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Course & Subject Guides

Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian, Spring-Summer 2018: Snake Dancer

This library guide is an overview of the Archives & Special Collection exhibit on Edward S. Curtis and The North American Indian.

A Snake Dancer in Costume banner

Snake Dancer in Costume

Photogravure of Hopi snake dancer in costume

Snake Dancer in Costume, 1900

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Portfolio XII, Plate no. 430, 1922.


The Hopi Snake Dance

The Snake dance, best known of Hopi ceremonies and one of the most spectacular of all primitive performances, is a biennial, sixteen-day rite conducted by the Snake and Antelope fraternities as a dramatized prayer for rain.  It occurs in the odd-numbered years at Walpi and Mishongnovi, and in even-numbered years at Shipaulovi, Shongopavi, and Oraibi…

…Preparations for the Snake dance begin in the winter, not long after the ceremony of the Warrior society, when the leaders of the Snakes and Antelopes make pahos, which are then planted in the four directions as offerings to the chiefs of these world-regions. 

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text XII, 135-136, 1922.

Curtis device


Now the members begin to prepare for the dance.  Pink clay is smeared over moccasins, kilts, and other parts of the paraphernalia to be worn, and cornsmut mixed with some of the “man medicine” made on Komók-totókya day is rubbed over the body.  Then pink clay mixed with “man medicine” is smeared on the forearms, the calves, and the upper right side of the head.  The chin is whitened, the rest of the face blackened. 

…While the Antelopes sing and shake their rattles, the Snake men in trios begin an extremely thrilling dance around the plaza.  As each group arrives at the kísi, the dancer receives a snake, which he holds in his two hands and from time to time places about his neck or between his lips.  The “hugger” dances close behind him with his left arm about the dancer’s neck, and with his eagle-feather “whip” he constantly makes stroking motions over the reptile as if to pacify it…

Edward S. Curtis, The North American Indian, Text XII, 152-153, 1922.

Curtis device

Banner of photos of Hopi snake dancers