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Secwepemc Songs and Dances

Drumming, the heart beat of the Shuswap  people, photograph Art Manuel

The songs, dances, stories, and ceremonies of the Secwepemc were, traditionally, an integral part of daily life; not separate as in many Western cultures. They were absolutely vital in maintaining the values, beliefs, and teachings regarding care of the land and the people.

The songs, dances, and ceremonies keep the Secwepemc tied to the land and they continually remind people of their responsibilities. They perpetuate vital teachings and contain the laws – who may harvest medicinal plants and how it must be done in a proper and respectful way. Secwepemc must sing and pray before harvesting any food, medicines, and other materials from the land. They must make an offering to thank the Creator and the spirits for anything they take. The Secwepemc believe that all living things have spirits and must be shown utmost respect.

The first foods ceremony which included prayers, songs, and dances was conducted before people could eat and harvest the food. The first food gathering was given to an Elder who prayed and offered thanks. Songs and dances of thankfulness, appreciation, and respect were conducted.

Their ceremonies, songs, and dances also taught and reinforced the values of taking care of the land and all its creation and the social norms of sharing and equal distribution of resources. The Secwepemc were also taught to never waste or play with food and materials from plants and animals.

Fishing and hunting ceremonies, which included prayers and songs, were conducted to ensure a successful harvest and to ensure the continual and plentiful supply of food. Four days of sweat lodge ceremonies and fasting were conducted before hunting and fishing. The ceremonies included thorough cleansing of the body, mind, and spirit. Weapons were also cleansed thoroughly. Songs, dances, and prayers were an essential part of the ceremonies. They were conducted before and after the hunt. Before a hunter could kill a deer, he must sing the song to honor the animal and thank it for offering itself for food. The men also performed the deer song and dance at various celebrations to show respect and thankfulness to the deer.

The Secwpemc conducted songs and dances for the bear, prairie chicken, owl, fawn, eagle, salmon, and all other animals important to them. Songs and dances for spiritual and ceremonial purposes included: shaman, love, potlatch, sweatlodge, mourning, war, marriage, berry picking. Songs and dances were also conducted for entertainment and enjoyment. Many different songs were sung during the gambling games such as lahal.

The beat of the drum, songs, and language were not only for teaching and reinforcing the spiritual, cultural, and moral teachings, but the Elders consider it powerful medicine. For example, the mourning songs help in the grieving process. Hearing the songs and language releases feelings of sadness in the people.

Therefore, songs and ceremony are essential to healing both spiritually and physically. Some songs sung by shamans and medicine people were long in duration and were sung by them while performing healing rituals. Prayers and songs used in these ceremonies and rituals were so powerful they had the ability to perform what might be considered “miracles” such as reviving the dead.

The Secwepemc held many of their ceremonial dances in the winter. Songs that were sung at these ceremonies were obtained from the Spirit World. The songs were obtained in dreams and visions or through other natural means such as water, animals, or plants.

The winter dance ceremony was believed to hasten the return of the souls of the dead to the earth. When this happened, it would mark the beginning of the “golden age” when everyone would lead a life of ease and happiness, and when they would be reunited with the living.

Enjoy some Secwepemc Songs

 

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