Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public Contact: (202) 707-6590
May 11, 1994
Iroquois Women To Sing
The American Folklife Center will present the Six Nations Longhouse Women Singers on Thursday, June 2, from noon to 1 p.m. in the next outdoor concert of the Neptune Plaza Concert Series on the west front steps of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress at 10 First St. SE. The event is free and open to the public.
The Six Nations Longhouse Women Singers come from Six Nations Reserve in Ohsweken, Ontario, Canada, where members of the six Iroquois communities (Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora, Oneida, and Mohawk) make their homes. Primarily Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga, these women have participated together in the traditions of longhouse religious and social music and dance for 25 years. Sadie Buck, the organizer of the group, comes from a noted family of singers, instrument makers, and longhouse members. The women themselves, family members, and their friends create the songs they sing.
The Six Nations Longhouse Women Singers participate with other groups in community sings that are common among the Iroquois people. These are social occasions in which new songs are shared, along with food and social dancing. The singing societies also serve a specific, traditional function as groups that raise and donate money and offer other assistance to the needy.
Because much of Native women's traditional music takes place in a private setting associated with family, clan, ceremonial, or work activities, those who are not intimate with these traditions never see or hear women sing. Only a few recordings have included women's singing and instrumental music in a tribal or regional collection. A few albums exist, from Navajo and Warm Springs singers, and music by contemporary Indian women musicians such as Canadians Buffy Saint Marie, Joanne Shenandoah, and Alanis Obomsawin received some attention in the late '60's and late '80's. In general, however, very little music by Indian women is known and appreciated, even by admirers of Native American music.
The songs accompanying the women's dance, called "eskanye ganiseh" or women's social dance songs, have been performed primarily by men. Only in the past 10 years have women begun singing the songs publicly. The Six Nations Singers also perform war songs converted to melodic songs and stomp dance songs (such as the "Pigeon" and "Duck") usually associated with southeastern tribes such as the Cherokee. Like all Native people, the Six Nations Singers also perform songs for a "friendship" dance. "Eskanye" songs sometimes use English lyrics and such familiar folk tunes as "Turkey in the Straw." Another tune with Iroquois lyrics says, "I only have two dollars, but I'm going to bingo anyway."
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