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Dakota Courting and Music

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Dakota Courting and Music

by Darren Renville

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Music Permeates Life

Seth Eastman’s painting, "Indian Courting," depicts a young Dakota man sitting on a fallen log, playing courting music on his flute. It is twilight on a cloudy, seemingly blustery, perhaps autumn evening, and we can see the object of his affection, a young Dakota woman, standing in the background, cloaked in a robe, listening to the music behind her family’s tipi. We are witness to one of the first steps in a Dakota courtship, the wooing of a young woman by a young man through music. Though traditional methods of Dakota courtship have now mostly faded from use, we still have a sense of them through paintings by Eastman and other artists, as well as contemporary Dakota flutists such as Bryan Akipa, who continue to keep the music and spirit of Dakota courtship alive through their art.

Music and song permeated all aspects of Dakota life, from birth to marriage to death. It was, and still is, an essential part of Dakota culture. Some of the music played at wacipis (or powwows) is decades old, having been passed down from generation to generation. The same holds true for much of Dakota flute music. The song the young man is playing in Eastman’s painting might have been passed down to him by his father as part of his own family’s unique cultural heritage, or might be one of his own composition to pass down to a future son. Some contemporary Dakota flutists have suggested that many of the songs composed for the flute had lyrics or words to go with them, but were unnecessary to sing because the music was so expressive and evocative, full of emotion and romance. As for the flute he is playing, if it is not something he himself made, it, along with the sheath lying at his feet, might also be a family heirloom.

Indian Courting

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RealVideo: Dakota flute player

Bryan Akipa, Dakota flute player

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RealVideo: Darlene Pipeboy

Darlene Pipeboy, Dakota elder

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RealVideo: flutemaker Bryan Akipa

Bryan Akipa, love songs and flutemaking

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