Tiah Piah Black War Shield Gourd Society

Tiah Piah Black War Shield Gourd Society

The Tiah Piah Black War Shield Gourd Society, also known as the Gourd Society, is an intertribal organization comprised of both Native American and non-Native American U.S. Military Veterans who participate in the society activities and practice the Gourd Dance at Powwows and in support of Native American events which honor military veterans and their families.

The Gourd Society is an intertribal organization and has made tremendous strides in promoting brotherhood and fraternal ideals among Native Americans of all tribes. This sense of brotherhood is also shared with non-Indian veterans who are inducted into the Society. The Gourd Society is one of the few elements of Native American culture that embraces and is open to all people of any race or tribe. Gourd Society members, regardless of race, are highly respected by Native American Peoples across the United States because of their social sponsorship, community development projects and programs for youth, and customs of honoring the war widows and their families. Most high ranking leaders of Native American Communities are members of the Gourd Society.


The Gourd Society originated with the Kiowa tribe, and is traditionally considered a society for veterans and their families. The Gourd Dance in the Kiowa Language is called "ti-ah pi-ah" which means "Those Unafraid to Die". Only veterans are eligible for induction into the Tiah Piah Black War Shield Gourd Society as society membership has always been confined to warriors. The gourd society does not distinguish race as a criterion, and even non-Indian veterans can and are inducted into the Gourd Society.


The dress of a member of the Gourd Society is characterized by three major items: a gourd sash or vest, a fan of Eagle or Hawk Feathers, and a rattle, which is traditionally made from a gourd or a large 2-3 inch diameter aluminum salt shaker filled with buckshot and mounted on a beaded handle, and which is carried in the Society members right hand during Gourd Dances. A fan made out of Eagle or Hawk feathers is carried in the left hand. The gourd rattle typically has peyote-stitch beadwork on the handle. The gourd sash is tied around the waist. Alternatively, a gourd blanket may be worn over the shoulders, or a specially made vest may be worn. The vest or blanket has two colors: red and blue, with one color being worn over each shoulder. Sometimes the vest or blanket will feature a design or emblem, usually in the center where the two colors meet. This may be a simple set of red-white and blue stripes, or the decorations may depict items related to the dance, such as an image of a beaded rattle. They may also have a personal or religious meaning to the dancer wearing them.

The Gourd Society sash colors symbolize the union between the army of the Indians (red) and the army of the bluecoats (Blue). By tradition, military medals and decorations are placed on the blue section of the sash, and Indian motifs, patches, and tribal insignia are pinned or sewn onto the red section of the sash.

Gourd Dance Customs

Typically, the Gourd Society would schedule Gourd Dances to begin at noon, and the opening song (referred to as a "Calling Song") is performed which involves only the leader of the Gourd Society dancing alone. The Gourd Dance Leader then invites (calls) the other dancers to join the dance. Four rounds of four songs are performed in a traditional Gourd Dance with breaks in between each round. The final dance song of a Gourd Dance is called the "Buffalo" song and concludes a Gourd Dance session.

The dance is rich with symbolism. By Gourd Society tradition, it is typically customary for the Native Tribe on whose ancestral lands the dance is performed on to bless the dance grounds prior to a Gourd Dance. The shaking of the gourds from side to side represents the sound of the bullets of the battle, the drum in the center is a symbol of the battle and the sounds of the hooves of the horses and cannon fire, and the eagle fan is a symbol of the shield of the warrior. Gourd Dance necklaces and bandeliers are often made from brass bullet casings and red mescal bean (Sophora Secundiflora) with bone pipe and buffalo horn.

Society Customs

During the Gourd Dance, the Gourd Dance leader will at times select widows of veterans, young native american men entering military service, or older veterans from the audience or who are Gourd Dancing to be honored. The person chosen is led in a clockwise direction around the drum in the center of the dance, then stands to the right side of the Gourd Dance leader facing the drum. A blanket is spread on the ground, and the gourd dancers will each face the drum and remove several dollar bills from their pocket and place it on the blanket and shake the hand of the person being honored. Each dancer will then form a dance line after they place the money (or food) on the blanket and line up to the right side of the Gourd Dance leader and the person being honored until all the gourd dancers are formed into a single line. The drum then changes its beat to "honor beats" and the dancers will dance in-place throughout the remainder of the current song. After the song concludes, the person being honored will collect the money, food, and other items. This practice grew out of the Kiowa and Native American Church custom of honoring the war widows and their families for the sacrifice of their loved one.

Peyotism and the Gourd Society

Although the Gourd Society had its beginnings in the Kiowa traditions and the Native American Church, peyote use and the peyote religion is not associated with the Gourd Dance in modern times. Most of the Gourd Dance leaders, are however, members of, or leaders of the Native American Church. Many of the same elements associated with the Native American Church also exist within the Gourd Society, such as red mescal bean necklaces, waterbird and sun symbol ornaments, peyote-stitch dance rattles, and the red and blue sash. The eagle bone whistle and the water drum are the only elements unique to the Native American Church which do not appear as elements of the Gourd Society or Gourd Dances.


* [http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2002/may15/powwow-515.html Stanford University Pow-wow]
* [http://library.thinkquest.org/3081/terms.htm Pow-wow Terminology]
* [http://library.thinkquest.org/3081/gourd.htm Thinkquest]


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