Ceremonial Dances in the Pacific

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Navajos dance on a beach in the Solomons
Navajos dance on a beach in the Solomons
Photo US Army Signal Corps

By Ernie Pyle

One of the last stories written Fay Ernie Pyle before his tragic death on le Island was about the Indians of the First Marine Division on Okinawa. It is reprinted here by permission of Scripps-Howard Newspapers and United Feature Syndicate, Inc. The ceremonial dances, according to Marine Combat Correspondent Walter Wood, included the Apache Devil Dance, the Eagle Dance, the Hoop Dance, the War Dance, and the Navajo Mountain Chant. Besides the Navajos, Sioux, Comanche, Apache, Pima, Kiowa, Pueblo, and Crow Indians took part in the Ceremonies.

Okinawa — (By Navy Radio); — Back nearly two years ago when 1 was with Oklahoma’s 45th Division in Sicily and later in Italy, I learned that they had a number of Navajo Indians in communications.

When secret orders had to be given over the phone these boys gave them to one an-other in Navajo. Practically nobody in the world understands Navajo except another Navajo.

Well, my regiment of First Division Marines has the some thing. There are about eight Indians who do this special work. They are good Marines and are very proud of being so.

There are two brothers among them, both named Joe, Their last names are the ones that are different. I guess that’s a Navajo custom, though I never knew of it before.

One brother, Pfc. Joe Gatewood, went to the Indian School in Albuquerque. In fact our house is on the very same street, and Joe said it sure was good to see somebody from home.

Joe has been out here three years. He is 34 and has five children bock home that he would like to see. He was wounded several months ago and got the Purple Heart.

Joe’s brother is Joe Kellwood who has also been out here three years. A couple of the others are Pfc. Alex Williams of Winslow, Ariz., and Pvt. Oscar Carroll of Fort Defiance, Ariz., which is the capitol of the Navajo reservation. Most of the boys are from around Fort Defiance and used to work for the Indian

The Indian boys knew before we got to Okinawa that the invasion landing wasn’t going to be very tough. They were the only ones in the convoy who did know it. For one thing they saw signs and for another they used their own influence.

Before the convoy left the far south tropical island where the Navajos had been training since the lost campaign, the boys put on a ceremonial dance.

The Red Cross furnished some colored cloth and paint to stain their faces. They made up the rest of their Indian costumes from chicken feathers, seashells, coconuts, empty ration cans and rifle cartridges.

Then they did their own native ceremonial chants and dances out there under the tropical palm trees with several thousand Marines as a grave audience.

In their chant they asked the great gods in the sky to sap the Japanese of their strength for this blitz. They put the finger of weakness on the Japs. And then they ended their ceremonial chant by singing the Marine Corps song in Navajo.

I asked Joe Gatewood, if he really felt their dance had something to do with the ease of

Our landing and he said the boys did believe so and were very serious about it, he included.

“I knew nothing was going to happen to us,” Joe said, “for on the way up here there was a rainbow over the convoy and I knew then everything would be alright.

MLA Source Citation:

Steward, Ulian H. Indians In The War, United States Department of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs. Chicago: Illinois. 1945. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 14 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/ceremonial-dances-in-the-pacific.htm - Last updated on Jun 24th, 2013

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