Posts Tagged With: Indigenous traditions

When Art Preserves a Legacy

Written in collaboration with Tat Apab’yan Tew.

In February, I traveled to southern Guatemala with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to put the final touches on the spiritual travel program we would lead in that region and Chiapas, Mexico in January 2019. When we stopped at Lake Atitlan for several days, I made sure to revisit La Galeria in Panajachel. I retained fond memories from twelve years before when my friend Will Crim and I stumbled upon the place while wandering the streets of Pana.

Carla-Vintage-a

Vintage. ©2006 Carla Woody.

We were first attracted by the vintage Mercedes planted in the garden, and then became enchanted after entering the gallery. While making our way around the exhibition, a spare man engaged us about the artwork and offered us an expresso. We took him up on his offer and got to hear Thomas Schäfer Cuz’ stories about his mother, German-Guatemalan bohemian artist Nan Cuz, for hours. We were even invited into the inner sanctum to view his grandfather’s collection of Maya folk art. I was fascinated. This time was much the same, but we also met Sabine Völcker, Thomas’ wife, who was equally as hospitable.

This article could go in any number of directions. For now I’m going to focus on the artwork and background of Rosa Elena Curruchich ⎯ and why such works are important. In the main gallery, there was a grouping of Naïve art that caught my eye. At first glance, these miniature paintings looked simple. But beyond their style became complex, quite detailed, and there was a narrative to each one. Only that grouping was up for display at that point.

We returned a couple of days later, invited by Thomas and Sabine when they would start cataloging the entire collection. They had received boxes upon boxes of the tiny paintings to be sold on behalf of the family of a collector, possibly Anna Paddington, who had recently passed.

Rosa Elena Curruchich was the first female painter in San Juan Comalpa, a highlands town known for its artists. Her grandfather, Kaqchikel painter Andrés Curruchich, started the tradition of oil painting there in the 1930s documenting celebrations, ceremonies and lifeways. Rosa Elena followed in his footsteps. Based on her grandfather’s teachings, the subject matter explains the detail of the pieces. The more you look, the more is revealed.

But most of Rosa Elena’s are just 4”x4” or 6”x6” – none larger. Why so small? Here is the story she told her benefactor, as it was passed on to Sabine and Thomas. She was married to a prominent, authoritarian husband who forbade her to paint. So she would sneak off to paint in secrecy and limited the sizes to what she could slip into her pocket to hide. Then she would make trips to the old capitol Antigua Guatemala and try to sell them in the market. After she sold the first one to the collector, this woman became almost her sole buyer.

Another story told by Rosa Elena that I uncovered through research said after she got her first exhibition in Guatemala City, the male painters in San Juan Comalpa were jealous. She received threats and fled to Chimaltenango, about 10 miles away, to live.

The common theme being oppression by men. Sabine had already told me the story about Rosa Elena’s husband may be questionable, told in the hopes of increasing sales. The same is said of the second story. It’s called survival.

The important thing though is what Rosa Elena Curruchich and all those who followed her grandfather have done. Through their artwork, they’re documenting ways of life that are precious, many threatened. I’m a fan of narrative art. In the true sense of artistry, they are preserving what’s important. A meaningful story, an emotion, ordinary things that have a deeper meaning.

It was quite exciting to me to go into the inner sanctum of La Galeria that day Apab’yan and I were invited back. There all laid out on two tables, side by side, were about 60 or more of Rosa Elena’s works. Several boxes were still unpacked, totally about 200 in all.

As Apab’yan examined them, he began sorting the pieces into an order…each ceremony as they fell according to the calendar. It was remarkable, really. Others he separated out having to do with daily activities. I ended up purchasing 3 pieces depicting ceremonies, and wished it could have been all that fell around the calendar. Below you will see them with Apab’yan’s explanations. He told me the ones I chose depict ceremonies that are nearly gone.

Rosa-2

This painting is showing a private celebration inside the cofradia house. In here we can see a woman and man making an offering to the patron saint. There is incense and food offerings as payment. The patron saint image is dressed as a full high-ranking member in the cofradia hierarchy. Inside the house there are the special objects to perform ceremony and celebration: a big drum, incense burners, paintings, old textiles. Cofradia members are holders of ancient ways of Maya spirituality, beyond the image of a western cult. There is always a nawal, or spirit, related to some aspect of nature.

Rosa-1

Once again we are inside the cofradia house. In here we can see the healing of a baby. By burning specified dried herbs and exposing the baby eyes and breath to the incense burner, she or he is going to recover. We call this awas, meaning secret or taboo. It is hidden ancient knowledge preserved by cofradia members. This practice is becoming extinct except in the far away mountains where elders from a direct Maya background continue to keep a huge quantity of spiritual and medicine knowledge.

Rosa-3

This is a celebration. There is fiesta and dance, food is prepared and musicians playing chirimia flute instruments.

Thomas told me directly this was a very important ritual done if a baby reached the age of 8 days. Infant mortality is high. This ceremony reinforced the health of the baby, who you can see laying on top of the mother, and that it would live to be an adult. The next marker was at 3 months, I believe.

This work is Rosa Elena’s legacy. Not only her own but that of her people. She passed too young at 46 in 2005, complications of diabetes.

We will be making another visit to La Galeria in January 2019, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Maya, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Lines of Life

Lines of Life: Ancestral Shipibo-Konibo Textile Traditions in the Peruvian Amazon

Xapiri has published a report, as they label it, of their work over the last nine months, in collaboration with Alianza Arkana. They’ve chronicled all that it takes to create the traditional textiles of the Shipibo-Konibo people who live deep in the Peruvian Amazon. These people are renowned for their textiles, the designs coming from ceremonial life, along with spiritual and practical understanding of medicinal plants. This is hardly a dry recounting but instead a visually beautiful multimedia document that includes text, photography by Tui Anandi and video by Leeroy Mills. Really, this is a rare opportunity to enter the village Paohyan, the culture, and particularly the life of textile artist Pekon Rabi.

These textiles may be familiar to many of you having traveled in Peru. The process to create them is long, no shortcuts here. The chitoni, a traditional cotton wrap skirt woven on a backstrap loom, takes about two months from picking the cotton to painting the final pattern.

LinesOfLife

Artist Pekon Rabi with her textiles. Photo credit: Tui Anandi.

Kené is the artwork that symbolizes the cosmic path and order. Done only by women, it comes to them in visions and dreams from Inka, the celestial woman. This description so reminds me of the Maya weavers of the Chiapas, Mexico highlands, always women, who also receive their designs in dreams.

This tradition, as many, is becoming a lost art. In this documentation, Xapiri and Alianza Arkana hope to further their common mission of supporting Amazonian traditions. Lines of Life will be for those who appreciate tradition and its ability to cause us to come home to what matters.

Read it here. It’s an invitation to savor the richness of this culture and its art.

 

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Xapiri: A Matter of Spirit

In November while in Cusco I was referred to a gallery named Xapiri said to feature textiles and other artwork from the Amazon. It’s unusual to find such a collection in Cusco. So, I was quite intrigued about what they may have but also the name. I was to discover that “xapiri” is a sacred word identifying a collective of spirits consulted for their wisdom and guidance. It comes from the Yanomami people, a somewhat isolated tribe of the rainforest and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

Before I go any further I really want to introduce you to Jack Wheeler, who is the one responsible for birthing the gallery and its work. His story is compelling. He’s an example of someone who received a calling…paid attention…and followed it. Jack and I have corresponded and agreed a full-blown video interview will take place when we can both fit it into our calendars. In the meantime, I can share a shorthand version of his extraordinary story directly from Jack.

As for my story, these are the main points. It’s been eight years ago now that I left my position in an English bank to explore. My first stop was Cusco. I always felt like it’s my spiritual home. But over the next five years I traveled high and wide in South America, and I’d return to live in different European cities for my work. I was never content when in Europe.

Three years ago, after a long travel, I started to get more involved with Indigenous culture, specifically from the jungle. My first inspiration was from the Yanomami lands on the Brazil-Venezuela border. I met Indigenous supporters in Brazil who helped at the beginning of Xapiri with the initial introductions and contacts to the start the fair trade with art. Now full circle, I returned to Cusco, this time to live where my mind was first opened.  The Xapiri Gallery opened its doors in April 2017.

Jack Wilson image

Jack Wheeler at the opening of Xapiri in April 2017.

I truly resonate with Jack’s story. When the calling comes, if we then sort ourselves out and step fully on the path…all begins to slot in along the way that will further the journey. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Usually not so much when it comes to breaking out of the mainstream. But through it, intent drives the process until we’re delivered⎯and beyond.

Xapiri has an important mission.

Xapiri supports Amazonian Indigenous culture by unifying ethical art, emotive photography and informative media. The vision is to increase awareness and inspire positive change.

I purchased three pieces. One small Yine textile and two larger Shipibo pieces to add to one I’d purchased years ago. As a narrative artist myself, I greatly appreciate works like these that tell stories, documenting their rituals and traditions.

About the Yine piece, Jack told me:

Yine image

 

I collected this fabric in person when visiting their communities a few weeks ago. Their community is in the Madre de Dios region, 10 hours from Cusco by bus. Then a 2-day boat journey from Puerto Maldonado… then you reach their community called Monte Salvado! By buying their art you are helping maintain their rich culture and identity.

We have only started to work with the Yine people recently so still learning all the time about their fabrics. The fabric is dyed the brown colour by using mahogany and then painted using clay. The Yine have 31 different designs, with this being one. In the next few weeks I hope to have a full collection of these graphics with their meanings! 

Of the Shipibo textiles I bought, he said this:

 

 

Shipibo image 1

Shipibo image 2

 

In the two Shipibo pieces, you can see the leaves in both. This is the chacruna leaf, influential in the Ayahuasca brew.

The Shipibo people live along the Ucayali River in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru. These pieces were created through a hand printing process that takes about a month or so to finish. Such textiles are central to their culture and show their communication and merging with the spiritual world of the jungle, particularly through the traditional ritual engaging Ayahuasca.

I’ll leave with this for now until Jack and I can get together for a video chat. If you’re in Cusco, be sure to drop by Xapiri. Aside from the art and film events, they also invite Amazonian artists and shamans to share their traditions. Xapiri’s website is also a wealth of information on different Amazonian tribes.

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Join me for The Heart of the Andes, our spiritual travel journey to Peru in Fall 2019. We’ll be dropping by Xapiri for sure.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Hopi Qawinaq: Our People the Hopi

In March 2016 Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was sponsored by Kenosis Spirit Keepers as a guest on the spiritual travel program on Hopi. He was quite taken with his experience there and just sent me his thoughts. I want to share them here to show just little difference there is between any of us at the core level.

Apab'yan Tew

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew communicating to Hopi Land through his flute, March 2016.

There has been always a problem to determine what is Mesoamerica as such.  A territory? A cultural frame? A shared philosophy between related languages? Is it an absurd idea coming from a researcher’s desk? Maybe it’s just the obsession to try to classify everything!

When eating corn,  beans and chilis in the house of a friend, I feel no distance in my heart. Moenkopi, deep in what is now the modern United States, is ⏤for me⏤the town next to where I come from. But what am I saying? I’m from Guatemala! Let me say something: I no longer care about classification. The Hopi people are also my people.

We speak same way about the wind, the water, the air. We treat the bird, the snake, the rainbow, the rain…with respect. The living and the dead. Nobody knows where the link begins for us although Hopi elders retain their oral history about that. I believe what they say! Now, I ask my own elders: Did our brothers…some brothers…go to live far to the north?

I’m waiting for answers. And I will tell you what it is said here in my heart: It will come that we are the same people. Beloved and respected elders will speak  to us all again.

⏤Apab’yan Tew

Join us for our March 15-21, 2017 Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World to experience what Tat Apab’yan relays here.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Grace of Ayni: How a Young Q’ero Man Journeys to Maya Land

There’s a point in spiritual development that—if we’re going any further—we recognize something so important that it will guide us the rest of our lives: It’s not all about us. It becomes a natural act to give back in whatever ways we can, large or small. Every time we do it’s an act of gratitude done—not with thoughts of getting something in return—but purely because it’s ours to do, representative of a deeper calling. I’ve written about ayni before, a practice embedded in the way of life in the Andes and other Indigenous cultures. Ayni is a Quechua word loosely translated as sacred reciprocity, a way of living within the universal law of balance and flow.

Ayni travels anywhere in your life: family, friends, those you know little or not at all. Acknowledgement to the Creator, Mother Earth, the ancestors and guides—those seen and unseen—comprising all the threads of this tapestry we call existence. It’s the validation of your presence in its make-up, a particular insight to global consciousness.

The practice has long been a focus in my personal life through what I’ve learned by consistent contact with Indigenous ways. I’m especially invested in exposing participants of my spiritual travel programs as I can—by writing about it, speaking of it and embedding automatic ayni within tuitions that goes to help support the spiritual leaders and their families who have offered their hearts to us. And it goes into the communities to benefit people the travelers have never met.

I make this point because it’s not a natural part of Western culture, which is particularly evident lately. We must be taught that ayni is ours to embrace so the world becomes a better place. In the last few years, I’ve become much more vocal about all this. I talk to people about standing beside me in this work. It does take a global village. Through Kenosis Spirit Keepers, we’ve created Kinship Ambassadors recognizing individuals who are supporting our initiatives in various ways. Our Kinship Circle acknowledges collaborative organizations we’ve worked with to jointly further our common missions.

A wonderful thing has unfolded over the last few years, something that makes my heart sing. Folks are stepping forward to support or completely sponsor areas of the work. They understand the value through their own experiences. I cannot begin to tell you how much it means that they are joining with the vision. This is ayni in action.

With this preface, I want to share a story leading to the most recent occurrence. During the 2014 Heart of the Andes program, we visited with Q’ero friends in Ccochamocco. We spent our days in ceremony, surrounded by the children, awestruck by the power of the land. Ccochamocco is a small, isolated village high in the Andes at 14,500 feet. Residents live in stone huts, with none of the most basic services we have, their alpaca close by. Life is hard there. Yet in its simplicity, in ayni with each other and Pachamama (Mother Earth), the Apus (sacred mountain spirits), Mama Killa (Mother Moon) and Inti (the Sun), these are some of the most peaceful, connected people I’ve experienced. Power is delivered through their natural reverence for all things. We can learn a lot from them.

Our first day in Ccochomocco, a young man made the point of introducing himself to me. He was 17 years old at the time. His name was Santos, son of my old friend Don Domingo, a respected paq’o (shaman or traditional Wisdom Keeper) that I’d first met 20 years before. A few years ago he passed suddenly under unexplained circumstances, a tragedy his family still struggles to endure. It was evident this young man was suffering his father’s absence. He stayed close while we were there, and proclaimed he would follow in his father’s footsteps to undertake the path of the paq’o himself. He meant it. It’s not a light commitment. It’s one of endurance and duty to community, in service to the Cosmos. He set aside his given name Santos and took on a new one: Salqa. In Quechua, Salqa (or Salka, another spelling) means ‘undomesticated energy’⏤the word given to the chaotic energy of The Great Mystery that distills into pure intent.

The next year I arranged a pilgrimage starting outside La Paz, Bolivia and ending in Cusco, closely replicating the initiation journey of the first Inka couple Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo. Directed by their father-god Viracocha, they sought a most holy place to build a city—a place of the sun and navel of the world. As part of this program we sponsored five Qeros and one Hopi along the path of their origins. I made sure that Salqa was invited. I felt it important that, if Salqa was going to commit himself in this way, then it was key for him to know, at this young age, the place of his spiritual origins.

He was thrilled to be part of this journey. Innocence and humility are part of his make-up. He was so eager to learn. Janet Harvey, a return traveler from North Carolina, remembers him this way:

Salqa and I stood listening to our guide describe the significant areas at Raqch’i, the temple of Wiracocha. The guide mentioned one place as the ‘ushnu.’  “Isn’t that a word for ‘navel’?”  I asked. Both of us checked the guidebook he had purchased to find this place on the map. Instead, we became transfixed on the photo of a sculpted image of Viracocha. One of many moments shared with this young/old, playful, wise, curious, creative, helpful, encouraging (for those of us hiking UP the steep path), smiling, thoughtful young man.

During this 2015 pilgrimage I experienced a vision during despacho ceremony that will shortly come to pass in 2016: Qero, Maya, Hopi and Aymara journeying together all the way from Bolivia culminating in Ccochamocco in the high Andes of Peru. But secretly I also held another vision: to bring a Qero paq’o to Maya Land in 2017 to meet those relations in their home environment. A Hopi Wisdom Keeper is already slated to join us there as normal. I had no idea how this would come to pass but have learned to trust and set it aside. The details were not mine to arrange.

This May, out of the blue, I was contacted by another return traveler inquiring about the possibility of sponsoring Salqa on the Maya program in January. Terry Waters of Colorado told me she’d intended to set her reasons for making the suggestion down in just a few paragraphs…and wrote a few pages instead. They were heartfelt. In part, she wrote:

…During our ceremony in Raqch’i Salqa so powerfully expressed himself, clearly from his heart, in the English he’d just learned. His words will remain in my memory. It was like music to my soul…Our Q’ero friends planted blessings in my heart that just keep growing, and I experience this young man as a fine representative of his people, someone who will do great things and impact many souls.

Salqa Apaza

Salqa (left) breathing prayers into a kintu during 2015 despacho ceremony outside Cusco. Photo courtesy of Diane Grupe Marshall.

As ayni took the lead, things were on the wind and developed quickly. In just a few days it was settled. A group of women who traveled with Salqa in Bolivia and Peru bonded together to sponsor him to Maya Land this coming January.

Salqa Bolivia

Salqa Apaza (foreground) on the Island of the Sun, Bolivia, during the 2015 Bolivia-Peru pilgrimage. Photo courtesy of Diane Grupe Marshall.

Diane Grupe Marshall of Montana shared with me:

Salqa is so kind, compassionate and mindful of his traditions. But he’s also becoming aware of today’s challenges and need to preserve those Q’ero traditions.

Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew has agreed to act as his “spiritual father” during the entire January journey. Indeed, he’s delighted to take him under his wing with great anticipation. Since Tat Apab’yan will be on the Bolivia-Peru journey in September-October, they will have opportunity to make a connection in advance. Such mentoring will be a blessing to witness, and I know will add so much for all of us as we hold the space.

As for Salqa, he accepted our invitation and wrote:

 It is a magnificent idea! I will be preparing for such a trip from this early time. I would like to share our customs and traditions…Andean spirituality of the Nation of Q’eros. I am happy to read this message! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel and get to know other countries and get to know the Maya brothers. Greetings from the distance and many hugs for you.

Ccochamocco

Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Cusco Region of Peru. Photo courtesy of Carla Woody.

And so…this is the story…how the young paq’o Salqa Apaza will make history by being the first of his people to share traditions with Maya leaders in their home communities in Chiapas, Mexico.

And how the grace of ayni has a life of its own and travels on.

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You are invited to join us on this important, history-making journey, January 18-28, in Maya Land, and support the tutelage of this young Qero Wisdom Keeper. Be part of the global village.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Gratitude, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Q'ero, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Unborn, the Ancestors

Little girl…little boy. You, the leaf! You, the new branch! Listen to me. Listen to this song I have. A word I have…a speech. You must be dreaming. You must be sleeping. Are you tired? Can I speak to you? Are you tired? Are you dreaming?

I want to talk to you. I have a word from my heart to you. Would you want to talk to me? Would you want to move?

You are the reason my heart is alive! You are the reason my life is complete!

In a lilting voice he gently coaxed then paused, just as his lineage had for centuries. He sought a cue, maybe movement, to let him know he’d made a connection.

From the beginning of March, I’d traveled with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to Kansas, Hopi and elsewhere around Arizona. Between journeys I was privileged to host him in my home. Now we were in the last days of the month, he stood—delicately poised in traditional dress, eyes half closed, an arm lifted, hand upturned—at the front of the room. The rest of us seated, in a meditative state.

Huichol composer-musician Xavier Quijas Yxayotl played his flute softly in the background, his music framing Apab’yan’s words. Monita Lynn Baker joined in with just the appropriate bit of percussion. I’d invited Xavier to our Spirit Keepers Series gathering at North Mountain Visitors Center in Phoenix to reconnect with Apab’yan. They hadn’t seen each other in 25 years. Their ritual music-dance teachers were friends but both had long passed.

Apab’yan had spoken at length on K’iche’ Maya worldview—originating from the Guatemalan highlands—and his responsibilities as a Daykeeper working with the Cholq’ij calendar. During the course of the evening he revealed that he’d acted as a traditional midwife for the last 16 years. He had a patient with a difficult pregnancy, the baby in a questionable position, awaiting his return home. This mention naturally led into the singing speech we experienced, the intervention meant to guide the baby to reposition on its own in utero, to align correctly with the birth canal.*

The song ended. The room was silent, the energy palpable. I think we must all have been touched in ways indefinable. Perhaps there was something enlivened that had been asleep. Or a dream grounded into this reality. Perhaps there were aspects we each may have carried into this life from our mothers and fathers—inner vulnerabilities—that were soothed, shed. This was a perfect portal to usher us into the fire ceremony the next day.

North Mountain Visitors Center abuts the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. The beautiful grounds are pristine, belying its poignant past. It was here, from the 1890s until 1930s, that many Native families camped, attempting to see the children taken from their homes and subjected to forced assimilation at the Phoenix Indian School. Interspersed were the tuberculosis camps in the early 1900s for those seeking the curative properties of dry desert air.

We gathered, in the shadows of the small ampitheatre, and Apab’yan consecrated an altar space where he would guide the fire ceremony. And it was here that he would call upon the ancestors. In his own words

Everything is alive. Everything has a form of communication. Everything has meaning and belongs to a natural system.

The Maya ceremony consists of preparing a ceremonial pyre. It is called a gift but also a payment in the sense of reciprocity. The K’iche’ ceremonial pyre is not a bonfire; it does not burn a long time. It does not need to last. The importance has to do with what happens while the fire is active: There must be a dialogue.

As normal, those assembled took part in the building of the altar, some given special roles. One held the fire stick. Some were called upon to make the first lighting. Two others to pass out candles. And the fire began to burn. Puffing on the ceremonial cigar, Apab’yan called for the Grandmothers-Grandfathers to be present. He made the prayers. Placing candles, we made our own prayers. At long last, the fire started to die down, the conversation coming to completion.

But not yet.

Apab’yan went over to Xavier and Monita, whispering to them. After asking me to lead the circle in holding space, those three walked into the desert. And then…on the air…from the distance…we heard flute and voice rising and falling…singing to the land…to any lingering ghosts of sadness…offering up prayers. And some strange force blew through. It overtook my body. Ever so slowly, involuntarily, my body began to arch backwards until it was in an impossible position. Held. For what seemed like forever. Until it let me go. When I opened my eyes, I saw the Diné woman across the circle crying.

When they re-entered the circle, Apab’yan knelt before her and asked her to ritually bless him with burning sage. That image and the power of it sticks in my mind: Diné woman, Maya man.

The ceremony now closed, the sense of what occurred remained. A communal undertaking. Correctly done. Even as I’m writing this now, I’m feeling into the sacred space…all over again…we all created. I imagine it still hangs in the air in the ampitheatre, the people who pass through wondering what has touched them.

I’ve been in powerful ceremonies before. Fire ceremonies, too. But none ever as compelling as this one. Perhaps it was the culmination of all the energy accumulated from all the ceremonies over a month’s time, carried with us…from Hopi…to private land outside Wichita…to private and public sites in Tucson and finally in Phoenix. And some particularly precious energy remains within my own sanctuary.**

With much respect and gratitude to Apab’yan  and those who showed up in these ritual circles. The journey continues in January in Maya Land with the strength we gathered in March. Anyone drawn is welcome.

Below I’m adding a piece written by Pam Hale Trachta with her own reflections.

 The Power of Ritual and Ceremony

The smoke from the copal grew thicker in the room, as Apab’yan fed the small container fire with the granules of incense, and his prayers. People seated around him and behind him prayed too, mesmerized now by the hypnotic chanting in the Mayan language, punctuated by English phrases so we could all track where the prayers were being directed.

The room was darkened in order to suggest the atmosphere of the caves where this water ceremony is usually performed. A bowl of water resting on the table received the blessing, and participants would eventually be offered sips of it, as in communion. Finally, roses were dipped into the water and used to shake drops of water on all those gathered.

It was a potent blessing, because the intimacy and power of ritual transcends cultures, language differences and even philosophical details. Spirit is Spirit in any language. And the language of Spirit is ceremony.

Water Ceremony

Water Ceremony at Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Photo: Pam Hale Trachta.

Read more

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 * Apab’yan Tew is likely the only male Maya midwife that exists. He knows of no other. Indeed, it’s not traditional. It occurred because, when he was a lost young man wandering in the Guatemala highlands, a Maya midwife took him in. And before long he assisted her in the process. He became her apprentice until he began to birth babies on his own. He remains readily sought after as a midwife. When in the highlands he does everything from the beginning: talks, sings, moves and delivers the baby. In the city, he prepares everything until the point of delivery then sends the mother to the hospital for final delivery by a doctor. This was the case recently in Mexico City. Apab’yan and the mother were able to bypass the difficulties of the pregnancy. She successfully delivered a baby girl.

**With many thanks to the following people and organizations for hosting us and making the March beauty possible:

  • On Hopi: Charlene and Harold Joseph;
  • In Kansas: Lonetta Lollar and John Brack, and Belle Dessa and the Great Plains Earth Institute;
  • Elsewhere in Arizona: Pam Hale Trachta, Frank Williams and Tacheria Interfaith School of Spiritual Direction, Leslie Spencer-Snider and North Mountain Visitors Center, and Cindy Heath.
Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Havasupai Elder Speaks

We drove along the South Rim tourist area of the Grand Canyon and wound our way to the west on a dirt road through tall pines. Leaving the throngs of people behind, with much anticipation, we entered a different world. During opening circle for our spiritual travel program to Hopi just the night before, I’d let the folks know an opportunity had presented itself.

The Grand Canyon is sacred to the Hopi. They emerged into this middle world in ancient times from a point deep in its interior, and the Havasupai people have called it home for at least a thousand years. A relationship exists between these peoples. So when my Hopi partner Char Joseph contacted the Havasupai Tribe inquiring if there was someone who would speak to us about their ways, they were happy to oblige saying…all too often they were forgotten.

We pulled into Supai Camp, once the tribal winter home on the rim where just a few remain. The traditional dwellings are long gone. In 1934 the National Park Service (NPS) tore down or burned the homes without notice to the residents who were away at the time. I Am the Grand Canyon documents more than a century’s devastation of the Havasupai at the hands of the US federal government, NPS, Grand Canyon Association and Sierra Club. In the book, Havasupai Mack Putesoy testified how their homes were burned to the ground with all their belongings inside. Effie Hanna said she lost things she’d been saving all her life. In place of traditional homes on their aboriginal lands, the NPS built cabins and forced the residents to pay rent.

However, I knew none of this at the time we approached the home where we’d been invited.

Havasupai Girl

Havasupai girl, circa 1900. Photo credit unknown.

We were greeted at the door by Colleen Kaska, daughter of Daniel Kaska who was chairman of the Havasupai Tribe in the 1970s. Elder Daniel is now quite frail but welcomed us. He wanted to tell us the story of the Havasupai, People of the Blue-Green Waters named after the beautiful canyon waters running through the area they now mostly live. Colleen shared in the storytelling.

Their aboriginal lands once encompassed areas from the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and the San Francisco Peaks west to Ashfork and Seligman. In the warm months they lived in what is now known as Cataract Canyon in the interior of the Grand Canyon and grew crops. In winter months they dwelt on the rim in order to hunt.

Once the Santa Fe railroad came along and interest in the Grand Canyon grew as a tourist and recreational site the Havasupai were squeezed and began to suffer. In 1882 President Arthur declared the majority of their aboriginal land belonged to the American public. The People of the Blue-Green Waters lost their plateau hunting-herding lands and many thousands of acres. They were barred from rim watering holes by cattlemen and the NPS…and relegated to Cataract Canyon. This narrow 518-acre tract doesn’t see sun during winter months, and historically endured flash floods that sometimes took out homes and people.

Colleen had been relating this history in a matter-of-fact way. The more she spoke, the sadder I felt. I had no idea what we would learn when we came through this family’s door. But I didn’t anticipate such a story. I’d thought of the NPS and Sierra Club as entities that conserved beauty…not those who wrought devastation upon peoples of the land (I thought) they were to protect. I said, “This all must be heartbreaking.”

Colleen paused, became still. She had a faraway look in her eyes. “Yes. But when I walk our aboriginal lands⎯the ones taken from us⎯I know it is of my people. My ancestors are there.” The tone of her voice made clear that knowledge gave her strength.

Elder Daniel spoke haltingly of the century-long struggles to be recognized by the federal government, to regain any of the land taken from them, including his own personal involvement as chairman in this quest. Finally, in 1976 they succeeded to a small degree: 185 acres returned to the Havasupai with 95,300 acres named “Havasupai Use Lands” but controlled by the NPS.

Daniel Kaska and Apabyan Tew

Havasupai Elder Daniel Kaska & Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew. Photo: Colleen Kaska.

K’iche’ Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew was present as a sponsored guest on our spiritual travel program. He wanted to know about Havasupai ceremonies. He asked Daniel, “Do you have a story about some time of a spiritual nature you remember?” Daniel shook his head. It seemed the focus for so long had been a fight for acknowledgment, some recognition of their worth, that there was no energy left for anything else.

Mike Weddle⎯Kenosis Spirit Keepers board member, Daykeeper and musician⎯visiting from Maryland was able to join our group for just two days. He brought his flute. I invited Mike to offer Daniel and Colleen a prayer song. The music was sweet. When it came to an end, there was silence. Then Daniel began to sing in words and tones that entered every one of us. The energy seemed to shift.

When we all expressed how it touched us, he uttered softly, “It’s a funeral song.” And then, “We are a lost tribe.” It was painful to hear of such loss.

Our visit was over. We formed a circle outside under the pines and invited Colleen to join us. Elder Daniel was unable to do so. Apab’yan offered a Maya prayer for the People of the Blue-Green Waters and the land.

A few days later I received a note from Mike who had to leave for other business.

I think we all felt the same as elder Daniel Kaska told his story of loss and betrayal, going to Washington where no one would listen, voting against the government deal when his own people would not listen, and his final ‘I don’t know what will become of us’. When he sang his beautiful song, and then said it was a funeral song, I almost wept.

We were invited by Colleen to join a singing ceremony 8 am Saturday at Red Butte. I did go to represent us but there was no one there. There are two forest roads on each side of the Butte, but no people, no cars, and no singing.

So I climbed the switchbacks to the very top of the butte, the summit. At the very top there is a crossing with 4 paths going in the 4 cardinal directions. I’m sending a photo. Colleen called this the Supai place of origin.

I felt that in just 2 days I had been witness to the place where the Supai began and perhaps the place where they end. As there was no one else there to sing, I did the singing, and I sang the Maltyoxb’al, the [Maya] great gratitude song, for the arc of the Supai nation.

Red Butte

Red Butte where the Havasupai were born to this world. Photo: Mike Weddle.

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Four Directions at the summit of Red Butte. Photo: Mike Weddle.

When we held our closing circle at the end of our week with the Hopi and Havasupai people, I spoke to the group.

I never know in advance how things will unfold when we hold a sacred container of pure intent. Things I can never predict come in ways that affect us all. I believe the most important thing we did during this journey was sit in respect, listen deeply to this Elder’s words and witness the grief he carries.

Sometimes that’s all we can do even in the face of our own helplessness at such recognition. And that acknowledgment matters.

***********

Note: Elder Daniel Kaska singing recorded by Apab’yan Tew.

Go here to learn more about Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World,  and check back for next year’s March travels.

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Rights, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Film Review – The Red Queen: A Mayan Mystery

In 1994 a tomb was excavated in Temple XIII in the main plaza of Palenque, the large Maya ruin complex in Chiapas, Mexico. It was the finest thus far uncovered, even more so than the great ruler Pakal II’s in the Temple of the Inscriptions just a couple of doors down. The quantity of jadeite, sacred objects and two skeletons on either side of the sarcophagus indicated someone of the highest standing. And a very curious thing: The remains were completely covered in a powdery red substance that turned out to be cinnabar.

A physical anthropologist determined the remains to be female. The temple richness  pointed to the final resting place of an esteemed ruler. But for women to attain such a capacity was unusual. Thus began The Red Queen. And then it immediately garnered my attention when archaeologist David Friedal took the screen saying, “The history of the past is not the history of men but men and women together. And at times women change the course of history. Not men.”

The Red Queen is not a boring historical documentary. Rather it entertains the question: Who was the Red Queen? She was nicknamed so because of the cinnabar. Attendants carefully covered her in the toxic powder at burial. It made its way into her very bones. We’re on board as the film tracks the mysteries, technical methods and data that lead to a conclusion from the three likeliest candidates.

  • Was it Yohl Ik’nal, the grandmother of Pakal? As far as we know she was the first Maya female to rule on her own…for 21 years.
  • Was it Sak K’uk, who took over the throne when her brother was killed? She held rule until she was able to put her son Pakal on the throne when he turned twelve. Likely she guided him from behind for some time after that.
  • Or was it Tz’akbu Ajaw, the wife of Pakal? And sometimes called Lady Conjurer as noted in Carol Karasik’s book The Drum Wars where she devoted a chapter to the Red Queen.

Those who know me are well acquainted with my love for Palenque, having been drawn back regularly since 1995 when I first had the pleasure. So the story of the Red Queen was an interest on that level. But more so, I found it heartening to have women recognized for who they are, their accomplishments and learn something of their story—not quietly influencing behind the scenes but front stage center.

Produced by the Discovery Channel, 2005. Watch it free on You Tube.

The Red Queen 1

Part One: View it here. 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Red Queen-2

Part Two: View it here. 24 minutes.

*****

For more information on our next scheduled Maya Mysteries spiritual travel program in Chiapas…where we visit Palenque and pay respects to the Red Queen, go here.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Film, Maya | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

An Inspired Life: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

In late 2013 Xavier Quijas Yxayotl—Huichol composer, musician and artist—shared his life story with me. It was a real privilege to hear of his origins, struggles and inspirations. The thing about Xavier is that you’d normally never know the details of his backstory. But maybe you would pick up there’s something deeper. He carries a sense of humility that typically only comes by having gone through hard times…survived…and having instilled great meaning in his life, touching others through his craft and presence.

Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

Portrait of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with one of his handmade ancestral flutes. ©2015 Barry Wolf. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With permission I turned his disclosures into a narrative that was picked up in 2014 by Still Point Arts Quarterly for their Fall 2015 issue. I thank editor Christine Cote for giving this important story space. I can now share the story in its entirety here as Xavier told it to me. I hope you are as inspired as I was.

 ***

 Through the Dark

 The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap.

“Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more…

Xavier Painting 1

Painting by Xavier at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

 

Xavier painting-2

Xavier with one of his painted pow wow drums. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

Continue reading Xavier’s story here and find out how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Interview, Music Review, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

A Vision Comes

On the second day of our time on the Island of the Sun in Bolivia an opportunity presented itself. Local Aymara spiritual leader Mallku Roger Choque offered to take us to a closely held sacred place, one little known to outsiders where even few locals venture. The ancient ceremonial purpose of the site off the Island of the Sun was verified some decades ago when archaeologists found ritual artifacts on the lake bed at its base.

Clearly, this was another gift being handed to us. The first gift occurred the day before when sponsored Hopi guest Suhongva Marvin Lalo had discovered the Hopi migration petroglyph on a huge stone slab at the ruins of Puma Punku, outside La Paz—significant validation of the Hopi migration path. My spiritual travel group also included five sponsored Q’ero Wisdom Keepers making this journey to return to their Inka origins, as well as participants from across the US and Canada.

Given the cue by Mallku Roger we descended from the high point where we were lodging to the boat below. Not long after we headed out, waves washing behind us, this Aymara paq’o, or medicine person, laid a large weaving out on the floor of the boat’s front interior. Crouching down, he removed items from his bag. Soon it became apparent he would be leading a despacho ceremony, a prayer offering. Others squeezed around the altar, getting as close as we could in that cramped space.

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Mallku Roger Choque. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

And a memory surfaced, one of being on a boat and, so much the same, engaged in despacho ceremony the previous year on a private journey with a few friends. But that time we had been leaving the Island of the Moon, ancient site of the Mystery School for Inka priestesses. And after our prayers were all placed in the despacho, and it was tightly wrapped, I was beckoned outside to the boat’s back deck. The package was placed in my hands. I remember standing, watching the waves recede as we plowed through the waters. Raising my hands I released the bundle to send it arcing over the waters. Time slowed down. It seemed to hover for a few moments before slipping into the lake…and some kind of energy was emitted. We all felt it. I tried not to engage my mind then about what it might mean, if anything.

I came back to the present as one of my Q’ero friends stood before me offering me a kintu for the Pachamama—Mother Earth—coca leaves in proper placement. Taking them into my own hands, I began breathing my prayers into the coca. Another kintu was given for the Apus, the mountain spirits. My friend came back to receive the kintus that would be placed in an earthen vessel, along with the others. I gazed out at Lake Titicaca, so incredibly vast, then turned my attention back to the ceremony.

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Despacho ceremony on Lake Titicaca. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

And in that split second, a vision distilled. I say vision but can I say a precise image appeared? No. It was more a sense that something was being woven together. Can I say that I was given a commandment? No. But I was receiving a precise direction. It produced the feeling of something inside settling and becoming solid. A calling I didn’t question. But it still involved asking permission. I sat there with the knowledge.

By then the boat had approached our destination. But first the vessel that held all our prayers and blessings was lowered carefully into the shallow water and came to rest.

That night after dinner I asked Hopi, Q’ero and Aymara spiritual leaders if they would gather in circle with me. I told them of the vision I’d received during ceremony: to invite Hopi, Q’ero, Aymara and Maya Wisdom Keepers on a pilgrimage in 2016 nearly replicating the one we were making this year from Bolivia to Peru with one difference. The culmination would be on Q’ero. While others have brought different traditions together in various locations on a much grander scale, the direction I’d received involved a journey of an intimate, humble nature. I felt that others across the lands who would assist in holding such a space for this pilgrimage would emerge to support it. I asked the Wisdom Keepers if they would tell me what thoughts they had. One by one they spoke agreeing wholeheartedly with this vision.

Only Mallku Roger was silent. When all had finished speaking their piece, he turned to Marvin, our Hopi guest, and said in a strong voice, “I see your pain. And I have the same pain. Your pain is all our pain.” He gestured around this circle of his Indigenous brothers. “We are to help each other. I will never abandon you. We will never abandon each other.”

He spoke at length on the Eagle Condor Prophecy, then turned to me. I swear his eyes bored into my very soul and wouldn’t let me go. “This is like a weaving. We cannot do this alone. There are those who are connectors, people who help. Your vision is correct.”

In that moment, the last vestiges of doubt that periodically played inside my head over the years about the work I’ve dedicated myself to…when I’d get tired…when my faith got called into question…when it seemed like I was swimming against a tidal wave with little forward motion…dissipated.

Later I wondered if last year—when I slipped the despacho into Lake Titicaca—something had been set into motion. One more evolution. Each time it’s never about predicting what is to come as a result. One can’t. But it is about engagement…full engagement to the calling.

********

To read about the discovery of the Hopi migration petroglyph at Puma Punku and more background, go here.

To learn more about the 2016 Heart of the Andes spiritual travel program in Bolivia and Peru, the intimate pilgrimage honoring the Eagle Condor Prophecy as noted in this writing, go here.

 

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, Q'ero, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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