Monday, November 18, 2013

testaments to the ancestors

     (Chief David Belardes) interprets ayelkwi as “ the power in all things, animate and inanimate. Everything living… rocks, trees, mountains, ranges…all have power. And there are places of power, where you can go and pray and talk to the creator and listen to the spirits.” David explains to me that these places of power have special names that, like the village of Acjachema, commemorate the stories that have unfolded there. Most of these stories are grounded in rocks…Oftentimes when a place or object is named, it is recognized as a place of spiritual significance. David’s grandfather gave names to many of the trails and places he encountered on horseback, names that signified important landmarks. The Belardes Trail, which David’s grandfather rode, is known in Acjachemen as Pala Soya, Pala for water and Soya for a type of alder tree that grew at a spring there. The name refers to the spot’s valuable asset: water.
     Even though naming a place brings it into the realm of human experiences, sacred places whose names have been lost—perhaps due to disruptions in oral tradition—are still part of the human experience. They are places where the ancestors walked, places of power.
      “You can feel you are in a sacred space, even when you may or may not know the story of it or the name,” David says.
      “What do you mean?”
       The phone line is silent as David mulls over the question. The static rushes forward, crackling like a hundred candy wrappers rubbed between the palms. “Well…when I was a kid, see…” he pauses. “My grandfather, he was a cowboy on the Rancho Santa Margarita.” I later read that many Acjachemen were employed as vaqueros (ranch hands) throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Phillips). They knew the best canyons for fattening up the cattle, and where springs were.
David continues, “I went out into the hills all the time with my grandfather and my father. And my father and I would hunt. Sometimes, we would be hunting, and we’d come across a hilltop with a stone circle on it.”
     “A ring of rocks?”
      “Yeah. Two, maybe three feet high. My father would say to me, ‘go stand up on that hill.’ And I would, and I’d come back and say ‘what’s going on up there?’ He’d tell me, ‘the ancient ones are here. Look at this circle.’”
      “What did you feel up there?”
        “A lot of people say it was a hunting blind, and maybe it was at one time. But if you ever go walk there…you know there is something else going on out there. The ancestors lived there. You can look out from that hilltop in all four directions. You can see Kalapwa.” Kalapwa is Chinigchinich’s sacred abode.


      When he takes in that commanding view, David explains, he can feel that the ancestors were just as moved. He can sense this when he looks out at all the sacred sites in all directions.
“And there is water there,” David says of the canyon. Water is sacred for its lifegiving gifts; it nourishes the oaks and leaches the tannic acids—and thus the bitterness—from mano-mashed acorns. Springs are very sacred places, often said to hold curative powers in their dripping waters. The Lobos record that “in the Old Stories, rocks are associated with water and as natural markers” (Lobo and Lobo 120). The stone circle on the hilltop may have served to mark the springs and to convey that the site was sacred. Not only are the stones themselves sacred, but also the shape that the ancestors placed them in. The circle is sacred in indigenous cultures.
       As indigenous elders in Gayle Kelly’s film A Circle of Women—which Kelly presented for the 2012 Humanities Institute—share, the power of the world works in circles. Everything tries to be round (Kelly). In his 1932 book Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt learns from Black Elk, an Oglaga Sioux ceremonial specialist, that “[. . .] the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The Sky is round . . . and so are all the stars. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round” (Neihardt). Hector Perez-Pacheco, a Quechuan Indian from Peru who started the Harmony Keepers (a group which helps with the annual Ancestors’Walk), came to my class at Pitzer College this spring. He shared, “my grandfather told me that everything is circular. Whatever energy you put out there, you get that back. You eat what you plant. You plant good seeds, you eat good foods.”
      The Ajcachemen dance in a circle around the ceremonial fire during the Eagle Ceremony, just as the stars wheel around Tukmishwut, the North Star. Circles permeate Acjachemen ceremony. Perhaps cogged stones and stone spheres—which we will see in the last chapter—speak to the sanctity of the circle?
    “But why stones?” I press. “Why were stones used to make that circle?”
      David tells me that it all comes back to ayelkwi. Rocks possess a spirit, an energy that draws people. They are sacred beings, he explains, and they carry the weight of cultural memory in their very molecular bonds. The deceased individual is buried alongside their other belongings as well, belongings that symbolize who he or she was and what he or she did and which, interestingly enough, are mostly made of stone. Dave shares that “we had a fisherman buried with their fishhooks and weights and sinkers.” He and Joyce took me to the site where this fisherman and his belongings rest. A freeway now roars alongside the burial ground. The ancestor is still in the earth with his fishhooks, only much deeper, where he won’t be disturbed.
      “We had ceremonial people that were healers buried with a cache of stream washed rocks, shiny and smooth, like a totem of some sort,” David continues. Could these stones have similar spiritual significances as Bolsa Chica Mesa’s ritually cached cogged stones?
      An ancestor pole stretches skyward at Puvungna. The pole is surrounded at the base by a pile of rocks; a wide ring of rocks encircles it. Louie shares that the ancestor pole at Puvungna is a ‘modern take’ on a traditional pole. It is a contemporary manifestation of tradition, a physical representation of the fluidity of ceremony. “In the past when someone passed away,” he tells me, “the people took all their personal belongings, things they used in life, and tied them to a big pole. If they were a basket maker you tied some of their baskets. And then one year later it was burned. It was a way of saying goodbye to the person. You’ve marked one year of grief. It takes your grief to another stage.” I ask him about the rocks piled at the base of the pole. He shares that people bring rocks from their travels and place them there as tangible memories, as living manifestations, of their wanderings…
       The ancestor pole still stretches skywards, with its rocks piled at its base.
Every day Timét’s rays seep into those rocks, warming them with energy and heat.
       The rocks will carry the day’s heat long into the nightfall, just as they hold ayelwki.
They are sentinels on the site, testaments to the ancestors.
        They are carriers of power, of wisdom, and of cultural memory.

They quiver with energy. 
       They are a heap of moving matter. 
They are Acjachema.

condensed from: Rigby, Julia Edith, "A Celebration of Ceremony Among the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation" (2012). Scripps
Senior Theses. Paper 78.
http://scholarship.claremont.edu/scripps_theses/78

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