December 5, 2009

Waniyetu Wowapi: Lakota Winter Count

 Tonight we had our first snow. For the Lakota Native American tribe in the Northwestern United States, this would mark a new year, and a picture representing the past year would be painted on a communal calender.

The Lakota had no written language. Waniyetu wowapi or "Winter Counts," were pictoral records used in conjunction with extensive oral histories to create a community record. For the Lakota, one year was from the first snowfall to the next first snowfall after a spring, summer and fall. Each year one event, not necessarily the most important event which occurred, but the one that most people of their society would remember and identify with, was chosen to be painted to represent the year. This picture would represent the entire year and any other events which occurred that year would be identified by the event in the picture.

The Lakota are best known for their participation in the winning of the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. 

I think that the first-snow-starts-a-new-year concept is purely magical. It is neat that the new year is unpredictable, it can happen at any time. When it started yesterday, I was knitting with my friends in a cozy atmosphere. What a good way to start off a new year?

I have decided to start my own collection of Winter Counts, in the Lakota tradition. I had hoped to have finished my Winter Count in time for the new year, but I am not done yet. The event I chose is personal and would not represent the best identifiable event to all American people. I concluded that my Winter Counts would only represent my family unit. I have included my unfinished Winter Count and will hopefully finish it soon: it represents the trip to Ireland that Andy and I  took and the new instrument we acquired there. Enjoy the new year!   

The Smithsonian has a lovely online exhibit about Lakota Winter Counts.

What is a Winter Count is a good site that describes Winter Counts much better than I do.

Native American Radio This site offers a station filled with Native American musicans and music (traditional and modern.) It is worth a listen if you like Native American music.

*Note: Turning Bear's death (by train) is being added to a Winter Count in the first picture. The second picture is of Rain-In-The-Face, a Lakota warrior who participated in the Battle at Little Big Horn. Sorry my drawing is blurry, I had to photograph it.


  1. Thank you for sharing about the Winter count tradition! I didn't know about this, I'm always eager to learn more about history.



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