“Tȟawápaha Olówaŋ” (Lakota STAFF/Flag Song)
Tȟuŋkášilayapi, tȟawápaha kiŋháŋ
oíhaŋke šni hé nážiŋ kte ló.
Iyóȟlateya oyáte kiŋháŋ
wičhíčhaǧiŋ kta čha,
Tȟawápaha, which is often translated as ‘flag’ in modern times but also can be translated in other ways. Traditionally the early Lakota people did not have nor use flags as many know them today. Instead, a more literal translation is ‘staff’ or sometimes ‘lance’—an object that was far more common in Lakota society before contact with European settlers.
Tȟuŋkášilayapi tȟawápaha can be understood as ‘The Staff of God,’ ‘The Staff of the Creator,’ or very simply, ‘A Sacred Lance or Staff.’ with Oíhaŋke šni which can mean ‘it is indestructible’ or ‘it can’t be destroyed.’
And, Nážiŋ means to stand, so Literally, we’d have, ‘The staff of the Creator will stand, indestructibly.’
It stands for the people oyáte who can never be destroyed. We are the staff of God in literal translation.
FIyóȟlateya oyáte kiŋháŋ wičhíčhaǧiŋ kta čha, léčhamuŋ weló, can be translated as ‘because of [the staff] the People shall live and flourish.’
The Sotká Yuhá provided that selfless act of protection or protecting another so that their people could live another day. Literally so that they could remain safe and flourish. This more literal translation, may reflect the history that ultimately inspired the song.
In other words. The Sotká Yuhá, the Lance Owners or protectors, will stand with their sacred staffs and face their opponents with bravery, and therefore the village will not be destroyed.
It is the war song and reminds the warriors of their charge. Protect the people oyáte so the staff of God (the people) will stand forever. It is sung only when war is the only remaining choice. The warrior sit around the fire and those who will remain in the village dance and sing the song.
It’s a song of blessing and a reminder of just what they fight for. It’s a promise they will be honored should they fall while protecting and welcomed as heroes when they return. Even the Lakota song of war is beautiful and a blessing.
My son has been teaching me the words and perhaps in time I shall sing them for you. It’s a song of hope that even a warrior will never see war and a reminder of a warriors duty if war comes.