Saturday, February 02, 2008

Asking For Vision (Day 3, or 4 maybe, this is where we talk about Hoops)

Tsa-Ka'alim is a beautiful young man. If our Hollywood friends ever allow the WGA members to work again he would be a perfect casting coup for anything involving Native Americans. He looks very Apache to me. He's tall, 6'2", and leanly muscular. He has impossible cheekbones, thick black hair, black eyes. When he dances the Hoops he wears Apache style knee high moccaisins, a fringed hunting shirt that comes down to mid-thigh, a breechcloth for modesty's sake and very little else. He's young and unscarred enough that it works for him well. He moves with the easy grace of an elk. All relaxed potential for action.

He asks his brother, the brilliant attorney to sing while he dances and is obliged. In a high clear and steady voice over insistantly throbbing drums he sings while his brother dances. Tsa Ka'alim begins placing hoops made from willow branches and painted white, black, red, and yellow, all around the area he will be performing.

'ìs' à' nà yái k' è' gòjó 'àná' hòkùs

(long life, like good, moves back and forth)

t'á ìga'ì biìt á'éd yùd'á lzà tc'ìndíi

(white water flows underneath in a circle we have made they say)

Tsa Ka'alim here steps on the edge of a white hoop, it flies up in the air, spinning fast. On the way down he catches it in his hand casually, he plays with it for a bit and passes his entire body through the hoop.

ákó gò'it'á ìgaì bìká nà'íljò jogò'á lzàa tc'ìndíi

(fast white water on it, spread across it, this is made they say)

yò gàii sìyùdì'ìt á nèz' ágò'á lzà tc'ìndíi

(white shells curve over, also under, it rests easy, made by hand they say)

Tsa Ka'alim does this with a hoop of each color. He has four and begins to make simple patterns based upon the Apache medicine wheel. White for the North, intention; black for the South, emotion; yellow the west, action; and, red, in the East where spirit lives.

gòdìt' óo' bàskxà' hílljìij tc'ìndíi

(lightning dances alongside they say)

gòdìt' óo' bèbìik' è nà'ìst'oó tc'ìndíi

(lightning fastened across it they say)

Now, as hoops are added, the patterns are becoming far more complicated. As he picks up each hoop, Tsa Ka'alim passes through it. He makes it look effortlessly easy. It is not. He's just that good.

hí tsáta'ul bìt'ùl á lzà tc'ìndíi

(rainbow is its rope that has been made they say)

t'ádì xì bìtc'ìd bìt'á' sì tsòoz

(a blanket of black water underneath it rests)

t'á'ìgaì bìtc'ìd bìt'á' sì tsòoz

(a blanket of white water underneath it rests)

Tsa Ka'alim is playing with about twenty hoops now. He mimics butterflies, and birds, he plays with the shapes and the colors of the hoops. All this time he moves, often with his eyes closed. It's as if he's imagining his dance as much as making a performance. He has made an especially elaborate pattern that looks like a Celtic Love Knot. Little Kilkii Dani laughs out loud in delight. Tsa Ka'alim laughs with her and makes a circuit of his performance space, hooting in joy and pride. I join his brother in singing.

ìs' àa'nà yáaii keh'eh gòjó ts'áh'áh lzàa tc'ìndíi

(like long life, good young woman she is made, they say)

djùnà' aáii bìnànt àh' bèii bìyì' gùdìtníi tc'ìndíi

(the sun, our chief, beside her, within her, he rumbles they say)

Tsa Ka'alim finishes with 28 hoops. He runs to his new cousin and gives her two of the hoops. He picks her up in his arms and holds her high. He shouts her name. It is shouted back by the people.

He comes over to his brother and I. He passes Girl Who Is Loved By The Ravens over to me. She gives me a big hug around the neck, a kiss on the cheek, and says

Cousin Kaleem says that you and cousin Benny are famous Eagle dancers. Will you be dancing?

I give a look to my cousin. He is searching for ways that we can gracefully refuse.

We can't find one.

Together we say "Yes. We will dance for you."


Friday, February 01, 2008

Desktop Meme

that's ten pounds of bittersweet chocolate waiting for the hot cream and butter. my kind of picture.

Friday Random Ten

I am hard at work on a post about the Eagle Dance, life keeps intruding though, I manage to put in a few moments each morning, each afternoon, and each evening. OK, that's a lie, there was a Suns game on last night and I didn't do shit.

Hit random, take the first ten songs.

One More Night - - - Barbra Streisand
Back Then - - - Wanda Jacks
'Till I Gain Control Again - - - Emmylou Harris
July, Julie, Angel Rain - - - John Stewart (miss ya hoss, miss ya)
Don't Explain - - - Nina Simone
Bluegrass - - - Pearl Baily
Summerwind - - - Vaughn Monroe
Les Singes - - - Jaques Brel (live bootleg 1961 Le Hot Club du Paris)
You Can Never Hold Back Spring - - - Tom Waits
Mozart, Symphony #5 - - - Academy of St. Martin in the Fields

Bonus track

Chicka, Chocka, Sha La La - - - Lightnin' Hopkins

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Asking For Vision (Day 3, In The Kiva)

Kivas are found all over the southwest. Most of us use them. Imagine a circular structure that is three quarters underground. Entrances vary. Most involve a small door, that must be entered in carefully, a small landing with a ladder to complete the descent. The top sides are often a combination of adobe brick and woven fronds which can be added or taken away depending on the amount of ventilation needed. Being mostly underground there is a natural cooling that is very welcome in the summer. There is a firepit at the center of the floor, which is packed dirt, or, if you're dealing with civilized Indians like the Pueblo and Hopi, tiled beautifully. Kivas are used for gatherings in council, for ceremony, or for teenaged lovers to sneak a little alone time when they aren't being used for other things.

It's dark when we enter our kiva. It's also pretty cold. The first order of business is to stoke up a fire. Pine knots are soon blazing away, kerosene lamps are lit and soon the space and the light are both warm.

There are nearly fifteen of us gathered to seek vision on a name for our new girl. There really isn't a particular or regimented way that this is done. After all, we're Apache, and we just don't take to shit like that well. Autonomy is big stuff for us. Silas and a couple other elders sit close to the fire and begin to sing softly to themselves. I busy myself making sure that they are comfortably seated and have water or tea in easy reach. There is a big bowl of toasted pine nuts and other foods. A couple of pipes are produced and passed around. One smells like wild tobacco, one doesn't, I smoke from the tobacco pipe.

Silas has his medicine pouch with him and he begins to rummage around inside it, bringing out bits of cactus and dried herbs and mushrooms. People come up to him and he thinks for a bit, then gives them what he thinks might be the best for them. I refrain. It's a personal choice that I made when I got sober. There have been some times when, in ceremony, because it was integral to the task at hand, I have taken peyote and other "teacher" plants. It's not something that I seek out. I mostly figure that since I spent so many years using them for recreation and just for the hell of it, that I can show a better form of respect by refraining. This is one of those times. I will seek my vision through sitting quietly and going within my own heart and thoughts. If it comes, it comes; if it doesn't, so be it.

I wish I could tell you that this is a constant and true connection that Native Americans have with spirit or "other" worlds. Like there was this switch that we flipped and "poof" we were all tuned up and singing the music of the spheres. It's not like that. The best we can do is to try and be tuned in enough to notice when something is obvious, and not try too hard to force issues when nothing is occuring.

We settle into our individual thoughts and silences. We wait. Time sort of springs out of joint in places like this. I'm not sure about the time frames. I figure that after a few hours of sitting in silence some of the folks got bored and figured that they should seek their vision back at the party which is still going strong. A couple of people come up to Silas and talk quietly to him. I'm not sure if they have had a vision for a name or what. To one of them he says something dismissive and clearly displeased. That's how it tends to go with these things. Even though I am getting no pictures, no inspiration, and no sense of what might be the right name I know when someone else is in vision. We all know what is true and what might be something that sounds nice and gets everybody back to the party.

Two of the elder women come in and take places near the fire. Another person leaves the kiva. That is just too much for Silas. He speaks, softly, but with great authority that from this moment the kiva is shut. Nobody in, nobody out. We will either get our vision from the people we have in the circle or we will say that there was no vision which came to us. I ask him if he would like me to sit up by the door and he motions for me to come sit by him instead.

I don't have any idea how long it took. We went in just after nightfall, it is night again when we finally leave without anyone having any real vision for a name. It's like that. Sometimes nothing comes. If we tried faking it everybody would know so we just don't bother. It's not a failure, there's no disgrace, we'll just have to try again some other time.

We go back to the party and I tell my sister that we weren't able to find any vision for the naming. She doesn't reproach us in the slightest but tells Silas and I that we should watch our new girl to see if we are able to see the same thing that my sister has seen.

We do. We watch. We are eating and making the rounds of clan relatives and invited guests from the other clans but mostly we are watching my little niece as she plays and interacts with her new family. Then, at about the same time we see. Everywhere that she goes there are Raven Soldiers and their families drawn to her. It's not all that unusual, the Ravens are one of the smaller warrior societies, there aren't a lot of us, usually someone becomes a Raven after being tested and proven serving in another society. Every time we see this girl, there is a Raven close by. My sister saw it, but wanted to see if Silas and I would see it too. I lean in and whisper in Silas' ear Kilkii Dani'oshonni Ga'age (keelkee dahnee oh show nee gah ah geh) Girl Loved By The Ravens? Silas beams his thousand watt smile of glee and says "Ya'aa set kilkii." (yes, that's our girl)

We go around to other folks and say what we think the name should be to them. Instantly people sense the rightness of it. We call people's attention and bring her forward in front of the people gathered. We introduce her formally to our clan, the other clans and tell people that we will be dancing all night in celebration.

While we were in the Kiva another cousin of mine arrived. He is one of my very favorite people in the world. His name is Tsa Ka'alim and he makes a very good living traveling the Indian Casino circuit as a Hoop Dancer. I haven't seen him for over a year and we are doing some catching up when little Kilkii Dani'oshonni Ga'age comes to us and is introduced to Tsa Ka'alim. Her eyes are huge as she says "Grandmother told me that you are a Hoop Dancer. Will you be dancing tonight?" He tells her that he would be honored to dance for her. Just before he leaves he tells her that she won't be a real Apache until my other cousin, the brilliant attorney, and I do the Eagle dance for her.

That bastard.