Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where The Wolf Ran

As a small child some of the greatest words to hear came from my grandfather when he would say, "Usdi Duya (Little Bean) nvla (come)." There would be no telling where we would go or what we would do but you knew it would be something exciting. My heart would leap at the sound of those words.

It was June ("Dehaluyi"), the month of the green corn moon and I was busy tracking a trail of ants through the garden when I heard, "Usdi Duya nvla". By the time I reached the back door Grandfather had his old leather bag and was heading down the road. Catching up and out of breath I asked grandfather where we were going and he replied with one of his short one-word answers, "Equoni." My heart raced faster knowing we were going to the river.

The sun was sinking behind the trees by the time we reached the river bank. Grandfather began walking along the river's edge tying fishing lines to low hanging tree limbs. Seeing this I knew we were there for the night. The sun was gone by the time all the lines were secured and the hooks baited. Now grandfather sat down and pulled out a mason jar of sweet spearmint tea a refreshing treat for the long night ahead. As darkness came closer the noises changed from day light sounds to those of the night creatures. Now stretched out on the river bank we listened to the sounds as we gazed up into the night sky and watched the stars twinkle.

At each sound I would ask grandfather what made the noise. The sound of a fish ("atsadi" ) jumping, the croak of a bullfrog ("kannuna" ). "Close your eyes and see with your ears, grandfather said." See with your ears? "I don't understand, grandfather," ("Tlaigagoliga, edudi" ) I replied. Grandfather had a way of confusing me until I thought out the words. He did not answer, so I listened and saw with my ears. I "saw" the whippoorwill (tsgawalegwala), I "saw" the rabbit (tsisadu) moving towards the water, I "saw" the owl (wahuhi) as it flew lower in search of the rabbit. Opening my eyes I saw millions of stars moving across the sky. I knew that those stars made up the Milky Way.
"Grandfather how did the Milky Way come to be?" Pulling out some of grandmother's homemade bread from his bag, grandfather broke me off a piece and began a story that I remember to this day.

" Listen, Usdi Duya, once there were people in the southern part of the world that made corn meal. The women would pound the dried corn in a pounder with a large stick till it was a fine powder. They would work all day to make the powder and then store it in large kettles, pots, and bowls in a storehouse for the winter. After a few days of pounding the corn they began to notice that some of the kettles were not as full as they were supposed to be. It was being taken. They examined the ground around the storehouse and noticed tracks. They decided to hide and watch the next night to see who was stealing the corn meal.

Seven women decided to hide inside the storehouse. They crouched behind the large pottery kettles and waited. Well after midnight all the women had gone to sleep except one. She watched and waited in the darkness. Suddenly she heard a noise outside and then noticed a bluish glow like a bright moonlight. The light came closer to the storehouse. The woman crouched even further behind the kettles, afraid of what was coming toward her. She picked up a stick laying beside her. The door to the storehouse opened.

In walked a wolf with a strange glow around it. The wolf walked over to one of the kettles that was brimming with freshly made corn meal and began to eat. Suddenly the woman began to scream, waking the other women. They opened their eyes and noticed the wolf inside. They all jumped up and ran towards it. The woman with the stick began hitting it till it ran out of the storehouse. The wolf became so frightened that he jumped into the air and began flying in a wide circle back toward the north. As he flew drops of corn meal fell from his mouth. They glowed as the wolf did and so he left a trail that today we call the Milky Way.

I laid there thinking about this remarkable story as "edudi" silently slipped off into the night to check the lines. Sleep came upon me as I pictured the "waya" flying across the sky. A gentle touch to my forehead woke me as "edudi" stood there with his old leather bag over his shoulder and a large string of fresh catfish in his hand. "Where are we going, grandfather ?", I asked. As he walked off I heard him say in his quiet voice, "owenvsv "(home).

It was this childhood story that was the inspiration for this series of "Cherokee story bowls". "Where The Wolf Ran" ("Waya Tsunstanunyi") is the first in the series as I try to take the stories held in oral tradition and make them a living piece of Cherokee history. I hope you enjoy "reading" the bowl and sharing the story with others.

This gourd bowl measures 21 inches around with a diameter of 7 inches. The opening is 5 inches in diameter with a height of 4 1/2 inches.

It is decorated with blue beads and copper cones with Bluebird feathers. It tells the Cherokee story of how the Milky Way was made.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Short History of the Hair Pipe

For nearly two centuries white men who have traded with the Indians of the Eastern Woodlands and the Great Plains have referred to a tubular bead measuring 1½ inches or more in length which they carried in stock by the name of "hair pipe." The origin of the name is obscure.

James Adair in 1775 noted the wearing of long, conch columella beads among southeastern Indians (Chickasaw, Creeks, and Cherokee) in the early historic period. Writing of the customs of these Indians in the period shortly after white contact, but before European trade goods had been introduced among them in quantity, he stated:

"Formerly four deer-skins was the price of a large conch shell bead, about the length and thickness of a man's forefinger; which they fixed to the crown of their head, as an high ornament -- so greatly they valued them."Add Image

Certainly the name itself fails to suggest the variety of ways in which Indians employed these long beads as articles of personal adornment. Nor should the application of this name to articles made by Whites for trade to Indians identify this form of ornament as a white man's invention. It appears more probable that the trade hair pipe was a white man's substitute for a type of long, cylindrical ornament which had its origin in prehistoric Indian culture.

This appears to be the only certain early historic reference to a method of wearing long, conch-shell beads by Indians. It would appear logical that the name "hair pipe" consistently applied by traders to the long, hollow, cylindrical ornaments supplied to Indians of the Woodlands and Plains in later years was derived from the traders' knowledge of Indian usage as hair ornaments of roughly similar-appearing articles of native manufacture.

George Catlin was the first artist to clearly portray this use of hair pipes. His portrait of the Plains Cree chief, He-Who-Has-Eyes- Behind-Him, known also as Eyes-on-Both-Sides and Broken Arm, painted in the fall of 1831, displays four long hair pipes, two of which are pendent at each side of the head from a cord passing over the forehead above the hairline.
Necklaces composed of hair pipes, large trade beads, and, in some cases, short lengths of clamshell wampum strung on cords appear in many of George Catlin's portraits of Indian men and women of the Woodlands and Great Plains painted in the year 1831-46. Add ImageAdd Image

Catlin's pictorial record clearly indicates the popularity of the hair-pipe necklace among the Add Imageprominent leaders of the Comanche in the mid-1830's. His portrait of the Mountain of Rocks, second chief of that tribe in 1834, shows him wearing a hair-pipe necklace.

Catlin alone of the artists of the precamera period illustrated still another use of hair pipes. His portrait of Tee-too-sah (better known as Dohasan), first chief of the Kiowa, painted in 1834, shows him Add Imagewearing a close-fittAdd Imageing choker of four row horizontal hair pipes.

There are no other illustrations of this ornament of hair pipes depicting its use prior to 1880. However, the wearing of a similar ornament of dentalium shells was not uncommon among the Dakota tribes. The photograph of Iron Black Bird, (to the left)a Yankton Indian, taken in 1867, shows the wearing of the dentalium shell choker.

The most striking and ingenious method of employing hair pipes in adornment was that of stringing considerable numbers of them on buckskin cords horizontally or diagonally in two or more vertical rows to form an elaborate breastplate. This breastplate was not illustrated in the works of any artists who drew or painted the Plains Indians in the first half of the 19th century.

The Comanche were fond of wearing hair-pipe necklaces in Catlin's time (1834). Available evidence suggests that the Comanche invented the hair-pipe breastplate, probably before 1854 and certainly before 1867. In the latter year Dr. Edward Palmer collected what appears to be the oldest dated specimen of a hair-pipe breastplate while he was among the Comanche.
It was accessioned November 12, 1868. It consists of 30 shell hair pipes, each 4 inches long, strung horizontally on buckskin cords in two vertical rows of 15 pipes each. At each end of each pipe is a large yellow glass trade bead. A strip of commercial leather three-eighths of an inch wide and one-eighth of an inch thick separates the two rows of hair pipes, and the outer ends of the buckskin cords are tied to vertical strips of the same material.

The latter strips are covered with bindings of trade cloth. A large German silver ornament hangs from the center of the breastplate. The breastplate was suspended from the neck of the wearer by a buckskin cord. This simple breastplate of 30 pipes may be regarded as the type specimen of the hair-pipe breastplate in the Plains. Although later examples were much larger, they employed the same general method of construction. Generally, however, they lacked the trade-cloth wrapping and the German silver pendant.

Thrifty Indians seem to have been loathe to discard broken hair pipes. They may have reused solid portions of broken pipes as pendants in the decoration of small beaded containers. Such reuse appears probable in the decoration of a Mandan awl case collected in 1869. The two short segments of shell hair pipes measure 1 ¼ inches in length.

The pipes appearing on a Kiowa toilet case collected in the 1890's are 1 7/8 inches long . However, whole shell hair pipes in short lengths sometimes were employed in the same way. As seen in this Northern Cheyenne awl case with two full-length 2-inch shell hair-pipe pendants. These specimens afford examples of still another use of hair pipes in Plains Indian decoration.

About the year 1880, at a time when the demand for large numbers of hair pipes for use in making elaborate breastplates was increasing, the Plains Indians began to obtain a cheaper and much less fragile hair pipe than the shell one long in use. The peculiar circumstances of the origin of this substitute - the bone hair pipe - comprise an interesting chapter in the history of Indian use of hair pipes.

Joseph H. Sherburne in his first year of trade with the Ponca had among his wares a quantity of corncob pipes. The corncob bowls were equipped with bone stems. These pipes sold readily but without comment from the Indians. Upon his next trip to the Ponca, Mr. Sherburne found the corncob pipes in great demand. White Eagle, chief of the tribe, showed him an elaborate neck ornament made of the bone stems of the pipes strung on buckskin thongs.

The Kiowa breastplate shown to the left, illustrates the transition from shell to bone hair pipes in Indian ornament. Of the 144 hair pipes in this specimen, 49 (at the top) are of bone. The remainder, including two broken pipes, are of shell. It must have been made up during the preceding decade when bone hair pipes were beginning to replace shell hair pipes in the Kiowa trade.

In the period of general economic depression among the Plains Indians following the extermination of the buffalo, during which they subsisted largely upon Government rations, possession of an elaborate hair-pipe breastplate or necklace was a coveted symbol of greater-than-average prosperity among these proud people. Not only did the Indians wear these ornaments when they attended ceremonies and participated in traditional social dances on their own reservations, but they wore them when they dressed to visit the Great White Father in Washington, when they took part in wildwest shows, such as the famous one organized by William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) in 1883, and when they appeared in costume at national, regional, State, and local exhibitions or fairs.

The cessation of intertribal wars after the Plains Indians were settled on reservations was followed by a period of increased friendly contacts between neighboring tribes formerly hostile to one another. Visits back and forth among these Indians were accompanied by the exchange of gifts between members of different tribes. These conditions encouraged diffusion of hair-pipe breastplates and necklaces during the Reservation Period.

(All the above illustrations and artwork
copyright 1996 Smithsonian Institute )

This natural bone hair pipe choker consists of 18- 1 1/2 inch hair pipes, red and black crow beads with black leather spacers. It has leather tabs with black leather laces.

It measures 15 inches. Created the same way as they were over 200 years ago. This choker has been cleansed as the Elders taught with sage and sweetgrass.

Remember that 10% of my sales go to help the children at the St. Joseph's Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Origin of Medicine

When I was a small child my Grandmother would send me out to the back of the house with a big hand-woven reed basket to gather herbs for her. She knew exactly where each plant was growing with out looking. I was instructed to bring in yarrow, stinging nettle, etc. and how to pick them and what to say to them as I picked them. I would return with a basket full of the most wonderfully smelling plants imaginable. I would sit cross-legged at her feet as she sorted the plants and told me what they were good for .... something for Grandfather's bruised leg, something to add to the stewed corn for supper, something for a calming tea, a sprig of spearmint for me to chew as I listened. Waiting, waiting for the fascinating stories that always came with Grandmother's teaching. And her stories always started ..... "Listen softly, Little One, and remember the Old Ways ....." and then the story began......

At one time, animals and people lived together peaceably and talked with each other...But when mankind began to multiply rapidly, the animals were crowded into forests and deserts. Man began to destroy animals for just their skins and furs, not just for needed food. The animals became angry at such treatment by their former friends, resolving that they must punish mankind.

The Bear tribe met in council, presided over by Old White Bear, their Chief. After several bears had spoken against mankind for their blood-thirsty ways, war was unanimously agreed upon. But what kinds of weapons should the bears use? Chief Old White Bear suggested that man's weapon, the bow and arrow, should be turned against him. All of the council agreed. While the bears worked and made bows and arrows, they wondered what to do about bowstrings. One of the bears sacrificed himself to provide the strings, while the others searched for good arrow-wood.

When the first bow was completed and tried, the bear's claws could not release the strings to shoot the arrow. One bear offered to cut his claws, but Chief Old White Bear would not allow him to do that, because without claws he could not climb trees for food and safety. He might starve.

The Deer tribe called together its council led by Chief Little deer. They decided that any Indian hunters, who killed a deer without asking pardon in a suitable manner, should be afflicted with painful rheumatism in their joints. After this decision, Chief Little Deer sent a messenger to their nearest neighbors, the Cherokee.

"From now on, your hunters must first offer a prayer to the deer before killing him," said the messenger. You must ask his pardon, stating you are forced only by the hunger needs of your tribe to kill the deer. When a deer is slain by a Cherokee hunter, Chief Little Deer will run to the spot and ask the slain deer's spirit, "Did you hear the hunter's prayer for pardon?" If the reply is yes, then all is well and Chief Little Deer returns to his cave. But if the answer is no, then the Chief tracks the hunter to his lodge and strikes him with the terrible disease of rheumatism, making him a helpless cripple unable to hunt again.

All the fishes and reptiles then held council and decided they would haunt those Cherokees, who tormented them, by telling them hideous dreams of serpents twinning around them and eating them alive. These snake and fish dreams occurred often among the Cherokees. To get relief, the Cherokees pleaded with their Shaman to banish their frightening dreams if they no longer tormented the snakes and fish.

Now when the friendly Plants heard what the animals had decided against mankind, they planned a countermove of their own. Each tree, shrub, herb, grass, and moss agreed to furnish a cure for one of the diseases named by the animals and insects. Thereafter, when the Cherokee visited their Shaman about their ailments and if the medicine man was in doubt, he communed with the Spirits of the Plants. They always suggested a proper remedy for mankind's diseases.
This was the beginning of Plant medicine from nature among the Cherokee tribes a long, long time ago. It seemed the stories lasted only as long as it took Grandmother to fill her gourd bowls with all the sorted and prepared herbs.

Be A DreamCatcher

One of the most beautiful and popular stories in Native American legends is that of the DreamCatcher. It's been handed down from generation to generation by our Native storytellers. DreamCatchers are also the most abused, mis-used, and mis-understood of all Native American crafts on the market today.You can go into a reservation gift shop or a national park gift shop and see a profuse supply of DreamCatchers. DreamCatchers are the most purchased of Native American crafts.

It is said that DreamCatchers came from the Ojibwa peoples (Chippewa). It has since been adopted by many Native American/First Peoples cultures. A true Dreamcatcher is made with a hoop or in a tear drop shape, if made from a willow branch. The thing that makes a DreamCatcher a dream catcher is the inticately woven web that resembles a spider's web. It has a hole in the middle and is most likely decorated with charms. A feather hangs from the bottom of it for the good dreams to slide down and reach the sleeper.

The Ojibwa believe that the night is filled with both good and bad dreams (don't we all know this). When a DreamCatcher is hung above your sleeping place it moves in the night air and catches the dreams as they float by. The good dreams, knowing their way, pass through the opening in the center of the webbing while the bad dreams, not knowing the way, are caught in the webbing and are destroyed at the first light of the morning sun. Although the designs and legends of DreamCatchers differ slightly, the underlying meaning and symbolism is universal and is carried across cultures and language barriers, after all, everybody dreams.

As I sit here listening to R. Carlos Nakai and his beautiful flute music I am wrapping suede deerskin around hoops for DreamCatchers. As I drift off into that empty space that comes into your mind with the monotony of repetition I think on what a DreamCatcher does. It lets the good in and captures the bad to later be destroyed. Shouldn't we be more like dream catchers. Shouldn't we let the good in and repell the bad. Shouldn't we let the good words of others into our life and let those bad words be captured and destroyed. Whereas the spider's web of a DreamCatcher allows the good to pass through (the good knows it's way through the spider's maze) the bad dreams are lost and captured until morning light (because they don't know their way through the maze).

We have to become that spider's web and allow only good words from others to pass through to our heart and understanding. We have to capture and repell the bad words from others and keep them from entering our hearts and understanding.This means we have to hold on to others words and judge if they are good or bad. This, as you well know, is not always an easy thing to do. We need to have the strength of an Oak tree to stand and judge words.We need to be slow to speak. We need to keep a tight web. We need to learn to take the time to judge bad words and not allow them into our hearts and understanding. Patience and wisdom will judge the words and this all comes from your heart. You have to be the web.

I have DreamCatchers for sale at Stop by and take a look at them and please respect our ancestors and use your DreamCatchers for what they were intended for. Don't hang a dream catcher from the rear view mirror of your car, it's NOT a decoration.