19th April 2019
I must have caught something in the air when I was composing my last blog entry about Native America, because unbeknownst to me the first local Pow Wow was being planned in Aspen for the following weekend. This is the photograph that appeared the day after the event on the front page of our local newspaper, and it is so telling, I just want to hover for a moment longer on this topic of America and its first peoples.
I have been to Pow Wows before, and I sit there watching in my all-whiteness, trying to be less conspicuous, but most of all nursing a great pain. I'm not entirely sure where this comes from, though my brain tells me it has to do with the great injustices perpetrated against these peoples. I come from a country that has also suffered under colonial rule, so, I reason, this pain must have to do with a feeling of empathy.
But I sense it is something more.
Hollywood has provided some visuals here of native Americans and Native dress. At this Pow Wow, too, there was an older man in full regalia: head dress, fringed leg wraps, chest plate of threaded bone. And to some extent we have been shown the audio that goes along with it, the kind of screech/singing and drum beating heard from that band of savages over in the hollow.
But to witness it is something else: men and women around a large vellum drum, some creating a small rhythmic background while another crashes down with a strident booming beat. And all the time, the high screeching singing that reminded me this time of the cry of coyotes.
This is where my pain comes in, I think, from this primal cry. These days of course it incorporates all the devastation that that culture has met with in the last few hundred years. But I suspect the sound was always the same - it's something that is birthed in the face of a rising moon, of the cycle of the seasons, of the sheer act of survival. It is something we have lost, this connection point of ourselves to raw, unadorned being. Our religion has separated us from it until we recognise only the safe and sanctified icons, like the one that burned in Paris this week.
But it's in us, albeit a pale shadow. And it hurts when we watch the Indians in their dance and in their song. This primal urge wants us to know it has not been silenced. It is still there.