All that is composed will decay...

Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University

Apr 3, 2017
Harvard University Campus

Painting Power

The circular shape of shields mimics the sun, the medicine hoop, the moon. Each man's shield design expressed the relationships he created with various powers thorugh ceremonies, guidance from holy man (wicasa wakan), and spiritual visitations experienced in dreams or while fasting and praying alone on high hills (hanbleceya, "to cry for a vision"). This shield shows a thunderbird; the wavy lines are the sound of thunder speaking to the shield's owner. Lakota men who dream of Wakinyan, the thunder powers, are called heyokas, and they belong to a secret society.
The act of painting evoked the presence of spirits who protected men and helped them strike down their enemies. Warriors painted their bodies and shields because both the paints and the designs were imbued with power. Yellow mineral paints please Wakinyan and Inyan, the Rock; when heated ritually they are transformed into red, the color of the sun, and the sacred color of ceremony.

Waste Lakapi / One who is loved

Lakota men sometimes recorded their amorous conquests in drawings. When a young man wanted to court a woman, he tried to talk to her when she went to fetch water in the evening. If she were receptive, he would envelop her in a double-sized wool courting blanket.
This scene depicts such an encounter; the woman has set down her pail (or coffee pot) to accept his overtures. The artist shows the woman's responsiveness by making visible their exchange of words in dashed lines. Although two couples seems to be drawn, only one of which has a beaded blanket strip, they probably represent two moments in the relationship between the artist and his sweetheart.

The Lakota West

Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, are those which made everything. They are Wakanpi, the spirit beings that have power over everything on earth. Wakan Tanka are many in one: the Sun, the Sky, the Earth, and the Rock; the four directions, and the four winds. Mankind should please them by songs and ceremonies. Mankind should ask them for what they wish." (Little Wound, Oglala Lakota (ca. 1896))

Wiyohpiyata (Wee-ohk-pi-yata), the West, is where the animals are created and where the sun goes down. All things from the West are Wakan (mysterious, holy). The West is the home of Wakinyan, the Winged-One, the spirit of thunder and lightening, made by Inyan, the Rock. Wakinyan, the Thunderbird, favors the cedar tree. Associates of Wakinyan include spiders, dragonflies, elk, horses, and swallows. Wakinyan controls the winds, the storms, and warfare.

Butch Thunder Hawk: "I made this sacred hoop from red willow, based on the vision described by Black Elk. Everythings in nature moves in a circle.. There are four sacred directions, each associated with a color and animal spirits. In the West (black/blue), the Thunderbird controls the distructive forces of nature; the buffalo live in the North (white) and represent industry and courage; East (red) is the home of the bull elk, responsible for love and family; the eagle of the South (yellow) stands for spirituality. The crossed buckskim laces stand for the opposing directions in life, the 'good road' (North/South) and the 'bad road' (East/ West). In the center are two tobacco ties: one painted blue for the sky, the unverse, the creator, the other painted green for Mother Earth - her nourishment,healing, and plants. Eagle feathers represent our connection to the Creator."


Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos

The Peabody Museum's exhibition of a Day of the Dead ofrenda or altar is located in the Encounters With the Americas gallery: