Central Wyoming College Swaps ‘Uggawugg’ Lyrics For Arapaho In ‘Peter Pan’

Central Wyoming College theater director Joey West got his colleague Ron Howard to rewrite the tribal “Uggawugg” song in the “Peter Pan” musical with real Arapaho lyrics and purge the 1954 play’s other Native American stereotypes.

Clair McFarland

March 15, 20245 min read

From the Central Wyoming College production of the musical "Peter Pan."
From the Central Wyoming College production of the musical "Peter Pan." (Courtesy Sarah Dike, CWC Theater Photographer)

RIVERTON — Play directors in 1954 thought it was a good idea to portray a group of Native American characters onstage singing “Uggawugg, uggawugg, uggawugg, wahh!”

But that doesn’t fly as easily in 2024, with entertainers trying with more sincerity to understand rather than caricaturize indigenous culture.

And it also might not work in a large venue in the middle of Wyoming next to the Wind River Indian Reservation.

So, when Central Wyoming College theater director Joey West decided to bring the 1954 “Peter Pan” musical to the Robert A. Peck Arts Center theater in Riverton, his colleague, longtime community actor and Northern Arapaho tribal member Ron Howard, scratched his head.

“I was questioning why he would pick such a play,” Howard told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “But I think he had every confidence that he’d work something out, and we’d figure out how to portray it without insulting people.”

About That Song

The musical features the choreographed “Uggawugg” song when the lost boys unite with the Native tribe after the title character Peter Pan saves the tribe’s princess, Tiger Lily.

Earlier versions of the musical showed Peter Pan emulating Tiger Lily’s dance and repeating her nonsense “uggawugg” chorus as a peace gesture. The song also features an upbeat drum duet by the pair.

Two days after play auditions in mid-January, West and CWC box office manager Matt Hartman, who also plays Captain Hook’s dull henchman Smee, were brainstorming ways to perform “Peter Pan” without boxing its tribal characters into a 1954 stereotype.

They decided to change the nonsense lyrics of “Uggawugg” to Arapaho words.

“You know, I wanted to honor the Native American tribes that we’re close to,” said West, who has directed CWC plays for seven years near the reservation the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes share. “And I wanted to let them know that there are workarounds to, I guess, culturally insensitive things that are in old shows.”

West asked for help from Howard, who speaks some Arapaho and whose daughter, 12-year-old Elizabeth Howard, plays Tiger Lily in the musical.

Howard agreed with the plan.

From the Central Wyoming College production of the musical "Peter Pan."
From the Central Wyoming College production of the musical "Peter Pan." (Courtesy Sarah Dike, CWC Theater Photographer)


The new lyrics wouldn’t make sense to everyone, but at least they’ll have meaning for the few Arapaho-language speakers in the audience, he said.

And they might make those Arapaho-language speakers laugh. That’s because the new lyrics, written in the program pamphlet for “Peter Pan,” are as zany as Jabberwocky.  

“Nei’oohootoo,” Tiger Lily sings to Peter Pan, which the program translates to: “Look at it and learn it.”  

Her tribe echoes her.

“Children!” sings out the aggrieved Captain Hook, in Arapaho.

“I tied the trouble-maker,” Smee sings, using the Arapaho word “Ceece’ino3eihii” for part of his line.

“Look at it! Look at it!” sings Peter Pan in Arapaho.

Peter and Tiger Lily sing of spotting a hairy frog.

Peter and the lost boys sing of milking cows, getting bread and pretending to be deer and antelope.

“Those words I thought were kind of funny,” Howard said with a chuckle.

He said the real trick was to find Arapaho words that matched the syllable count of the original lyrics.


Besides replacing the stage tribe’s nonsense words with Arapaho, Howard also removed the word “redskin” from the song, replacing it with the Arapaho word for “troublemaker,” he said.

He's not fluent in Arapaho, so he turned to a dictionary for some of the words.

There were other cultural elements that came under Howard’s hand.

The tribal characters’ stock headbands (part of a purchased costume package) bore “multi-colored Walmart turkey feathers,” said Howard, which he described as a tacky portrayal of the more revered tribal custom of wearing feathers.

He asked Kara Hancock, the wife of Riverton Mayor Tim Hancock and a gifted seamstress, to make red cloth headbands “like Geronimo wore” for the children instead.

Kara Hancock designed a few more costumes for the play also, Howard added.

Howard turned to his uncle, Gail Ridgley, to discuss Tiger Lily’s drum.

It would not be appropriate to use a real powwow drum, Howard related from that discussion, since those are part of religious ceremonies.

The crew got a bass drum from the CWC music department instead and dressed it up to fit the scene, he said.

Opening Weekend

When the show opened Thursday night, Howard got to watch his daughter sing, dance and drum to his quirky new lyrics.

“I was pretty proud of her and she learned it really well,” he said, adding that she led the other children of West’s very young cast.

West said the cast contains 20 children, some as young as 4 years old. The oldest actor in the play is about 43, he said.

Howard said the director has been “herding cats” for two months; but West said it’s all paying off now that the show’s performance phase has finally arrived.

It shows again Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., then Sunday at 2 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Evening shows kick off again next Thursday through Saturday, March 21-23, at 7 p.m. each night.

Clair McFarland can be reached at: Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter