Monday, April 26, 2010

Festival of Native Peoples

This will be my final post on our stay at the Cherokee Indian Reservation last July where we attended the Festival of Native Peoples. I have been delayed in posting because we went on a trip to Tennessee and also because I searched for copyright laws on the Internet. Some of my pictures were published on a commercial site without my consent. I placed a copyright statement on the side of my blog and urge everyone who has a blog to do so. I hope that the advertising agency that provided my pictures to their client will work with me on this. If not, I hope that the website will cease using my pictures, like the one below.

Click on picture to enlarge it

This was the 5th year the festival took place at the Cherokee Indian Reservation. This event ended with a performance of native dances, songs and music from several tribes of the Americas. In addition to the traditional Cherokee dancers there were dancers and performers from other states like New Mexico and Hawaii and countries like Canada and Peru. The festival took place in Cherokee, the main town of the Cherokee Nation which is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and is nestled in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville.

Earlier in the afternoon, we went to the Cherokee Art Market – this market was the subject of my post of April 4h. It was a lovely day to have a festival, but after walking for a while in the Art Market we enjoyed sitting and listening to the program. I took so many photographs that it will be difficult to make a choice for this post.

The Cellicion Zuni Dancers from southwest New Mexico have performed since 1983 all over this country and internationally – Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia. They were the first Native American dancers to perform in Mongolia.

Click on pictures to enlarge them

Their dances included the Pottery Dance. The dance tells the story of women carrying water jars on their heads to the river while dancing and singing to give thanks to the Creator for water. There are less than 15 women left in New Mexico to perform this ancient dance. The Zuni Pottery dancers first showed us that the clay pots were not attached to their heads, then danced and sang.

The five San Carlos Apache Crown Dancers from Arizona have white tainted chests with drawings showing lightning – lightning is a powerful Apache symbol. The dancers represent Mountain Spirits – four of them are the four directions and the fifth is the protective clown that drives away evil spirits with the sound of his humming bull-roarer.

Miss Cherokee 2008-2009 was watching intently

As well as the audience

A large First Nation family from Canada came on the stages and danced.

The wee children were so cute – and so serious.

Unfortunately I was so busy watching or taking photographs that I did not take good notes and I did not record the name of some of the groups, like the one below.

Then came the graceful Hawaiian hula group, the Halau Palaihiwa of Kaiouwai. They demonstrated ancient hula, chants and dances. “These are chants and dances that have been part of ‘aiha‘a since time immemorial. It’s rare (ancient Hawaiians) would include observers outside the halau,” said Kumu Hula the director of the group. “‘Aiha‘a means to internalize humility,” she said. “The ‘‘ai’ means ‘to internalize,’ and the ‘ha‘a’ means ‘low, bent knees.’ Our teachings remind us we pull our energy from the ground. The lower to the ground, the higher the frequency (connection to the ancestors).” “Hula is about regenerating life cycles. The dancer... becomes that living altar of hula and the circle of the lei, a symbol of that ongoing cycle. Hula is the healing of the land and environment.” “Our ancestors understood our earth was suspended. They observed, respected and internalized nature.” (from The Garden Island,com)

The ancient Hawaiian hula and drum dances were once a mainstay of Hawaii's ancient temples. An Hawaiian elder came to perform an ancestral chant.

The show on the stage stopped so the audience could go back to the fairgrounds and watch the Totonac Pole Flyers one more time. My last post was devoted to these fearless artists; see my post of April 13th.

The Git-Hoan Dancers performed the song and dance of the Native people from the Pacific coastal areas of northern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska.

The dancers now live in the Seattle area but can trace their roots to the Tsimshian village of Metlakahtta in southeast Alaska. The Tsimshian people, depended on deep-sea codfish and halibut for subsistence, just like the Klingit and the Haida, who are other seafaring coastal people. Tribal leader and culture bearer David Boxley founded and directed the group to preserve his culture which was on the verge of extinction. He is also a renowned totem carving artist.

The dancers of Git-Hoan, which means People of the Salmon in the Tsimshian language, use hand-carved masks as they tell their story through dances. They also perform with headdresses, skin, wood drums and other handmade instruments.

Raven Dance by People of the Salmon

A company of National Peruvian Folk dancers came on the stage in their colorful garments and danced joyfully

They were part of the award-winning band Inca Son – which means “Sound of the Incas.” Their music was lively and the old Andean songs sounded just right in the mountains of North Carolina. César Villalobos, the founder of the group, plays the “Sikus” or panpipes. His happy music can sound like a bird in flight of like the sound of the wind from his homeland, the Andes of Peru.

Playing the centuries-old music of the Peruvian Andes

And they kept playing and dancing until dark.

Then it was over and time to leave. But maybe later on this year, who knows, we may go to another event at the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Totonac Flying Dance at the Cherokee Indian Reservation

In my last post of April 4th I referred to four other posts I had previously published on our stay at the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Being located adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the scenery in and around the Cherokee Indian Reservation is stunning. A river runs through it called the Oconaluftee River.

Click on picture to enlarge it

We walked along the river then admired a sculpture in the center of town. The town called Cherokee is picturesque. There are many borders full of vibrant flowers, including lavender.

Nearing the Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds we could see a crowd waiting near a very tall pole. We came closer to look. A little Cherokee girl was also looking, but at me. Her parents let me take her photograph.

The Totonac Pole Flyers from Mexico were getting ready for their dance. They were scheduled to perform the dance twice, once in the evening and once in the afternoon of the following day. We watched it both times and I took photographs – some in the sun, and some at sundown.

I did not know much about this dance of the “voladores” - which means “those who fly” in Spanish – and researched it a bit. The tradition of this ceremonial flight was almost lost when the invading Spanish conquerors in the 16th century destroyed many records and the Church tried to silence native rituals. Fortunately historians and archaeologists reconstructed this ancient religious dance from oral history and early writings left by visitors to New Spain. Over time this ritual almost died out and survived only among the Totonac people of the Papantla area (eastern state of Vera Cruz) of Mexico. In pre-Hispanic times the participants were impersonating birds and some might be dressed as parrots, macaws, quetzals and eagles to represent the gods of earth, air, fire and water.


Now, this dance reflects the Totonacs’ tradition to dance to please the gods so that rain will nurture the soil and crops will flourish. The ceremony begins with a team of 5 flyers, each representing the five elements of the indigenous world, wearing heavily embroidered and decorated red pants, white shirts and hats. They dance around a 100 ft (about 30m) tall pole to the tune of a drum and flute played by the chief or “caporal.” The caporal followed by each flyer slowly ascends the pole then takes his place on a small platform perched atop the pole.

The caporal then plays the flute and drum to invoke the ancient spiritual offering. He turns to face each of the four cardinal directions and four winds, bending his head back to his feet, balancing on one foot. Each of the other four flyers, or voladores, neatly winds a rope thirteen times around the pole. This represents the number 52 (13x4) which is the numbers of years in a Mesoamerican solar cycle.

To acknowledge the sun, the caporal bends backward as he continues to play.

The four voladores represent the four elements: earth, air, fire, water as well as the four cardinal directions. The caporal represents the sun.

After the invocation the four voladores fell backwards, as we gasped, flinging themselves off “into the void.” Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hung from it and spin as the ropes unwind.

This creates a moving pyramid shape and mimics the motions of flight. The flyers, their feet looped around the rope, fly upside down while spinning around the pole gracefully descending toward the ground.

We kept looking up as they soared through the air with their streaming ribbons as if in a supernatural flight. We only heard the haunting sounds of the pounding drum and shrill flute.

Click to enlarge pictures

We watched silently as they lowered themselves to the ground, their circle widening as they kept descending.

When they were finally back on solid ground they held the rope so the caporal could descend.

The caporal finished his song of good-by and lowered himself down the rope to the ground.

The Totonacs people perform their ritualistic “Danza de los Voladores” to keep a part of their traditional culture alive and to provide additional income to their families. In the festival we attended they were invited by the Cherokee Indians in a spirit of friendship and to celebrate their heritage. The whole atmosphere was respectful and joyful and we enjoyed it very much.

In October 2009 UNESCO inscribed the Ritual ceremony of the Voladores on the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to UNESCO "Intangible cultural heritage is the practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups and sometimes individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. Also called living cultural heritage, it is usually expressed in one of the following forms: oral traditions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship."

Here is a clip of the Totonac Flying Dance as it took place at the Texcoco Fair

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