Bundling the day and unraveling the night.
We knew these mounds, like the ancestors of those gathered, were Indigenous, crafted by people who planted, sowed, traded, and traveled near the waterways of the Great Lakes. People who fashioned small figurines and built vast geometrically perfect shapes centered on the arc of the lunar cycle. They wore large earrings, mined copper, gathered meteors, and buried their dead carefully, with precision, in mounds of earth. The stories they carved in stone included bears and severed heads. It is difficult to know much more for certain.
We also knew that our more immediate predecessors came from many Native nations and were not yet citizens of the United States. Yet, when they gathered on the mound they sang the song Martin Luther King wove into his Dream speech, the song sung at both of Barack Obama's inaugural celebrations, a song many forget is based on the British national anthem ... "My Country 'Tis of Thee" It is easy to understand the force with which they must have sung, "My native country, thee ... I love thy rocks and rills, Thy woods and templed hills." But the poignant irony of this particular group singing "Land where my fathers died ... Land of the pilgrims' pride" provokes a sort of melancholy that postcolonial theorists might today connect to historical trauma. The first American lyrics were proudly written in 1831, shortly after President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act setting in motion decades of removal, including the infamous Trail of Tears.
Standing on the mounds in 2011, we knew the impact of the Reorganization Act, the cataclysmic ripple of the American Indian Movement, the importance of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the ongoing struggles to uphold the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. These laws came together here, these longitudes of practice and latitudes of purpose. Standing in a place that connected minds on earth with celestial time, I finally understood the theory of relativity. Space and time are related. Light and sound have speed. And perhaps the best way to stop time or cross time or step out of time altogether is to make sound.
Not one of us moved one archeological spoon of earth, but we offered instead waves of sound across the day. We came to this ancient place and traded feelings with the unknown. Like those who came before us, we sang of the nations we wished most to represent. Many of us, already citizens of beautiful America, sang of our sovereign nations. Like those before us we stood in a space marked by the past and sang into the future.
Jane Hafen sang a Hopi harvest song of gratitude she learned from her brother, John Rainer Jr. Alice Te Punga Somerville sang a Maori song from the other side of the world.
LeAnne Howe sang a warrior's song and pointed out that Choctaws were mound builders in the not too distant past. "I sing it quite a bit," she said, "especially when I need strength to fight off something. I didn't like the feeling of the invasion I had there: The men at work blowing away leaves, the grounds keepers' keeping an eye on us, the rude men driving their golf carts over the mounds ... just because they could."
Monique Mojica said hers was not a "traditional" cultural song but one she created for her play Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way. She explained, "I chose it over other prayer songs I could have offered because in the context of our visit to the Octagon Earthworks and the bizarre juxtaposition of the golf carts whizzing by, I wanted to sing a song that culturally I had the right to sing and, more importantly, because of the alignment of the mounds to the moon and the stars--the cosmos: negaduu." The words were in her grandfather's language, Dulegaya, the language of the Guna people from the autonomous Indigenous territory of Guna Yala, Panama. The last line of her song is a quotation from Sahila Tomas DeLeon:
Buna Siagua negaduu gi gabdage Chocolate Woman the Milky Way dreams Gabgagmai negaduu gi, negaduu gi gabdage Dreaming the Milky Way, the Milky Way dreams Anmar burwa yobi anmar gabdager We are only free when we dream
Phil Deloria also sang a song connected to his grandfather, who was one of the master storytellers of his generation. Phil says, "he knew, through his family, a lot of stories from Yankton and the middle Missouri River country. But he grew up at Standing Rock, so he learned stories there too, from the upper-middle Missouri people. And then, when he was at Pine Ridge and Rosebud, he learned stories from the Western people, the Oglalas and Brules. So he always had a story and many of them had songs attached." In a place of gathering and remembering, his memory was a good choice to invoke. Phil's song "comes from a famous old story about Red Leaf, who carried a bird's nest in a forked branch with him. At night, he would plant the branch in the ground and sing, and he would be in the nest and carried up high as the branch became a tree. From up there, he could see the future, so he was a very powerful man." As a musician, Phil speaks of the music the way we might speak of the mounds. The song "drops, as a lot of those songs do, from high to low pitch wise, and ends with a beautiful low minor third interval. I remember when my grandfather sang those kinds of songs, he'd get down low and his voice would just rumble. Now, my voice kind of does that too. And the song was in my head, and I wanted--though I rarely do this kind of thing--to sing with everyone else."
Joy Harjo explained, "When my [Muscogee] people were forced to walk what is called 'The Trail of Tears' from our homelands in the southeastern United States after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, two beloved women sang this song. One stood near the front of the people, and one near the back. When either faltered, the other would sing this song to hold them up." The words of her song echoed our pose there on the green earth that morning:
Cehotosakvtes Chenaorakvtes Momis komet Awatchken ohapeyakares hvlwen Do not get tired. Don't be discouraged. Be determined, to all come in. We will go to the highest place. We will go together.
The desire to sing was great. The song I chose looking across the octagon marking moon phases was one that I sing often with my daughters as we gather around a sage and cedar fire, eating berries, sipping water, and thinking about the way the moon has been there for centuries of cycles ... mothers and babies, grandmas and grandchildren, the pain and pleasure of life washing over us. My song, "Shkaakaamikwe," is a song of Mother Earth and her four daughters, the cardinal directions, who rise and care for her each day.
I have been taught to hear the songs, sometimes poems, in the world around me. The song I found that day, while seeking equilibrium, came to me as I walked along the ancient edges. It reminded me to recognize the fact that I know as little of the past as I do of the future.
Niisaandwe dibikad / Descend the night Kwaandwe giizhigad / to climb the day Epaaskaakonised nese / with bright breath. Niibiishag bwezowag / Leaves sweating, Bapakineg nagamowag / cicadas singing Zaagakii all / the earth is risen. Nolli ji-anamed / The work of praying Bizaanan kaanan / for the peace of bones Aabanaabi bimaadizi/ is like looking back in life Gashllbidoon giizhig / Bundling day Aabaabigin dibik / unraveling night Waawiyebiigendamo / we measure our thoughts.
For many of us the SAI centennial was put into perspective by our visit to the mounds. Like hands carrying baskets or bowls of dirt, we were faceless but essential. Like stars charted by the circles squared, like bones becoming dust, we were making history one word, one voice, at a time.
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|Title Annotation:||Plank 4; Serpent Mound and native american songs|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2013|
|Previous Article:||The SAI and the end(s) of intellectual history.|
|Next Article:||Transnational progressivism: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Universal Races Congress of 1911.|