Flying Pole Dance

Flying Pole Dance – Totonac (Mexico),  Between May 21-June 24

The Flying Pole Dance is a rain dance performed by the Totonac Indians (Veracruz, Mexico), on Corpus Christi.  Corpus Christi is a Catholic/Epsicopalian holiday celebrated between May 21 and June 24 (The Thursday after Trinity Sunday).

4 men ascend a 90 foot ceremonial pole.  Each has a rope that has been wound around the pole tied to his ankles.  The ropes make 13 turns, so that when the men jump off, the unwind a total of 52 turns – once for each week in the year.  The four dancers represent the four seasons,  and possibly the four directions and the four elements – making 12, the number of months in the year.  As the men unwind, which takes about two minutes a priest a the tip of the pole chants “Mother Earth is everything.  Mother Earth is life and death.  Without rain there is no life.”

It is not certain why the flying pole dance is a part of Corpus Christi, but more than likely the dance was  traditionally held at a time which was close to Corpus Christi, which the Spaniards brought when they brought Christianity to Mexico.

Photo: Allan Grant./Time & Life Photo e Pictures/Getty Images

Jul 01, 1959

Tell The Story:

The Thunder and Lightning Men

A Passamaquoddy Legend

This is truly an old Indian story of old time. Once an Indian was whirled up by the roaring wind: he was taken up in a thunder-storm, and set down again in the village of the Thunders. In after-times he described them as very like human beings: they used bows and arrows (tah-bokque), and had wings.

But these wings can be laid aside, and kept for use. And from time to time their chief gives these Thunders orders to put them on, and tells them where to go. He also tells them how long they are to be gone, and warns them not to go too low, for it is sure death for them to be caught in the crotch of a tree.

The great chief of the Thunders, bearing of the stranger’s arrival, sent for him, and received him very kindly, and told him that he would do well to become one of them. To which the man being willing, the chief soon after called all his people together to see the ceremony of thunderifying the Indian.

Then they bade him go into a square thing, or box, and while in it he lost his senses and became a Thunder. Then they brought him a pair of wings, and he put them on. So he flew about like the rest of the Thunders; he became quite like them, and followed all their ways. And he said that they always flew towards the sou’ n’ snook, or, south, and that the roar and crash of the thunder was the sound of their wings. Their great amusement is to play at ball across the sky.When they return they carefully put away their wings for their next flight. There is a big bird in the south, and this they are always trying to kill, but never succeed in doing so.

They made long journeys, and always took him with them. So it went on for a long time, but it came to pass that the Indian began to tire of his strange friends. Then he told the chief that he wished to see his family on earth, and the sagamore listened to him and was very kind. Then he called all his people together, and said that their brother from the other world was very lonesome, and wished to return. They were all very sorry indeed to lose him, but because they loved him they let him have his own way, and decided to carry him back again. So bidding him close his eyes till he should be on earth, they carried him down.

The Indians saw a great thunder-storm drawing near; they heard such thunder as they never knew before, and then something in the shape of a human being coming down with lightning; then they ran to the spot where he sat, and it was their long-lost brother, who had been gone seven years.

He had been in the Thunder-world. He told them how he had been playing ball with the Thunder-boys: yes, how he had been turned into a real Thunder himself.

This is why the Indians to this very day have a firm belief that the thunder and lightning we hear and see are caused by (beings or spirits) (called) in Indian Bed-day yek (or thunder), because they see them, and have, moreover, actually picked up the bed-dags k’chisousan, or thunder-bullet. It is of many different kinds of stone, but always of the same shape. The last was picked up by Peter Sabattis, one of the Passamaquoddy tribe. He has it yet. He found it in a crotch-root of a spruce-tree at Head Harbor, on the island of Campobello. This stone is a sign of good-luck to him who finds it.

The thunder is the sound of the wings of the men who fly above. The lightning we see is the fire and smoke of their pipes.

The First People website:

Read the Book:  Story: “The Wisconsin River” from  Indian Legends of American Scenes by Marion Gridley.

Sing a Song: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”  Do the fingerplay.

Feltboard Theater: The Letter R.

Materials:  Dowel about 18″ long, with a small platform at the top,wrapped with 4 ribbons about 17″ with a person-shaped weight on the end (about 1/2″ long).  Felt letters: R-A-I-N, Felt thunderclouds, Felt Lightning, Light Blue Yarn for Rain.  Other R words, as desired.

Hold up your Flying Pole Dance dowel, and give each dancer a push to unwrap down the pole.  Produce a cloud and proclaim:  “It worked, here comes a little rain cloud.”  Stick it on the board, then ask questions about rain, will our little rain cloud make enough, or do we need more, what else comes with rain (lightning, thunder).


Puppet Theater: “Rain, Rain . Go Away,”  1-2 performers

The point is that while we don’t always appreciate the rain, it is necessary for things to grow (like your bean plants if you did the Powamu ceremony), and is necessary for drinking water.

Write a script around the rhyme.  Use whatever characters you want.  Have them do the rhyme, then have the kids join in.  Then your scientist puppet breaks up the fun to explain why it is important.

Craft: Rain scene.

Materials:  Crayons, Cotton Balls, black watercolor paint, glue stick, construction paper

Have the children color a picture of whatever they like, then dip a cotton ball cloud in black watercolor, just a little wet, or the clouds won’t stick.  Glue the cloud on the paper above the scene and make some rain with light lue, blue and silver crayon.

Published on December 5, 2010 at 4:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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