To some the canupa ( sacred pipe ) is thought of as the peace pipe or calumet. To us it is more than that, it is the promise of the White Buffalo Calf Maidens’ return and a direct connecting link to the divine. The Canupa is the most important object as it represents the direct communication with the source of all life, sentient and insentient alike.
The word Canupa, pronounced Chan-unpa, in the Lakota language means smoking stick, or simply, pipe. Pte Ska Win (Pte San Wi), or the White Buffalo Calf Maiden appeared to the people presenting them with the Canupa (pipe) made from a buffalo’s shin bone. Along with this gift the people received a small round stone of Caitlinite as well as instructions for The Seven Sacred Rites.
1. The Inipi (Sweat Lodge Ceremony)
2.The Hanbleceya (crying for a vision)
3.The Ghost Keeping Ceremony (Wanagi yuhapi)
4.The Sun Dance (Wi Wanyang wacipi)
5.The Hunka Ceremony (‘the making of relatives)
6.The Girl’s Puberty Rite (Isnati awicalowan)
7.The Throwing of the Ball Ceremony (Tapa wankayeyapi).
Some people would say that this list is inaccurate and it may well be. What we do know is that a sacred woman with supernatural powers gave the pipe with it’s 7 rites to the people. She also gave a song, White Buffalo Calf Woman Song, as well as the promise to return to the people one day. The true story of Pte Ska Win is not as popular as it’s Christian version, but here we will speak about the Sacred pipe and leave the rest of the story for others to tell.
Aside from the seven rites is the Canupa Ceremony itself. The pipe’s stone bowl and the stem is smudged in the smoke of the Mugwort plant, (somtimes reffered as sage). The two are then joined together symbolizing the connection with the divine. The pipe is filled with Red willow inner-bark usually while singing Canunpa Olawan, (pipe song). This is done at the start of all of the seven rites as well as any important occasion.
The Canupa is passed clockwise being sure not to separate the stone bowl from the wooden stem. Participants take 4 small puffs and pass the pipe along. Those who don’t wish to puff on the pipe simply touch there shoulders and the top of their head with the pipe’s stem in blessing. Among some groups this can be a very elaborate ordeal, but among the humble it is a very plain and simple act. The pipe is seen as the most important object, it is the greatest means of communicating with the divine.
The original Canupa is believed to be kept in a place known as Green Grass on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, but no one knows for sure. A lot of controversy still surrounds this issue. The importance here is to remember that Pte Ska Win brought it to the people. Do this by keeping it sacred, not blending it with foreign concepts, and understanding its’ history! The use of the Canupa was given to the Lakota people by the White Buffalo Calf Maiden along with the Seven Sacred Rites hundreds of years ago according to Lakota records painted on buffalo hides.
The Sacred Pipe itself, according to Archaeologists, may have started any where from about 4,000 to 14,000 years ago. Countless thousands of pipes have been unearthed from the Hopewell culture in the Ohio Valley, some of which represent woolly mammoth and manatee!