circle the fire in preparation for the dance. Then,
at a signal, singers and drummers begin the accompaniment and the dance begins.
Often appearing with the Mountain Spirit dancers is a clown figure, known variously as
''Gray One," "Long Nose," or "White Painted." His mask differs from the others, being
made of scraped buckskin and decorated with a big nose or big ears. He does not wear a
skirt, only a breech cloth. The rest of his body remains bare, covered only with white
paint. The clown is the servant and messenger for the other dancers.
He carries messages between the masked dancers and the people. He makes fun of
everything and creates fun by enacting foolishness as requested by the audience. The
clown functions as an aid in disciplining children, who are threatened that Gray One will
put them in his basket and carry them off. Parents may arrange to have Gray One
frighten naughty children during the girls' puberty rite.
Although it may appear that the clown is a pleasant but powerless addition to the
Mountain Spirit dances, many Apache Indian people identify the clown as the most
powerful, particularly in the context of healing.
|Apache Indians in Costume Dance the
Mountain Spirits Ceremony.