Sunrise dance of the Apache

Arizona, USA

When an Apache girl has had her first menstrual period, she goes through the four-day-long sunrise dance, intended to prepare her for life as a grown-up woman. During the ceremony she ”becomes” Changing Woman, the mythological mother of all Apache, and temporarily inherits her magical healing powers.

Next to the girl dances a female friend who has already completed the ritual and can provide her with help and support.

On the second day, the girl begins her dance before sunrise and then continues for six hours, facing the glowing red orb at all times. In front of her is a long straight row of boxes filled with soft drinks, sweets and other goodies – symbols of a life of plenty.


In the evening of the second day, the girl and four of her female friends dance with the gaan, the mountain spirits, whose presence protect the participants from illness and evil.

On the third day, the mountain spirits paint the girl with white clay mixed with sacred corn flour, a blessing in memory of when, according to the myth, Changing Woman after a great flood was washed ashore on an abalone shell, covered from head to toe in mud.

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