Preparing a girl for womanhood Sacred Rite


Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan (First Menses) translation - Her Alone They Sing Over

"When she (* White Buffalo Calf Woman) had finished giving the people their rites, she turned to the women of the tribe. She told them that being a good mother, wife, sister, neighbor or grandmother is expected first. From the book Walking in the Sacred Manner by Mark St. Pierre and Tilda Long Soldier, the White Buffalo Calf Woman is quoted as saying:

"My dear sisters, the women: you have a hard life to live in this world, yet without you this life would not be what it is. Wakan Tanka intends that you shall bear much sorrow, and comfort others in time of sorrow. By your hand the family moves. You have been given the knowledge of making clothing and feeding your family. Wakan Tanka is with you in your sorrows and joins you in your griefs [sic.]. He has given you the greatest kindness towards every living creature on earth. You he has chosen to have a feeling for the dead who are gone. He knows that you remember the dead longer than do the men. He knows that you love your children dearly."

This sacred rite ceremony purifies and instructs a young girl who has her first menstrual period to prepare her for womanhood and childbirth. A holy man conducts the ritual celebrating the girl becoming a "Life-Giver," having children and, adding to and continuing the life of the tribe. She is taught that she has now become as Mother Earth, sacred, because she has the ability to create new life and the responsibility and importance of her new status. Mother Earth represents fertility and growth. The Native American woman is believed to be vital to the well-being and culture of the people, both physically and spiritually.

"From childhood, the Indian woman knew she must always work for the well-being of her family and tribe, keeping in mind that what is good for the one is good for the whole. They were faithful and devoted to their husbands, children, extended families and tribe. It was an unspoken knowledge that all female children would someday become a good daughter, a good wife, a good mother, a good auntie, a good grandmother and over the years of many experiences she would be honored and respected as a very wise woman."

The following is one tribes way of doing this ceremony. "The ceremony is such a significant event that the girl's parents begin preparing for it when the girl is only eight or nine years old. The parents at that time ask an old woman to start watching the girl. This woman will be with the girl until she is married. In ancient times the girl was usually twelve or thirteen when she married. In more modern times, the older woman stays with the girl until she is eighteen. The old woman watches the girl to protect her virginity. The old woman is represented by the bear, the protector of virgins.

Next her parents choose a tribal elder to perform the ceremony. As a token of their thanks, the parents must give the elder a whole buckskin outfit plus many blankets and household goods. In ancient times the elder was given horses.

The elder will spend many years going to sweat lodges or vision quests to see what kind of ceremony that he should perform for the child. He will be an advisor to the girl's parents.

During the girl's first menstruation, the girl is isolated along with other women who are menstruating. When the girl's first menstruation is finished, there is a celebration. First the girl is taken to the sweat lodge for a purification ceremony. Then the old woman sings the mato awicalowanpi song. This is a song which petitions the Bear to continue watching over the girl. The elder and the old woman give the girl advice. Afterwards the family puts on a feast for the two advisors and gives them gifts. This part of the ceremony is informal, and just for the family.

Then next part of the ceremony is for the entire community and involves giving away gifts to many people. The parents decide when to hold this ceremony.

The old woman takes the girl to the ceremony. She leads her inside a tipi where new clothes have been laid out for her. The old woman makes a fire of sage and sweet grass and runs the clothes through the smoke to purify them. She helps the girl change into her new clothes. Then the woman paints the girl's face red to symbolize her rebirth, and to symbolize the earth itself.

Four men then bring a bear robe and place the girl upon it, carrying her to the center of the ceremonial grounds, where they set her down. While the girl sits in the center of a circle of people, various community members will stand and talk about her ancestors. They will tell her whole family history. Each person who says something good about the girl will receive a gift from her family. The person can say as much as he or she wishes about the girl.

After everyone has completed speaking, the elder leader will talk about the girl's accomplishments. He will tell Creator that the girl has done all that is required of her. He will burn sage and sweet grass, holding their smoke over the girl. He will then bring her stalks of corn. This is part of the Making of Relatives ritual which she will have to perform later in life. One of the people who has spoken about the girl will pin the white plume from the breast of a spotted eagle to the girl's hair. The giver has prepared himself for this moment by going to a sweat lodge and praying for the girl. This eagle plume is the confirmation that the girl has committed herself to the service of the people. It symbolizes her intention to practice the virtues of kindness, generosity and truthfulness. She will then hear her honor song for the first time. Her honor song is unique to her. It is sung any time that she deserves recognition. It is sung for the last time on the day she is buried.

The eagle plume is the only feather that a virgin is allowed to wear. Once she loses her virginity, she will put the eagle feather aside for another woman in her family.

These rituals are sacred to the Native American people. To practice a Native American ritual without the proper guidance from a holy man or woman is to commit a sin. Without a holy person's help, the people performing the ritual will insult those that truly follow the rituals and the Creator. True holy men and women are hard to find. They know the ancient stories and rituals as they were before the arrival of the Europeans. They are usually living far away from anything modern."

Black Elk explains the precise order of the steps, songs and prayers in depth that take place when held in the Lakota way in his book, The Sacred Pipe.

During the menses time the female avoids males, especially holy men, so as not to interfere with their powers.The sacred tipi is built. A buffalo skull, wooden cup, some cherries, water, sweet grass, sage, a pipe, some Ree tobacco, kinnikinnik, a knife, stone hatchet, and some red and blue paint are the items used in this ceremony. Traditional songs and prayers are done by the holy man according to the old way of doing this ceremony.

Feasting always follows the ceremony.


The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown. University of Oklahoma Press,1953,1989

The Red Pathway - Woman Power (Excellent website)

Sacred Mothers by Stacy Peters-Walters

Lakota Words index

A New South Dakota History

Photo of young Indian mother courtesy of