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Lakota Rites

Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan
(Preparing a Girl for Womanhood)


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These rites are performed after the first menstrual period of a woman. They are important because it is at this time that a young girl becomes a woman, and she must understand the meaning of this change and must be instructed in the duties that she is now to fulfill. She should also realize that the change which has taken place in her is a sacred thing, for now she will be as Mother Earth and will be able to bear children, which should also be brought up in a sacred manner. She should know, further, that each month when her period arrives she bears an influence with which she must be careful, for the presence of a woman in this condition may take away the power of a holy man.

A tipi was built outside of the camping circle, and all the people gathered around it. A place was scraped in the earth, where a hot coal was placed. After placing sweetgrass on the coal, the pipe was first purified and then all the equipment which was to be used in the rite.

The shaman then purified himself over the smoke and consecrated the pipe in the traditional manner. He purified his whole body over the smoke again, and began to chant. As he finished his song, he let out a loud Huh! Like the bellow of a buffalo. As he did this a red dust came out of his mouth. This he did six times, blowing the red smoke on the girl, and on the sacred place.

The shaman then took up his stone hatchet and after purifying it over the smoke of the sweetgrass, he struck the ground near the center of the tipi and then began to dig out a hollow in the shape of a buffalo wallow, piling the loose earth in a little mound just to the east of this sacred place. He then took a pinch of tobacco and, after holding it up to the heavens, placed it at the center of this place. Then with tobacco he made a line from the West to the East, and another line from the North to the South, thus making a cross. The whole universe was now within this holy place. Then taking some blue paint, and after holding it up to the heavens, he touched the center of the sacred place. With more paint he drew blue lines on top of the tobacco, first from the West to the East, and then from the North to the South.

Blue is the color of the heavens, and by placing it upon the tobacco, which represents the earth, we have united heaven and earth, and all has been made one.

The shaman then placed a buffalo skull upon the earth mound, with its face towards the East. Then he painted a red line around its head and a straight red line between the horns, running down the forehead. Next he put balls of sage in the eyes of the skull, and placed a wooden bowl of water in front of the buffalo’s mouth. Cherries were placed in the water. He then made a little bundle with sweetgrass, the bark of the cherry tree, and the hair of a live buffalo. The virgin was then told to stand, holding this bundle of sacred things over her head.

“This bundle over your head is like Wakan Tanka, for when you stand you reach from Earth to Heaven, and thus, anything above your head is like the Great Spirit. You are the tree of life. You will now be pure and holy, and may your generations to come be fruitful! Wherever your feet touch will be a sacred place, for now you will always carry with you a very great influence.”

The shaman then picked up the buffalo skull by the horns and, as he chanted his holy song, red smoke came out of the nose of the skull. He then pushed the young girl with the skull towards the bowl of water, at which she knelt and drank four sips. A piece of buffalo meat was then given to the shaman who, after purifying it over the smoke of the sweetgrass and offering it to the six directions, held it in front of the girl.

“May your steps and those of your children be firm and sacred! You should be generous as this! As I now place this meat in your mouth, we should all remember how merciful Wakan Tanka is in providing for our wants. In the same manner you must provide for your children!”

The shaman placed the meat in the girl’s mouth, and the bowl of water with the cherries was then passed around among all the people, and each took a sip from it. All the people rejoiced. They rushed up to the young woman and placed their hands upon her, for now she was a woman, and because of the rites that had been performed on her, there was much holiness in her.

From The Sacred Pipe. Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux,
recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown.


There is a ceremony for the time when we bring girls into the lodge when they go through puberty. Women come in and tell them about what's happening to their bodies. It lasts four days. The girls are told about becoming a woman and many things are shared. Materials are brought to them to make dresses as they sit there in the lodge. They are told about how to be a part of family life. We celebrate how important each young woman is to the whole community.

Gary Holy Bull, Profiles of Healing - Lakota Yuwipi Man


Lakota rites:
Nagi Gluhapi (The Keeping of the Soul)
Inipi (Rite of Purification)
Hanblecheyapi (Crying for a Vision)
Wiwanyag Wachipi (The Sun Dance)
Hunkapi (Making of Relatives)
Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan (Preparing for Womanhood)
Tapa Wanka Yap (Throwing of the Ball)

Other ceremonies

In concepts  ||  In natural beings
In dwellings  ||  In tools and objects

Complete list

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