Lakota Rites - Tapa Wanka Yap


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Lakota Rites

Tapa Wanka Yap
(The Throwing of the Ball)


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There was a game among our people that was played with a ball, four teams and four goals that were set up at the four quarters. The game represents the course of a man’s life, which should be spent in trying to get the ball, for the ball represents Wakan Tanka, or the universe. It is very difficult to get the ball, for the odds —which represent ignorance— are against you.

Just before the sun came up, the people gathered around the sacred tipi. All had been prepared, and the floor of the sacred lodge had been strewn with sage. The shaman cleared a place in front of him with a knife and then asked the helpers to bring a coal from the fire. He took sweetgrass and purified the pipe, the ball (made of buffalo hair and covered with buffalo skin), a buffalo skull and all the equipment that was to be used that day.

Just as the first rays of sun began to enter the tipi, the shaman picked up a stone axe, offered it to Wakan Tanka, and struck the ground at the center of the sacred place, which he had scraped in front of him. Then, offering the axe to the West, he struck that side of the sacred place, and in the same manner at the three other quarters. Then, after holding the axe to the earth, he once again struck the center. He then picked a stick and drew a line in the soft earth, from the West to the East, and another one from the North to the South. Finally, he made two lines of tobacco on top of the two paths, and then this tobacco was painted red. This altar now represented the universe and all that is in it.

While the shaman was making the sacred altar, he sang the Chanunpa Wakan Olowan (sacred pipe song), while another Lakota in the lodge made low and rapid thunder on the drum. A young girl was brought into the tipi, and she took her place to the left of the shaman.

The shaman picked up the sacred ball and painted it red, the color of the world. With blue paint representing the heavens, he made dots at the four quarters; then he made two blue circles running all around the ball, this making two paths joining at the four quarters. By completely encircling the red ball with the blue lines, Heaven and Earth were united into one in this ball, thus making it very sacred. The shaman then prayed and consecrated the pipe.

The shaman then handed the ball to the young girl, telling her to stand and hold it in her left hand, and to raise her right hand up to the heavens. He then prayed once more. The shaman then walked out of the lodge first, holding the sacred pipe, and after him followed the young girl carrying the ball in her right hand. The girl then threw the ball towards the West, and one of the people there caught it. After embracing it and offering it to the six directions, he handed it back to the girl at the center. In the same manner, the ball was thrown towards the other directions. The fifth time the ball was thrown straight up, and there was then a great scramble, until finally one person had the ball and returned it to the girl at the center. When the throwing of the ball had been finished, the shaman held the stem of the sacred pipe towards the heaven and began to send a voice to Wakan Tanka.

“O Wakan Tanka, behold today this young woman who holds in her hand a ball which is the earth. She holds that which will bring strength to the generations to come that will inherit Your earth. May we never lose this relationship established here! May we cherish it and love it always! O Wakan Tanka, be merciful to me that my people may live!”

The sacred pipe was then smoked or touched by all who were present, and those who were fortunate enough to have caught the ball were given presents of horses or buffalo robes. All the people had a great feast and everybody was happy.

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



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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