The Piscataway Native Singers and Dancers performed at Raritan Valley Community College on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in the Conference Center. The event was held to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month and to educate others of the history, culture and traditions of Native Americans.
The Native dancers here come from the state of Maryland; however, at one time they inhabited northern Virginia, extended into Delaware, northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Even though they have changed in size over the years, they have traveled across the world to show the truth of their culture.
Mark Tayac, the future hereditary chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation, gave a strong drum beat and sang while his son, nephew and godson performed dances that have been passed down for generations. Together they showed professional skills and joy in sharing their culture with the audience members.
The dancers were dressed in beautiful regalia, beaded designs and animal furs, creating noise with each step with their jingling cones sewn into the clothes. The group performed dances that were hundreds of years old and invited the audience to participate. These dances are held extremely important to the dancers, as they hope to keep their traditions alive and pass them down to future generations.
The dances themselves are used at Powwows, meaning “gathering of the people,” for celebrations that can encompass up to one thousand dancers at once. Their Grand Entry Dance has evolved from a war dance to encourage bravery in hand-to-hand combat to highly organized stickball games, such as lacrosse. Performers circle each other until one touches another with a feather-tufted stick. At one time, the dance decided the winner in a dispute; here it was used to symbolize friendship.
The dancers ended the performance with a closing dance that instructs others to walk in harmony and balance with the natural world.
Edited by Garrett Cecere
Photos by Siobhan Donaldson