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Songs of peace: Native American shares traditions with Pakistan.

Native American storyteller and songwriter Rose Red Elk, also known as "Red Feather Woman" or "Wieka Luta Win," her tribal name, contributed to mutual understanding between Americans and Pakistanis during a recent 10-day tour of Pakistan. Accompanying herself on guitar, the winner of the 2006 Native American Music Award in the spoken-word category narrated traditional stories of her Lakota tribe. She spoke and sang about honoring the diversity of humankind, respect for the earth, peace among peoples and personal integrity and responsibility.


Her audiences in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad were enthralled and enthusiastically joined her in Native American traditional song and dance at the end of her performances.

A review in Pakistan's oldest and most respected English-language daily newspaper said, "In these times, when the magical tradition of storytelling with all its wit and wisdom is seeing a fast and drastic decline in Pakistan, the American Indian storyteller in live recitals before appreciative Pakistani audiences was a powerful transporting experience and an effective communication tool to draw together people and break down barriers of ignorance and isolation."

Storyteller Team

In the twin capital cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Red Elk performed at Fatima Jinnah Women's University and a college of the arts, and conducted a workshop for performing arts students at the National Council of Arts. The Lok Virsa National Folk Heritage Museum teamed her with Pakistan's foremost traditional storyteller, Akhtar Channal, who is officially called "the Pride of Baluchistan." The two did not have time to rehearse or even discuss each other's program, but both told a story and performed a song--and their stories fit together. Each talked about diversity, resolving conflicts, respect for others and living in harmony. Both of their songs were accompanied by dance movements and emphasized the need to respect and preserve "Mother Earth."


Peshawar, a beleaguered frontier city on the trade route along the Afghan border, is a haven for storytellers. Audiences there were amazed to hear the many parallels between Pakhtun and American tribal societies and traditions. Red Elk discussed her experiences as a storyteller and songwriter with students and faculty at Peshawar University and before a diverse audience at the principal officer's residence. Everyone joined her in a dance, accompanied by the beat of the drums of local musicians.

Commonalities Explored

Audiences in Lahore and Karachi were equally ready to explore similarities in the Native American and traditional Pakistani culture. There was much local media coverage, and one review on a blog said: "Native American culture incorporates all mankind in the cycle of life, where the colors white, black, yellow and red signify the world's races and people."

Red Elk said these colors on the Native American "medicine wheel" represent, in order, the people who are the keepers of fire, keepers of water, keepers of air and keepers of the earth. She said the world cannot function without any of these elements, and that this harmony is what the Native American culture stands for--unity and brotherhood.

This message has been lost over time, she said, but mankind must adopt and safeguard it to survive.

Everywhere she went, Red Elk told a story about the origin of the peace pipe, or "shanupa." In the story, a woman rides a white buffalo down from the heavens during a time of conflict and presents a peace pipe to the warring parties. The pipe's length is green, to represent the earth and all living beings. Its red bowl represents the blood of the sacrifice of the people. The smoke of the tobacco represents the essence of life, carrying prayers to the heavens and the creator.


Strangers Meet

At the end of each performance, Red Elk asked attendees to stand and shake hands with four strangers nearby. She then encouraged everyone to join her in a song. In every location, everyone got up, shook hands or bowed to those seated next to them and joined in the song's chorus, singing:
 We are the keepers of the earth
 A heritage given to us through birth
 Creator took us by the hand
 And said 'This is our land.'

The author is cultural affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.
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Author:Jones, Constance Colding
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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