Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wi'ace'iciti: The Sun Makes For Itself A Campfire

There are two constants on the Great Plains: the wind and long winters. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (wikimedia commons) above. 

The Sun Makes A Campfire
Keeping The Tradition Alive Through Story

By Dakota Wind
STANDING ROCK, N.D. & S.D. - On the Northern Great Plains there are two constants which shaped the natural landscape throughout the ages: the endless wind and the long cold winter.

The wind is always here. From the summer breezes which carry only the oppressive heat of summer to the cutting sting of winter, the wind has shaped the land as much as it has touched the souls of the native sons and daughters and left its mark on their character and spirit.

The Lakota call the wind tȟatė. In the days of warriors, they had another term for the spirit of the wind, Táku Wakȟáŋškaŋškaŋ. I’ve heard the term as used to mean “Something Holy Moving.” I like Albert White Hat’s translation of the word Wakan, in his efforts to cleanse and revitalize the Lakota language, in which he interprets it as “with-energy.” Something with great energy moving across the land perfectly describes the respect for the mystery of creation the Lakota held for when the clouds raced across the sky, the wind blowing across a vast ocean of native grasses, the very power of the wind. Today, scattered across the prairies are wind farms, taking the momentum – the energy – of the wind and convert it into electricity.

In the days of warriors, the Lakota believed that there lived a great giant in the far north, Wazíya, who blew his cold breath out across the land and visited frost on the grasses, leaves, and trees in the fall and spring, but as the rivers and streams froze, true winter tested the people with cruel stinging cold and pure white snow. Winter was a test of character.

The winter became a part of the culture for the indigenous. Many tribes marked the passing of seasons by the passing of winter. The new year began when the geese returned, when the trees began to bud, when the river ice broke, and when bison calves were born. In this observance of nature did the Lakota elders, holy people, and leaders gather together and name the previous year, or winter.

On the longest night of the year, the Lakota would reflect and pray in the way of the ancestors. Some still do this with a midwinter Iníkaǧapi, a cleansing ceremony.

There is another natural phenomenon, the sundog, which is revealed to the world each winter. For the ancient and medieval Christian it was regarded as an omen, of God’s impending judgment. Maybe a long ago priest interpreted the sundog as evidence of the Living Presence of the Holy Trinity appearing in the sky. For the Lakota, the sundog held the promise of the sun.

I saw a sundog recently. I had seen them as a child and had never once felt them as a sign of ominous peril. I remember being entranced by the halo of light, the arc from one sundog to its twin on the other side of the sun. Without possessing the language for what I felt then as I do now, I can truly tell you that even then I felt an overwhelming respect for the mystery of creation. Seeing a sundog recently rekindled the curiosity of youth that I asked my lekší, my uncle, about the sundog.

One said to me, the sundog was simply a natural sign which meant that the Lakota could expect cold weather. Another gave me the honest reply that he had not heard of a story associated with the sundog event.

The Lakota call the sundog Wíačhéič'ithi, which means The Sun Makes A Campfire [For Himself. The Plains Indian sign language, a mutually intelligible gesture language in use for communicating among the many tribes, articulates the sundog with the sign for sun (thumb and index finger making nearly a closed circle, tracing the sun’s arc in the sky) and the sign for fire (one hand, back down above the palm of the other, fingers of the top hand wiggling to and fro mimicking dancing flames).

The design above is most often regarded as an example of what is called the Black Warbonnet Society pattern. The very center pattern and the inner track of abstract feathers is certainly the Black Warbonnet pattern. The daystar, or sun, Aŋpó, was said to have worn a brilliant flaming headdress. It would seem that this particular execution of the Black Warbonnet pattern should be reexamined. The execution of the pattern with three medicine wheel centers, and arc of the second track of abstract feathers bears a striking semblance to the sundog phenomenon.

My lekší Cedric listened patiently to my petition for traditional knowledge regarding the sundog phenomenon. This is what he shared with me:

Being short with it, there is a story that my Uncle Ed told us when we were little guys. It occurred probably at a time when there was a severe cold time and there were lots of clouds, or the sky was grey. Many days had passed when the people went and had council with the elders of the camp.

It was directed after prayers and careful deliberation, that two fires were to be made in the east gate or opening of the camp circle. One of the elders then prayed to the east and asked for a break in the weather. As prayers were had, the sky began to light up and the clouds dissipated, winds calmed, and the sun rose.

As the elder prayed, the sun (wi) was on the horizon with the two fires on each side. Many witnessed this. Praying in the time of purification of the earth is sacred, especially in the morning, when the air is calm and your voice can be heard to the horizon.

The animals will let you know also when it is time to do these things.

This is what I remember of the story.

I share this short story with you. It’s not something that is in a book. Paul Goble hasn’t made a children’s book out of this story. It is living culture. It is tradition. There is more to learn and I’m a lifelong student.

1 comment:

  1. hello from north-west coast of Russia!
    I like your photos and articles here! God bless you, have a good year!