Home Equipping Leaders Native American History of Hymns: “Ah-ho Dawk’ee”

History of Hymns: “Ah-ho Dawk’ee”

“Ah-ho Dawk’ee,”
Traditional Kiowa Hymn;
Singing the Sacred, No. 10

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)


MornTipi, by Monroe Tsatoke
Kiowa painter, member of the
Kiowa Five from Oklahoma,
(1904-1937) Public domain

My first introduction to the Kiowa hymn “Ah-ho Dawk’ee” was in Winfield, Kansas, at the Regional School Event for the United Methodist Women’s (UMW) School of Mission (now called Mission u) in 2007. I was invited to attend by the former Southwest Texas Conference (now Rió Texas Conference) of UMW so I could learn the materials for the Native American Sovereignty study being presented across the UMW conferences that year.

When I arrived, I quickly developed a friendship with my Muscogee Creek roommate who took me to see one of the Indian Boarding Schools, shared stories of her ancestors and experiences, and gifted me with a lamp of a turtle – a strong symbol for many tribes. It is one of my life’s greatest blessings that, during that event, she invited me to join the singing at one of the plenaries with the many Native American men and women who were also attending the Regional School. “Ah-ho Dawk’ee” was one of the songs we presented.

S T Kimbrough (b. 1936) states in his article “Native American/First Nations Peoples of North America: their Christian Hymns” on the The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology website:

In North American hymnody there is no Christian tradition or denominational heritage that embodies the volume of productivity of hymns and hymnbooks that exists in Native American languages. The amount of hymn material is absolutely overwhelming and in large measure unacknowledged today in mainline churches of North America…The story of Christian hymns in the Native American languages of North America is extremely complex due to the diverse denominational missions to Native Americans and to the multiplicity of languages into which hymns were translated and in which indigenous hymns emerged.

“Ah-ho Dawk’ee” (Thank you, God) falls into the latter category described by Kimbrough–the indigenous hymn–and, as he suggests, is nearly unknown by musicians and congregants in mainline churches.

Edgar Keahbone

Edgar Keahbone (Kiowa; unknown
birth date-1933), Portrait inscribed
by Irwin, Chickasha Ind. Ter.,
1905. Public Domain.

Like much early indigenous music, the original author and/or composer of this hymn is difficult to trace. In the 1992 hymnal, Voices: Native American Hymns and Worship Resources, the words and music are attributed to Edgar Keahbone (d. 1933) by the influential Native hymn collector Marilyn Hofstra (b. 1945; Choctaw, Chickasaw). Keahbone’s granddaughter, Trina Lue Stumblingbear (1933-2000; Kiowa), provided the quote, “This is a Kiowa hymn that my grandfather Edgar Keahbone would sing as he started from the door of the church and walked toward the altar. We were taught that God is with us—look to Him and He will grant you the petition that is in your heart.” (Hofstra, 1992, 55). In the 2008 hymnal, Singing the Sacred: Musical Gifts from Native American Communities, the words are marked as Traditional Kiowa and the music as Unknown (Kiowa).

Questions of authorship aside, it seems (from the attribution above) that Keahbone’s singing of the hymn was instrumental to its preservation. Keahbone (birth name Kyaitah-kebonemah, son of Poor Buffalo [Kiowa], husband of Sen-deh-mah, [Kiowa-Arapaho]) an ex-serviceman, was referenced in the work of Rev. John Jeffries Methvin (Methodist missionary to the Kiowas) and had an early role in calling for the preservation of the Kiowa Sun Dance as well.

Alvin Deer (b. 1942, Muscogee Creek, Kiowa) writes in the introduction to Singing the Sacred, “Music has always been an integral part of Native American life. There were songs for every conceivable event in life” (Deer, 2008, vii). For the Kiowa people, the act of singing their Christian faith is well-documented in publications such as the 1962 Kawy-dawkhyah Dawgyah “Kiowa Christian Songs,” published by The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, OK, the 2002 The Jesus Road: Kiowas, Christianity, and Indian Hymns published by The University of Nebraska Press, and numerous other books and recordings of Kiowa song tradition. In the performance notes for “Ah-ho Dawk’ee,” Deer highlights this by saying:

The Kiowa had songs for every aspect of their communal life…Today there are many Kiowa Christian songs of thanksgiving, testimonies to the work of Jesus, and promises of heaven…This hymn is very popular among Kiowa as a song of thanksgiving to God for answering prayers. It is sung at practically any moment during worship… (Deer, 2008, 30)

From the time of the 1992 Voices to the 2008 Singing the Sacred, the form and performance practice of this hymn has varied. In Voices there is one stanza and the performance directions encourage the congregation to sing the hymn four times. Stumblingbear says, “We were also taught the Kiowa way. Our elders say to sing this song four times because…the sun comes up in the East, the sun sets in the West, the wind blows from the South, and the wind blows from the North” (Hofstra, 1992, 55). In the 2008 Singing the Sacred, an additional stanza appears which is to be sung after singing the original stanza twice. From my experience in Winfield and Mission u singings in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference (OIMC), we most often sing it a cappella in an energetic manner, in the Kiowa language, and in the form described in Voices with a lead voice that calls the congregation into the song.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6, NRSV). This message of thanksgiving and prayer resounds throughout “Ah-ho Dawk’ee.” This can be seen in Marilyn Hofstra’s recording of Keahbone and Stumblingbear’s translation of the text: “Thank you, God, for your help… I cried out in desperation and you have helped me” (Hofstra, 1992, 55).

In the 2008 Singing the Sacred, John Thornburg (b. 1954) offers a versification for singing in English that matches the melodic accents of the Kiowa tune. The vibrancy of the thanksgiving focus of the hymn is preserved well: “God, I thank you. God my helper!” (Deer, 2008, 29)

With the melody contained within an octave, an attractive opening phrase, and accessible intervals, congregations can easily learn this hymn within a few repetitions. The leader may want to teach the song by rote since it is brief. To offer the hymn in its original language, leaders should reference phonetics in Kiowa language resources, many of which can be accessed online. Debi Tyree offers the suggestion that this hymn be sung in worship at times of prayer, or to do as Deer suggests above and sing it at any point in a worship service.

Since the first time I sang “Ah-ho Dawk’ee” in Winfield, I have spent several summers in the OIMC joining them for their annual Mission u events, where I have formed lifelong friendships and have been witness to the deep faith of Native Americans expressed through their songs, prayers, and life. As a personal note of thanksgiving, I witness that it is due, in large part, to the encouragement of the ordained OIMC Elders that I took steps to follow through on discerning my own call into ministry and begin the process of seeking orders in the United Methodist Church. Ah-ho, God, for the faithful witness of my Native sisters and brothers and for their music of faith.

For further reading:

Kimbrough, S T. “Native American/First Nations Peoples of North America: their Christian Hymns.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed February 15, 2018. https://hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk/n/native-american-first-nations-peoples-of-north-america-their-christian-hymns.

Hofstra, Marilyn M. Voices: Native American Hymns and Worship Resources. Nashville: Disciplieship Resources, 1992.

Meadows, William C. Kiowa Military Societies: Ethnohistory and Ritual. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010.

Kracht, Benjamin R. Kiowa Belief and Ritual. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.

Redbird, Charles, Louis Toyebo, William Wolfe, Moses Poolaw, Hymnal Committee, Kawy-dawkhyah Dawgyah “Kiowa Christian Songs,” Norman, OK: The Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1962. Available online in a PDF at https://www.twirpx.com/file/2445515/. (Persons seeking to download this file will need to use their Google translator).

Lassiter, Luke Eric, Clyde Ellis, and Ralph Kotay, The Jesus Road: Kiowas, Christianity, and Indian Hymns, (Lincoln, NE: The University of Nebraska Press, 2002).

Deer, Alvin. Singing the Sacred: Musical Gifts from Native American Communities. New York: The General Board of Global Ministries, 2008.

About this week’s writer:

Victoria Schwarz is the Recording Secretary of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Director of Music at Berkeley United Methodist Church in Austin, TX and a Master of Arts in Ministry Practice student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts.
For more information about The Fellowship, visit UMFellowship.org/Hymns.

Discipleship Ministries
The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts

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