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August 19, 2017

American Indian beliefs about the eclipse

The National Museum of American Indian has received numerous inquiries concerning the upcoming eclipse. Part of the museum’s mission is to provide a forum for Native people’s voices, so we went to the Internet to ask, “Does your tribe have any beliefs or protocols concerning the eclipse?” Here are some of the replies, with the correspondent’s Native affiliation (and where he or she is living now).

Niuam fan detail
Niuam (Comanche) fan with sun and Morning Star designs (detail), ca. 1880. Oklahoma. 2/1617

Laguna–Acoma Pueblo (New Mexico): “My Chacoan and Mesa Verde ancestors were astronomers. They marked Halley's comet, we watched the sun, and we predicted eclipses. The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon is a prime example of the science of my Puebloan ancestors. I asked my elders recently of any taboos with eclipses. I was told that they are a time of transformation and not to fear them. Those in our tribe who feel fear have done something wrong. They told me to pray with cornmeal, respect the silence, and accept the transformation coming.”

Cherokee (Oklahoma): “Cherokee say it is a giant frog in the sky trying to eat the sun. Everybody is supposed to go outside and make a big noise with drums, whistles, and voices to scare the frog away.”

Shawnee (Kansas): “Our prophet Tenskwatawa, predicted a solar eclipse leading up to the War of 1812. He predicted this to William Henry Harrison, who dared Tenskwatawa to predict the future. He did, and tribes came from all over to hear our Prophet speak.”

Shoshone-Bannock (Idaho): “My gramma would close all her windows. She says that’s when bad things happen to bad people. After that, we would drink water that she prayed for. That’s my young recollection of the eclipse, both lunar and solar.”

Hopi (Arizona): “I am Hopi Sun Clan! We pray to our Dawa every morning. During the last eclipse, our nieces and nephews were given their sacred Hopi names—Red Beautiful Sun, New Colorful Sun, and Little Sunboy! It's very significant to us, a time for ceremony.”

Kiowa (Oklahoma): "The sun and the moon played an important part in our yearly cycle. I seem to recall hearing where a full eclipse happened. All of a sudden some got scared and just prayed."

Kumiai and Yaqui (Maryland): “I was raised outside my traditional community. This is what I was taught by my mother and aunties in Mexico: For pregnant women especially, during an eclipse they are to wear a red sash with a small steel pin or keys and not to go outside at all.”

Coushatta sash
Coushatta sash with scroll and sun designs, ca. 1875. Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. 1/8587

Taos Pueblo (New Mexico): “We are told to stay inside and keep babies away from the windows, to be mindful. We have to wear something sharp.”

Nakoda (Alberta, Canada): “Our elders have said that any meteor and lunar activity are omens signifying events that will come to pass. Rings around the sun and moon may indicate significant weather change. Lunar and sun eclipses have deeper representations. This activity represents some natural occurrence to happen on earth.”

Ho-Chunk (Wisconsin): “Was told to respect both sun and moon eclipses. Time of transformation.“

Crow (Montana): “We believe it's a new beginning. The sun dies and is rejuvenated.”

Pawnee (Oklahoma): “When I was younger I asked an elder about what an eclipse meant to us. He said he didn't know much, but he heard the old people talking about how it was a troubling time when one happened. They said it meant a great leader was going to pass on.”

The Institute for Diné Culture, Philosophy and Government, in Rock Point, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, received so many inquiries that the staff prepared a detailed reply:

Our Diné people have a completely different definition and perspective on this sacred natural phenomenon. The belief is that the Jóhonaa’éí (Sun) is the male and the Tł‘éhonaa’éí (Moon) is the female. The Sun is the most powerful deity amongst all creation, here on earth and in the universe. The Sun is the epicenter of all creation. Nothing will live or function without the Sun. The Sun controls and regulates the universe, whereas the moon controls and regulates the earth.

25-8436 Sun Spirits
David Chethlahe Paladin (1926-1984, Diné [Navajo], Sun Spirits, 1971. Albuquerque, New Mexico. 25/8436

The Sun is vested with the concept of and in control of death (anoonééł), and the Moon is vested with and in control of birthing (oochííł). When a solar or lunar eclipse occurs, it is believed that a death occurs. That is the reason why an eclipse is termed daaztsą́, either Jóhonaa’éí daaztsą́ (solar eclipse) or Tł'éhonaa’éí daaztsą́ (lunar eclipse). A death is a very sacred occurrence. There are certain necessary protocols, but most important is the strict and comprehensive reverence in observing the occurrence of death (yéego dílzin dóó hodílzin). During a solar or lunar eclipse, strict and comprehensive acts of reverence must be carried out.

In addition to the concept of death during an eclipse, it is also believed that during an eclipse, the Sun and the Moon are mating. After the passing of the eclipse, when the sun or moon becomes fully bright once again, it is believed that a birthing has just taken place. It is believed that the mating is to give birth to, or renew, the universe and all creation. During this birthing/renewal process, the universe and all creation are reborn, realigned, and there is growth and development amongst all of creation as well.

Due to the very sacredness of death and birth, the reverence required to be shown during an eclipse is very strict and comprehensive (ts’ídá yéego hodílzin). There is only one way to be reverent during an eclipse. No shortcuts exist. We cannot simply smudge ashes or corn pollen upon ourselves and exit our homes and carry on as if it is just another day. The following acts of reverence must be carried out during an eclipse: We must stay inside, preferably in our home; we cannot eat or drink anything, cannot be asleep, cannot brush or comb our hair or wash ourselves, cannot be in an intimate act with our spouse or anyone of the opposite sex, cannot needlessly move around, are required to remain calm and still, cannot look outside, cannot look at the sun while the eclipse is occurring—yes, it also means the shadow of the sun, through a pinhole or other apparatuses; and we cannot be using the restroom.

During the eclipse, we must be in full prayer and reverence. Prayers must be focused on the concept of the Sun or Moon going through an ending, and we are to pray about the ending of bad or evil, or the ending of phases of life. In addition, our prayers must be focused on the birth and renewal that will arrive when the eclipse ends. Moreover, prayers must be about a better future. Most of the time, we pray for and about ourselves and loved ones. It is advocated that prayers during an eclipse must mostly be about this creation: the ending, renewal, and the future of this creation and the divine presence. If we know the songs for use during eclipses, those songs can be sung at that time.

Moreover, during the eclipse, we must always look down at the ground, cannot be looking up or outside. The animals, the insects, the birds will not be active during the eclipse. The birds will not fly; the insects will hibernate; horses and dogs will be calm and look down at the ground.

When the eclipse ends, we will end our prayer and say hózhǫ́ náhásdlį́į́ four times. At that time, we must take our corn pollen (tádídíín) out and use it as an offering to acknowledge our prayer and to acknowledge the sacred phenomenon. The corn pollen will be the first meal taken after the eclipse, just as corn pollen is the first food eaten in a new period of life. We will feel the renewal of life, the rejuvenation of life, the feeling of going on, and a positive outlook of the future.

It is tremendously amazing how our people knew when the eclipses were going to happen through their prayers, songs, and belief systems without technology. Today we have to rely on the media to inform us when these eclipses are going to take place. Our prayers and songs are very powerful.

Our traditional Diné teachings instruct us that if a person does not observe the eclipse in accordance with the cultural protocols that have been outlined here, the nonobserver will certainly develop eye problems. Unexplained sunburns or rashes will develop, digestive problems and unexplained migraine headaches will develop. If a woman is pregnant and follows the proper required protocols, there should not be any problems. However, if the protocols are not followed, prenatal problems may develop, and when the child is born, the child will certainly develop digestive and skin problems. There are ceremonies to put people back in harmony. It requires a two-day ceremony, however, with an overnight portion and sand paintings.

The Diné Institute is merely sharing our sacred and still relevant cultural teachings. An individual always has a choice to observe or not to observe the eclipse. We hope that our brief synopsis has clarified, reaffirmed, or educated our readers about the upcoming eclipse. On behalf of all of our resident Diné Institute Hataałiis and staff, we thank you for your understanding and encourage all of you to keep our cultural protocols alive and sacred by observing the upcoming eclipse in accordance with these requirements. We thank all the school districts and other agencies who concluded that it would be in the best interest of our children and our sacred cultural belief systems to close schools and offices on the day of the eclipse. May the Holy People be with you and bless you.

Reprinted with permission courtesy of the Institute for Diné Culture, Philosophy and Government


After the museum first published this post, the Comcáac Project shared the beliefs of Comcáac/Seri elders of Sonora, Mexico: 

They do a ritual: Older people in the family sit on the floor in meditation position and make noise with drums to call or communicate with the sun, and talk prayers so the sun can feel it and return brightly. . . .  For the ancestors an eclipse of the sun is zaah quij cooxi, which means "death of the sun," and when the shine returns, it is considered as a new stage, fresh new life for the sun.

Pregnant women cannot look at the sun or be in the sunlight. They use red paint (xpaahjö) to paint crosses and red spots on various parts of the body except the face. Mothers hide babies less than a year old, but they do not use paint for them. Girls from one year to until puberty they paint with dots using white paint (hantixp), because the ancestors say that if they do not do that during the eclipse, when the girls are older they might not have children or never marry. . . . To older girls who already have puberty nothing happens, because their blood is active and there is strength to protect them.

—Dennis W. Zotigh

Dennis W. Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Clan and San Juan Pueblo Winter Clan and a descendant of Sitting Bear and No Retreat, both principal war chiefs of the Kiowas. Dennis works as a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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The Gwich'in Indian people of Alaska always respected, what the great creator has provided for us and this also involved cycles and things displayed in our skies and the moon is very important for it provides warmth for all animals in extreme cold weather.

Chi Miigwetch for the Teachings of Respect

August 13, 2017

Doing "what I could," Wilma Mankiller changed Native America

Review by Sequoia Carrillo

Wilma Mankiller
Wilma Mankiller. Photo by James Schnepf, courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

“I hope that when I leave it will just be said: I did what I could.” –Wilma Mankiller

In Mankiller, by filmmaker Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, the legacy of a true female powerhouse is explored. Born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in 1945, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Wilma Mankiller was the sixth of eleven children. When she was 11 years old, her family moved to San Francisco under the Bureau of Indian Affair’s Relocation Program. The move was supposed to relieve the family of the poor living conditions in their homeland and bring them to a “modern world.”

Through archival footage and photographs, the documentary depicts the obvious flaws in the BIA’s reasoning. The Mankillers’ move to the Bay Area resulted in dangerous conditions and the striking realization that they were poor. In Oklahoma they often lacked running water and electricity, but they consistently had a community of people who lived the same way. They quickly found that what was poor in Oklahoma was destitute in California.

“It was in San Francisco during the Civil Rights Era that she found her voice and the power to make change.” —President Bill Clinton

A teenage Wilma Mankiller acclimated to an environment with elevators and societal unrest as the 1960s roared around her. Although she was a peer with many of the student activists who gave the San Francisco Protest movement its voice, by the time she was 20 years old she was married and a mother of two. Despite this, she assisted and supported the early Black Panthers in their mission to feed elders and children. In fact, her daughters emphasize in an interview clip that the political and activist side of life was always a given with their mother.


“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival begins to play as archival footage of the occupation of Alcatraz rolls. The film does a brilliant job of depicting the spark that Alcatraz set off inside Wilma Mankiller. She and her family participated in the protests alongside such activists as John Trudell and Richard Oakes. Many Indians herald the occupation, which began in November 1969 and lasted 19 months, as the event that brought Native America into the modern era. The occupation yielded direct results in federal policies signed by President Richard Nixon.

“More than anything it was like coming home and I felt that I was where I should be.” —Wilma Mankiller on the occupation of Alcatraz

Following the occupation, Wilma Mankiller continued to volunteer frequently in the Indian community. She and her daughters eventually moved her back to Oklahoma to work for the Cherokee Nation. Much of the film’s dialogue following her return to Indian Country is from her peers. I found this particularly poignant because of the widespread reverence she received from Natives and non-Natives, Democrats and Republicans. This support is unusual for any politician, but especially for a woman more than a generation ago.

After successfully initiating and raising the funds for a clean-water project that reinvigorated unemployed tribal members in Bell, Oklahoma, Mankiller gained recognition. As a result, she was approached to run as deputy chief in Ross Swimmer’s 1983 bid to be principal chief. Despite rampant sexism, including death threats, she won alongside Swimmer.

Groundbreaking as deputy chief
Deputy Chief Mankiller (center) at the groundbreaking for a new development project. Photo courtesy of the Wilma Mankiller Foundation.

After Swimmer stepped down in 1985, Mankiller ran two successful campaigns earning her a decade as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. In her last race, she won 83 percent of the vote. The headlines flash across the screen as a victory that ten years before was scoffed at becomes a reality.

“In a just country, she would have been elected president.” —Gloria Steinem

Wilma Mankiller was the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. President Bill Clinton awarded her the Medal of Freedom in 1998. She revolutionized the largest Indian-run health care system in the country. She doubled annual tribal revenue and tripled tribal enrollment. Under her leadership the Cherokee Nation became what her parents had set out for decades earlier—a modern world.

The voices of her peers depict the life of a woman who surmounted societal pressure to make her life a living example of achievement and dedication to others. The film successfully documents this challenging rise to power by honoring her in remembrance. Mankiller is impactful and soft-spoken, just like its namesake.

 

Mankiller will open the National Museum of the American Indian’s Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe, New Mexico, August 15. Director Valerie Red-Horse Mohl will be in attendance. To watch for other screenings, follow the film on Facebook or Twitter.

Sequoia CarrilloSequoia Carrillo (Navajo/Ute) is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the National Museum of the American Indian. In the fall, she will be a junior at the University of Virginia, where she is specializing in History and Media Studies. During the school year, Sequoia works for the American History podcast and public radio program BackStory.

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August 04, 2017

Q’eswachaka, the Last Inka Suspension Bridge

By Allie Plata

Qeswachaka Bridge by Doug McMains
The Q'eswachaka Bridge has been rebuilt continuously since the time of the Inkas. Photo: National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian

The importance of the Q’eswachaka Bridge, which crosses the Apurimac River in Canas Province, Peru, is extensive. To understand the impact this bridge has had on the Inka Road and the communities it connects today, it helps first to understand the history behind the bridge.

As the Great Inka Road, or Qhapaq Ñan in Quechua, was constructed, many logistical problems arose. Spanning nearly 25,000 miles, the Inka Road network runs through many different terrains, including the Andes Mountains. To solve the problem presented by steep canyons and gorges, the Inka  pioneered suspension bridges that would allow soldiers, messengers, and officials to safely cross and further expand their civilization's reign. These suspension bridges, which connected regions that had previously been isolated from one another, were essential to the organization and administration of the state and played a crucial role in the social history of the region. After the fall of the Inka Empire, the bridges survived for centuries and continued to serve as vital links in the Andean road system until the 20th century.

Chroniclers claim that the Inka used suspension bridges to extend their rule into new regions as early as the 13th century, when the Inka Mayta Capac conquered lands west of Cusco, and spanning into the 16th century. The Inka military use of the bridges can be divided into two sections: the control of lands and peoples already within the empire and the subjugation of new peoples. Even before the Spanish arrived in the empire, it was a common practice in warfare to cut bridges down or to burn them. The goals were both offensive—to isolate opposing warriors—and defensive—to stop invaders or prevent thoughts of retreat among one’s own army. Once a bridge was destroyed it took weeks to rebuild it. Bridges contributed to the downfall of the empire as well, by allowing the Spanish to cross into Inka territory, although bridges were also burned to slow the Spanish from reaching Cusco.

Pulling the cables taut
The main cables are stretched across the river before the old bridge is cut down. Men from neighboring communities strain to pull the new cables taut.

Inka bridges have three common design characteristics: braided cables of natural fiber form the floor and handrails, stone abutments anchor the cables on either side of the bridge, and vertical ties run between the main cables and handrails. If you look at modern bridges and compare them to the structure of the Q’eswachaka, the Inka bridge differs in that the main cables used to create the bridges not only support them, but also serve as the walkway.

Weaving the bridge 1
Weaving the bridge 2
One team of master bridge-builders begins weaving from the right bank of the river while the other weaves from the left. 

The location of the Q’eswachaka Bridge—the only remaining suspension bridge of its kind—has remained the same since the reign of the Inka. The 500-year-old tradition of construction is maintained by members of four Quechua communities—Huinchiri, Chaupibanda, Choccayhua, and Ccollana Quehue—who rebuild the bridge each year. People from the communities harvest a local grass and prepare it to be woven into cables. All of the cables begin with small cords formed by twisting together the harvested grass. The small cords are then twisted together to form a larger rope, and these larger ropes are braided to create the main cables used to support the bridge.

The communities work together to pull the ropes and stretch them out. Builders leave the old bridge in place until they have hauled the new cables across the Apurimac Gorge, then cut it down and let it fall into the river. Once the main cables that will support the new  bridge and serve as its floor are taut, and the cables that will serve as handrails as well, master bridge-builders work from each end of the bridge to weave its sides. Sticks added every few feet help keep the bridge from twisting. When the master builders meet at the center of the span, all the remains is to lay matting over the bridge's floor. 

The finished bridge
The builders meet in the center of the bridge. Assistants will lay matting over the cables of the floor. Then, everyone celebrates!

The bridge-builders are so skilled, and their collaboration is so well coordinated, that it takes only three days for them to rebuild the bridge. Afterward the local communities come together for a celebration. The bridge connects the communities literally and figuratively. Rebuilding it is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years and a joyous experience for people to be a part of. The Q’eswachaka Bridge acts as a link between the past and the future, and it serves as a great example of the innovation and engineering abilities of the magnificent Inka Empire.

You can see a replica of a section of the bridge, woven by the communities, in the exhibition The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire—on view at the museum in Washington, D.C., through June 1, 2020. Or visit the exhibition online in English or Spanish.

Allie Plata (Comanche Nation of Oklahoma) is a student at the University of Kentucky (class of 2018) studying Integrated Strategic Communication and a DJ for the campus radio station WRFL.

Photographs, unless otherwise credited are from the video Weaving the Bridge at Q'eswachaka, produced by Noonday Films for the National Museum of the American Indian. 

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August 01, 2017

Musician Spencer Battiest Talks Heritage, Motivation, and Standing Rock Ahead of Museum Concerts

By Sequoia Carrillo

At the 2016 Native American Music Awards, Spencer Battiest took home two things: a Nammy for Best Pop Recording for the album Stupid in Love and Taboo's phone number. Taboo, the 2016 Hall of Fame Inductee, rose to fame in the 1990s through his band, the Black Eyed Peas, to this day one of the best-selling pop groups of all time. "We heard Taboo was going to be there," Spencer explained. "So my brother, who is a hip-hop artist, made it his mission to get his phone number by the end of the night." It turned out Taboo wanted to talk to them just as much they wanted to talk to him. "He said he loved our performances and he had this idea to create a video with all the top Native artists to speak up for #NoDAPL. He said he wanted to be in touch in the next two weeks to get something together. This was late September when things were heating up so we were pressed for time.”

Battiest Brothers and Taboo
From left to right: Zack “Doc” Battiest, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, and Spencer Battiest in the music video "Stand Up/Stand N Rock," which has more than half a million views on YouTube. Credit: Taboo

More than half a million YouTube views later, it’s no wonder Spencer is eager to talk about "Stand Up/Stand N Rock." “Taboo is so down to earth—the nicest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “It was such a cool experience because so many of us lived far away, but we recorded in our respective studios and it came together in this great song.” Once he produced the song, Taboo invited all the featured artists to Los Angeles to shoot the video. “I was performing in San Francisco that day, so my brother and I had to miss the full shoot with the other artists,” he laughed. “I actually didn’t get to meet everyone on the video until we were invited to perform at NYU a few months later.”

Battiest’s spotlight in the "Stand Up/Stand N Rock" music video was the latest accolade in an award-winning career. This week he’ll add New York and Washington, D.C., to his list of shows when the National Museum of the American Indian hosts him in its two public venues. On Thursday, August 3, at the museum’s Heye Center in New York, he'll take part in Native Sounds Downtown, a festival nearly two decades old. On Saturday, August 5, in Washington, he'll headline the 11th Annual Native Sounds Concert.

When I sat down with Spencer I wanted to learn how his career took off, but specifically what kept bringing him back to his heritage.

“I’m actually the third or fourth generation of singers,” he laughed. Spencer Battiest was born to two musicians on the Seminole Tribe's Hollywood, Florida, reservation. His father, Henry Battiest Jr. (Choctaw), grew up a part of the Battiest Gospel Singers. The family traveled the country singing. “Somehow they ended up down in the Everglades and went to a little Seminole church,” he said. “That’s where my dad met my mom.” At the time, they were both 17. They married a few years later.

Battiest-Love-0f-My-Life
Spencer Battiest in the video of his single "Love of My Life." Credit: Hard Rock Records

It wasn’t long before the young Battiest family imparted a love of music to their seven children. “My first memory on stage was when I was about four years old at my grandfather’s church in Oklahoma. They propped me up on the piano and put a microphone in my face.” His father—“a perfectionist and a big talent himself”—saw potential and taught him the basics early on. He credits a few great teachers and his school theatre department for showing him that he wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts.

In 2013 Spencer became the first American Indian artist to sign with Hard Rock Records. The choice to sign with Hard Rock was one that “felt like going home.” The Seminole Tribe acquired Hard Rock International in 2007. Under their leadership, Spencer performed across the United States and Europe. In addition, both of his award-winning music videos—“The Storm” and “Love of My Life”—play in every Hard Rock Cafe across the globe. “When people step into the cafe to have a burger, doesn’t matter if they’re in Ibiza or Houston,” he said, “they can learn about our [tribe’s] history from my song 'The Storm.' That’s just my small contribution at this moment.”

“I’ve always had close ties with my tribe since I was young,” Spencer explained. “As I push forward in my career and see how far I can go, I always carry my tribe with me.” Battiest’s reverence for his heritage is palpable in his interview as well as his work. Both of his music videos have had a Native director, actors, tech hands, and producers. “I love doing business with other Natives. That’s always been my thing.”

Battiest Brothers Storm
Spencer and Doc Battiest in the video for their single "The Storm." Credit: UnconqueredMedia

Battiest and his brother Doc filmed the music video for "The Storm" while teaching tribal youth at a summer camp. “I’d been in contact with Steven Paul Judd to help with my first music video,” Battiest explained. “When Doc and I were approached by our tribe to teach a course at the camp, we obviously wanted to have the kids’ help.” Judd and Battiest worked together to teach the course, all the while filming the music video. “The kids helped with tech, wardrobe, makeup, and location. By the time the camp was over, we had filmed almost all of the video.”

The video went on to win awards throughout the next year including Best Music Video at the National Museum of the American Indian’s 2011 Native Cinema Showcase.

Spencer is excited to work with the museum to showcase his music, both new and old. “We’ve been working really hard on putting together a show that highlights my entire career,” he assured. “Our songs are the stories of our lives. If we’re ever able to get up in a front of any kind of audience it’s always a blessing, no matter if there’s one person listening or 100,000 people listening. I love a challenge.”

The New York concert will take place August 3 at 5 p.m. on the cobblestones in front of the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center. The concert in Washington will take place August 5 at 4 p.m. on the museum’s Welcome Plaza (the main entrance facing the Capitol). In the event of rain at either venue, the concert will take place inside.

 

Sequoia CarrilloSequoia Carrillo (Navajo/Ute) is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the National Museum of the American Indian. In the fall, she will be a junior at the University of Virginia specializing in History and Media Studies. During the school year, she works for the American History podcast and public radio program BackStory.

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