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pow·wow (pouwou)
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n.
1.
a. A council or meeting of Native Americans, sometimes with people from other communities.
b. Informal A conference or gathering, as of business people.
2.
a. A Native American shaman.
b. A ceremony conducted by a shaman, as in the performance of healing or hunting rituals.
intr.v. pow·wowed, pow·wow·ing, pow·wows
Informal
To hold a powwow.

[Narragansett powwaw, shaman.]

Word History: According to the traditional beliefs of many Native American peoples, a healer, shaman, or priest can communicate with spiritual forces beyond the ken of the ordinary person through trances and visions, gaining power and knowledge that helps to cure the sick and otherwise benefit the community, as by bringing about good weather or a successful hunt. In Narragansett, the indigenous Algonquian language of Rhode Island, the traditional healer or priest was given the title powwaw, a term that developed from a Proto-Algonquian word meaning "one who has visions." In English, a form of the word powwaw occurs in a 1624 document by Edward Winslow, expressing the English colonists' typical mistrust of Native American religion: The office and dutie of the Powah is to be exercised principally in calling upon the Devil; and curing diseases of the sicke or wounded. The English spelling of the word was eventually settled as powwow, and the term also came to be used as the name for ceremonies and councils, probably because of the important role played by the healer or holy person in these events. Today, when speaking in English, some Native American communities themselves use the word powwow to refer to meetings or gatherings held according to the traditional ways of their people.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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