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Native American cultures and traditions

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The Museum's mission is to advance and share the experience and knowledge of what has happened in the past and what this has meant for Native peoples today; to preserve the memory of those who died or suffered; to offer comfort, support, encouragement and understanding; and to encourage its visitors to reflect upon the need for dignity of and respect among all peoples.

You are invited to explore this Virtual Museum at your leisure and visit us frequently.

Personal Testimonies by Yagniza:

Introduction   Career_Day   Contemporary_Native_American_Issues    Cultural_Racism   My_Journey    The_Amphitheater   The_Designer   The_Sacred_Trust   Notes_on_Navajo History   Racism_Institute    Spanish_Poetry   El_Cuartocentenario   El_Inca_ Garcilaso_de_la_Vega    The_Best_Is_Yet_To_Come

Page Contents:

The Visit | The Children | Bird DJ's Story: Bear Canyon | Bird Aaron's Story: The Flume | Bird Hadlie's Story: The Best Is Yet To Come | Bird Callan's Story: The Sacred Mounds Speak | Bird Sander's Story: Are You Ready For Adventure? | My Son Aaron's Poems

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We arrived to a winter wonderland. Frost glazed the sage bushes along the interstate. Clumps of grama grass salted with frozen ice stood sentinel. Yucca pods encased in glittering solid ice witnessed the winter solstice. Icicles hung from the needles on pinon trees. Aspen leaves not yet fallen reflected the sunshine in the delicate, thin slice of ice enveloping their golden sheen. Milkweed competed with the brilliant white of the silky snow lacing the pods. Red berries covered with hoarfrost signaled the birth of Christ whose blood would be shed for us. Columnar ice marched across the cholla cactuses. Cattails lay strewn across the snowfall like pixy sticks from a child’s game. Abstract six-sided crystalline snowflake patterns accentuated the sunlight streaming through the window of our rental car. Tracks of birds and wildlife invited us to follow into the nests and dens and burrows sheltering them from the cold. For them the snow was a ladder to reach berries and branches, insulation, and material for underground homes. Breaks in the snow evidenced where chirping birds that had not migrated south burst out after spending a night blanketed under its warmth. Rodent droppings gave away elaborate underground tunnels. New fallen snow provided added height to reach pinon nuts not yet fallen. Insects and reptiles lay asleep, hibernating until Spring. Elemental, cellular microbes continued their process of breaking down the detritus of the forest floor buried deep under the mantle of snow. A white-tailed deer peered out from behind a grey stark elm, its brown, still eyes mesmerizing. Its coloring, its protectorate, blended in with the forest. Its hideaway - disclosed only by its lack of movement and its direct stare offered a seducing invitation to a muffled, serene spell of solitude broken only when the deer gracefully glided away. An abandoned, anonymous farmhouse banished to survive in the winter alone, clattered with life as a cardinal oracle predicted an end to the storm. Mourning doves pecked in the snow scavenging for grain from the past harvest not yet devoured by the magpies. A red fox or a coyote, too stealthy to be identified, hid in its holy habitat, stalking any prey that might come across its path. Though it was the dead of winter, the animated spirit of nature could not be halted. The brisk, fresh, alpine air, breathed forth across the autonomous landscape. The fierce, bitter cold blast christening the holiday season only served to hasten our journey. The coma of the Earth existed only in fiction. Life scurried over, under and throughout the diaphanous down covering Her. The sunlight emerging from the overcast sky promised a festival of light - dancing, dashing, dazzling, flashing, frenzied, frolicking, furied, galloping, gliding, glittering, glistening, gleaming, flashing, frenzied, frolicking, furied, prancing and pawing, sparkling, and twinkling. We walked across crusted, packed, snow, stepping gingerly on the slippery cracked, melting ice, breaking the quiet solitude of the neighborhood and knocked on her front door. When there was no response, I thought she might be gone. My son knocked harder and she came to the door. She said she had been in the back room. She welcomed me and my son and his girlfriend. A Christmas poinsettia quilt wall hanging I made hung in the living room. A picture of my son sat in the dining room. A recent photo of her new great granddaughter sat on the fireplace over a crackling fire, next to a crèche. She asked how I was. She offered us a coke. We talked of family - my husband, my son in Sweden and my visit there to see him and my daughter-in-law and new granddaughter. We talked about the house and how wonderful it looked. She thanked me for the heart locket and cameo I had sent the previous Christmases. We talked about her landscaping business. Winter diminished the amount of work. She spoke of her beloved cloistered Carmelites. Not too many people had attended Mass at their small, intimate chapel. She invited us to visit them with her. I told her we would. I loved the magic, mystery and majesty of these women who lived a solitary life of prayer and communion in seclusion from the rapid, rabid, high-tech world around them. I was happy that Moma seemed so alive and full of spirit. She hugged us; our isolation weathered through time. Her favorite blue morning glories seemingly absent under a moribund layer of snow awaited the coronation of Spring.

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The African doll stood tall, his legs spread apart as if ready to walk. He wore a fearsome oblong black mask with white and yellow paint, fringed with white yarn, his mouth open wide. His black cone headdress was topped with white feathers. In each hand, he carried a plume of dried grass, matching his skirt and leggings. His shirt was a black and white textile print, belted with a red sash trimmed with green yarn. He had deep set yellow eyes ringed in white diamond shaped paint, long yellow ovals outlined in white along the extended cheeks, and a long sharp nose. His forehead protruded with a geometrical design of white dots and yellow diamonds with a straight white line down the middle. His leggings were trimmed with red fabric holding the straw in place.

He asked me, "How are the children?" I told him, "They're healing." He said, "Good." In his village if the children are all right, then the village is all right. They come first.

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Bear Canyon:

My oldest son and I hiked in Bear Canyon amidst the cottonwoods, willows, sycamores and prickly pear cacti. The Canyon, past home to indigenous peoples, is in the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson. The tall, pale green saguaros guarded our safety. Baby saguaros grew under the shade of a sheltering tree or bush, so they wouldn't be subject to the blistering heat before they were strong enough to take it. The afternoon was hot, but a monsoon was on its way. At each step, my son hoped for rain. He wanted me to see the seven layered waterfall cascading downward, not still from the desert drought.

The clouds continued to move our way. A breeze streamed through the Canyon. My son stepped around a rattlesnake, its rattle alerting us to its presence. I sidestepped the path it was on. We saw an ebony brown millipede and a dark brown centipede. The two us thought they were yucky.

Big drops of heavy rain begin to fall on us. Deeper in the canyon, the rain turned to hail. My son and I stood under a granite overhang to avoid the stinging, frozen pelts. We cautiously continued on our trek, watching out for the slippery rocks underfoot.

The still waterfall, transformed into a seven layer cake, its icing dripping from one ledge to another, welcomed us. Next to the fifth pool, we sat in a small cave in the cliff to watch the emerging pool of water reflect our faces, the heat from the granite warming us. Much too soon, dripping wet, we left the exuberant, playful waterfall, feeling like Indiana Jones, the sky sustaining the canyon with its precious gift of rain. The yellow flowers on the mesquite trees glistened with rain drops clinging to the very edges of the petals; the palo verde trees soaked up the much needed desert rain. Soon the cholla, yucca and ocotillo would bloom.

On our descent, a coral pink and black gila monster crossed the trail in front of my son. He pointed it out to me as it slowly slithered under a pinon. I laughed as my 6'6" son slouched, pretending he was as low to the ground as the gila monster, so he wouldn't get struck by lightning. Roadrunners and quail chased us out of the park.

The universe embraced us that afternoon in its beauty, its mystery, its wonder, its power and its gracious majesty.

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The Flume

My younger son invited me to go snowshoeing with him while I was visiting in Beaver Creek. It was a sunny, brisk, cold day. I hadn’t been snowshoeing before but I was eager to try. It turned out that new technology has made snowshoes as light as a pair of shoes. They were very comfortable and could be maneuvered with pretty much of a normal gait. My son warned me though not to go backwards because the heel would stick in the snow and flip me over like a flapjack. Instead, to reverse direction, I had to pivot by moving the front of the snowshoes around in a circle.

We hiked straight up into a narrow gorge, the untracked, powdery snow deep and quiet around us, keeping its secrets. The only sound intruding on our tranquil solitude was the planting of poles and spiky crampons gripping the icy spots along our climb. Nature in its quintessential purity stood before us, untrammeled, unsullied. We entered reverentially. Time receded before us as we silently skimmed across the surface of the snow, as lithe and swift as snowshoe hares. We were silent like Talking God, not needing speech to communicate our connectedness.

I thought of Changing Woman, rejuvenated every Spring after the barrenness of Winter, interlocked in the double-sided dance of the creation and the illusory destruction of life. There was no destruction, only a return to the Womb of the Earth, to engage in yet another transformation of form, all to the purpose of the sustenance of life.

I thought of Spider Woman, weaving the silky, fragile web of the universe, maintaining its harmony, anchoring her web soundly below the forest humus buried beneath the snow drifts we scrambled over.

I followed Aaron, trusting in his time-honed and instinctive skill. He loved nature; he loved living in the high mountains of Colorado, snowboarding every day. Carrying his ice ax, he traversed soundlessly across the wilderness. We meandered along the flumes frozen serpentine trail, mesmerized by the trickling sound of icy water.

We ate our trail mix lunch and drank Gatorade, which wouldn’t freeze or ice the threads on our water bottles. The musky, pungent scent of evergreen surrounded us. We mentally trekked the nearby ridges with their sharp, pointed, glaciated cornices. Tracks of white-tailed deer manifested their hidden presence in the canvas of the snow, bearing witness to the thriving winter ecosystem within which we were immersed.

Aspen trees with cream colored bark and tiny, black, broken, horizontal bands, shorn of their glancing golden leaves, stood sentinel. Douglas firs, with dark scarred bark, bore broken twig ends, testifying to recent deer feeding. Fresh snow weighed down the branches on blue spruce trees, their unique, chestnut brown, scaled cones fanned out across the drifting powder. The fine powdery substance on the bluish-green needles gave them a frosted coat. The clear blue backdrop of the cloudless sky enhanced their color. A breeze floated through the ice encrusted tree branches creating the sound of a patina wind chime. Boulders and undulating hills in the distance relaxed in the wintry fairy land.

Yet, all too soon it was time to leave this pristine, primal, ordered refuge. The conical trees, single-trunked with small unclustered stiff needles, reflected Nature's adaptation to suit their habitat. The spiral shape of the cones manifested the Universe's patterning and structure. As we started up, the sunshine glittered against the blinding brilliance of the freshly fallen snow as we floated over the top, our rhythmic trail marking our route. The cushioning powder gives gently so the snowshoer can rebound off the snow, propelled forward.

We started a run downhill, lifted above the Earth’s mantle, our snowshoe tips up and leading with the tails. When we were done, my exhaustion was equal to that of finishing a marathon. I sat in the snow, catching snowflakes on my tongue, their melting six-sided crystalline structure icing my mouth. The pass, overtaken by the setting sun, lay in a shadowy contrast to the sparkling snow which had greeted us earlier. Earth’s still primeval intimacy engulfed us. We thanked the Earth for its continual, untiring sustenance, its nurturing protection and care, its hushed calm, its ever-beckoning wondrous beauty.

Truly, To walk on a blanket of snow is to leave a path on a cloud. (Author unknown.)

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The Best Is Yet To Come

We had a family get together in February in Galveston. The Gulf of Mexico is special to us - the Pecos and the Rio Grande Rivers from our home in New Mexico, amidst the palm trees, end their meandering journey here. It was a break for my son, DJ, and pregnant daughter-in-law, Malin, that live in wintry Sweden and a time for me to spend much-needed time with my 18 month-old granddaughter, Hadlie. My son, Aaron, and also pregnant daughter-in-law, Marianne, anticipated an escape from Wisconsin’s chill. Since my husband was remodeling our kitchen, we rented a bright, airy house at Jamaica Beach. As it was off-season, we had the uninhabited beach to ourselves, or so we thought.

On our first morning, we took Hadlie to the beach. It was new for her. She was afraid of the breaking waves, buoyed up by the underlying oscillatory motion of the water - the even rhythm of swash and backwash coming close to her feet, seeming to chase her and then running away. We didn’t rush her at all. Later, she would walk with me to the shallow, ebbing tide and we would pick up piled, fluffy, frothy sea foam and throw it into the wind.

Pulling her red wagon filled with sand toys, she collected seashells to decorate the castles we built, floating her blue and red row boats in the ever-draining moat. Tirelessly, she climbed up the sand dunes, holding my hand, peeking over at the steep, concave leeward side, then running down the windward, convex slope as fast as she could, with her Daddy ready to catch her at the bottom. Feeding the sea gulls crackers, she mimicked their cry perfectly. She came to know the strength of the wind, as it snatched her kite out of her grasp, enticing it out to sea. She didn’t object at all, thinking it was part of the game.

Tired after endlessly playing the spiral game my sister, Jeanie, invented, where we draw a shells whorl in the sand and sneak, tip-toeing, into its curved interior, to see what we will find, then scurry out through the labyrinth, chased by a giant snail, she napped. Malin covered her with her new, woolen, fringed, red, powwow, dance shawl, which I made, thoughtfully making sure she experiences her Native and Swedish cultures.

The longshore current, pushing the waves parallel to shore, pulled me along on my daily walk. I picked up empty seashells, avoiding stinging Portuguese man-o-wars. To me, the shells bearing the spiral pattern of the universe, inhabited by erstwhile snails, clams and hermit crabs, evidence evolution’s infinite genius. Navajos consider the ocean sacred; offering it corn pollen - the elegant, intangible hogan of White Shell Woman built on the California coast. Shell and lunar designs are prominent in their jewelry. Spider Woman creates our universe, weaving the web holding us in unity, balanced within a network of silky filament. Holy Wind guides us on our way unerringly

I foraged for wood, feathers, seaweed, fish skeletons - whatever nature made available. The fall and winter are the best times of the year. Northern winter winds erode the sand accumulated on the beach during the summers gentle breezes, leaving fancy shells behind, amidst the sea waters ripple marks. Their hard, outer, calcium carbonate, made-to-fit cases are domiciles, covering and protecting a softer creature inside from hungry predators and severe weather. Snails push their head and foot out of the shells opening while the rest of their body stays safely inside. Clams lay comfortably ensconced in mounds of sand.

The mollusks soft body with a single muscular foot enables the snail’s locomotion, while its head and tentacles allow it to forage for food. The word gastropod means belly-foot and the large, flat, creeping foot is the belly. Some of the single-valve shells on the Texas coast are carnivorous, feeding on clams, other mollusks and sand-dwelling marine worms, while other species are carrion eaters or herbivores. Mysterious shark eye snails use their radula - hard, rasplike plates on their tongue, to bore neat, round holes in clam shells to slurp up the unsuspecting prey. Whorled Rock Shells often can be seen walking around, propelled by scavenger hermit crabs which use their tough pincers to guard the entryway, backing into the shell to protect their soft back pink outer skin. Others hide in their shells covering the opening with their velutinous operculum.

The best shelling areas are curved areas where porous, graded sand accumulates, and around docks, jetties and pilings with their rip currents perpendicular to the shore line. Swirl zones are where beach and jetty meet, the incoming waves making a swirling pool in the "L" that is formed. The imported limestone, granite, sandstone, and reef material blend in with the blue-black Beaumont clay of the Gulf. A change in light and angle can make missed shells appear.

Shrill, immature laughing sea gulls gather around caches of shelled organisms to feed on the slimy, coiled mass of organs ensnared by the single valve shell of the snail or the simple, compressed body of the clam, enclosed between the double valve shell. It is rare to find a whole cockle bivalve shell as the gulls swoop them up, crash them against the rocks of the jetties and devour the orange clam hinged inside. The Giant Atlantic Cockle glides along the ocean floor on its large orange foot, using it to flip itself. To get water and other nutrients, the bivalved shell will flex its muscles, open up, take what nutrients it needs, and go on its way. It has two slender siphons which suck water in and out of the body. Gills take in oxygen for breathing and sieve food from the water. The two muscles used to open and close the bivalved shell leave indentations or scars on the inside of the shell as does the mantle. If you can find the two pieces, the ridges around the hinge can be matched.

Among the more common shells in Texas is the carnivorous Lightning Whelk, which is the official state shell. It's a triangular snail shell, cream-colored, with brown streaks that resemble lightning bolts, patterned with ridges, opening on the left. It whorls clockwise around a central column around which the mollusk twists. The long tube sticking out beside its head is a siphon. Below it are its spindly tentacles and probing proboscis which it uses to feed on clams, striking its shell against the clam to secure an opening. Others include: Quahogs; diaphanous angel wings; fan-shaped bay scallops with wavy edges, brown speckled ribs on the outside with a smooth white inner surface and a base referred to as an ear; spiny murex; oysters; bubble shells; periwinkles; celestial Ark Shells - filigreed white clam shells with a beaded appearance, about the size and shape of a walnut; Thais, or rock shells, which are heavy, whorled snail shells, cream to blue in color, with a squat, triangular shape; delicate Disk Dosinias - round, white, translucent clams with concentric circles, found with their two hinged shells coupled intact, gaping open, amazed at all of the bustling traffic; tiffanous, twin siphon Tellins - flattened, wedge-shape clams two to three inches long, often with a bright yellow or pink interior; dainty baby’s ear; tiny, lacey Coquinas - little triangular or wedge-shape clams less than an inch long and found in about every color of the rainbow in stripe or ray designs; and plain fresh water and opaque disc clams. More rare shells include the Pear Whelk, a pear-shape snail shell, peach or cream in color, and the Olive Shell, a cylindrical snail shell about two inches long, greenish or tan in color and glossy. A hard-to-find, sea anemone eating, Mitchell's Wentletrap, cone-shaped, ivory in color, with a brown band spiraling around it, about one to two inches long, urged me onward. Large clusters of burgundy-colored rock barnacles that filter plankton from the sea with their feathery legs grasped the gritty sand. Paired valves of common mussels lay empty at the drift line, their pearlescent aqua interiors glinting in the sun, no longer anchored to the sea bottom by byssal thread. The ridged, mesh saw toothed penshell rivals the angel fish with its gossamer, winged, multi-hued fragility. Scanning the flat, broad area between the dunes and the drift line for brown or white bleached sand dollars, albino shells, coral or unearthly Pleistocene fossils of shark teeth, I walk on.

Gauzy, leafy sea weed, and discarded, leathery necklaces of hardened, sand-covered slime, inside of which snail eggs are laid, lay entangled amidst the shells. The high tide carried and deposited dank, fibrous wood onshore. Bobbing swamp hickory, walnut, and pecan nuts drift inland. Downy, wispy feathers from egrets, sea gulls, herons, ibis, willets, terns, plovers, spoonbills with a spoon-shaped bill to scoop up the shrimp that give them their pink color, skimmers with a long lower beak acting as a shovel to scoop up its prey, long-billed curlew with a long curved beak designed to probe the grainy sand for mollusks and crustaceans, cormorant, nonoiled diving birds sunning themselves to dry their feathers, and teetering, tail bobbing sandpipers dot the shoreline. Brown pelicans dive in a twisting motion for their prey, needing extra padding along their breast bone to absorb the continual shock. Turning their head to expel any water, they lift their long, pouched beak upward and swallow their catch whole. A lone dolphin lolled languorously along the coast line.

Slimy sea anemones with stinging tentacles remain offshore, searching for small, scaly fish and segmented shrimp. The impalpable anemones reproduce by budding, creating a new creature merely through a split of the organism.

Eight legged, double pincered, armored blue crabs, calico crabs, walking fiddler crabs, agile ghost crabs, marsh crabs, mud crabs and stone crabs with powerful black-tipped claws that can crush shells are only visible through their breathing holes as they burrow in the sand. Their molted exoskeleton is discarded as they grow.

Smelly, pellucid skeletons of dead catfish and flounder find their way to shore. Peoples of different cultures have not failed to give the empyrean beach inhabitants the significance of their heavenly faith. The supernal skull of the bottom feeder, whiskered Gafftop catfish, scraped clean by shore birds, ghost crabs and other carnivores, epitomizes the sublime Passion of Christ. Finding one is considered lucky. A clear crucifix image with the body of a frail, ghostly, haloed Christ can be seen on the underside of the skull. The two bulging "pockets" on the crossbar hold two pearly bones that rattle within the skull, mimicking the sound of the dice cast by Roman soldiers in their gaming for Christ's blood-stained garments. The twelve ribs represent the Apostles. The sharp, pointed, notched bone in the dorsal fin is a relic of the Roman soldier's spear used to lance Christ's side to assure His death. When He was pierced, His blood and water flowed separately, evidencing His fatal demise. On the reverse side, a vapory priest in prayer blesses the faithful. The two pearly "bones" in the skull are otoliths that the fish uses to maintain its balance. The faithful carry them to ward off the evil eye or crush them into powder as a cure for colic.

Eerie summer flounder start out with eyes on either side of their head. As they mature, the eyes migrate to one side to allow them to see predators from the bottom of the ocean. Their camouflage also protects them their top blending in with the sand while their bottom is white. No toxic pufferfish present themselves.

Sea Beans, or Sea Hearts, seedpods from vining tropical plants that drop into streams and merge into tributaries of rivers along the continental divide, ultimately reaching the ocean, are held in high esteem as good luck charms. As the seed has been carried safely along its journey, so also, a person wearing one will never drown. Sea Beans are about two inches in diameter, dark glossy brown, and resemble a thick, flattened disk.

The prayerful solitude along the expansive beach is eclipsed only by the coastal fog embracing me. The tumultuous winter waves breaking against the beach face, combined with the sharp cries of the serendipitous sea gulls, serenade me. The offshore salty gale mixed with the perfumed scent of salt grass dances airily. Along the storm tide line, Indian blankets and salt grass grab a tenuous hold in the granular, pulverized drifting dunes as do I in life’s sheer, glistening fairy web.

I put a shell to my ear, listening to the cyclical, lucid, mesmerizing sound of the Gulfs surf. I hear my granddaughter’s laughter. I rest, assured that the infinite synchronicity of the universe is at play in the growth of my magical, unique, ever so welcome, grandchildren to be.

Cite: "Gifts from the Sea," Rusti Stover, Photography by Smiley N. Pool, Houston Chronicle, Texas Magazine, Nov. 19, 1995, - a really, wonderful article on Texas coastal shells that opened the sea world to me.

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The Sacred Mounds Speak

Madison, Wisconsin is renowned for the University of Wisconsin - Madison, its many walking and cycling trails, its beautiful Lakes and flower gardens, its weekly Farmer's Market on the State Capitol lawn, and the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is hard to imagine that Wisconsin was covered by glaciers during the Ice Age. Originating in Canada, they flowed southward scouring the countryside, creating and re- arranging hills, ridges, valleys, courses of rivers, lakes and natural dams. Ice lobes, deflected by hard rock outcroppings, split and traveled to other areas, gouging out marshes and Green Bay, merging with other lobes to create moraine fields - mountain chains of rocky debris. Cracks and fissures which filled up with water created holes which later filled with debris resulting in conical hills called kanes, or oval or elongated hills called drumlins. Sometimes the water flowed under the ice from one pond to the next, carrying sand and gravel in a sinuous line and forming an esker. Sometimes the fissures caused huge chunks of ice to break off and become buried amidst the rock and gravel of the moraine. When the blocks melted they left rounded ponds of water called kettles. The State Capitol is located on the site of a drumlin.

I love to go on long walks when I visit. While walking around Lake Monona, I met two women associated with the Institute for the Healing of Racism. I later met the head of the group in Madison, Richard Davis, a great bass player and professor at the University of Wisconsin. I attended a meeting at his home.

The Wedding

My son and daughter were married in a traditional Native/German/Czech ceremony in the Convention Center overlooking Lake Monona, on a clear, sunny day. I braided my son's thick, long black hair before the ceremony. The altar was covered with a star quilt I made out of brown flannel, with a transferred Plains Ledger drawing in the center, honoring Aaron's Mandan- Hidatsa heritage. The quilt was covered with herds of buffalo. Aaron's brother, D J, and Marianne's friend, Becky, were the best man and matron of honor. A drummer and singers filled the air with the heartbeat of the Earth.

Marianne, in a beautiful off-white satin dress, elegantly and gently glided over flower petals strewn in front of her by Alayah and Ahnili, the children of dear friends. Aaron waited for her, his brother at his side. The handsome couple was smudged with sacred sage from my home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, burned in an abalone shell, the drifting holy smoke carried through the air by Holy Wind, who sits near our right ear, guiding us. He reminds us that the life and breath that sustain us are the same life and breath that sustain all living beings; that our intentions and actions are part of the intelligent purpose of larger actions and motions; and that the wind that dwells within us is inextricably entwined with the Holy Wind that encompasses the cosmos. We used our family eagle feather to fan the smoke as the couple welcomed and caressed their skin with it.

They washed their hands with fresh water from Lake Monona, a Navajo tradition signaling the start of a new life, of washing away the past. The water was held in a Navajo ceramic vase. They ate white cornmeal mush sprinkled with corn pollen from a woven Navajo wedding basket depicting the four Sacred Mountains and the opening to the East. Corn is used in the sacred corn pollen prayer offering to Dawn Youth and Dawn Maiden at sunrise. As one Navajo man had said, "Corn is the most important crop to the Navajos. I don't know how we would survive without it."

Smudging and the Navajo Wedding Ceremony

I explained the smudging and the wedding ceremony.

Smudging is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is used to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial tools and objects. The effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies.

For the hand washing, the bride pours water into the gourd dipper, then into her own hands, and then she sprinkles it on the groom's hands. After that, the groom does the same thing, sprinkling water on the bride's hands. The water has to be taken from a stream or a spring or a lake on the very day of the wedding because it has to be living water. In this act, they are washing away the past. From this moment forward, they'll be sharing life together.

The wedding basket is the most important part of the ceremony. It is woven counterclockwise from the center and the black design around the red has twelve points facing out. Its design tells how our people found the sacred land between the Four Sacred Mountains. They wandered and wandered; they always traveled in a counterclockwise direction; they journeyed for twelve eons; then the Holy People showed them the way into this land at the East.

Four Sacred Mountains are our cradle of origin, our Holy Places. One's spirit can travel beyond each Mountain and it is there that one can be healed. Mount Blanca, decorated with white shell, covered with a sheet of daylight, is the eastern boundary of Navajo land, 'Dinetah.' Mount Taylor, decorated with turquoise, covered with blue sky, is the southern boundary. San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, decorated with haliotis shell, covered with a yellow cloud, are the western boundary. Mount Hesperus, decorated with cannel coal, covered in darkness, is the northern boundary. Dawn Boy, Dawn Girl, Turquoise Boy, Turquoise Girl, Twilight Boy, Abalone Shell Girl, Darkness Boy and Darkness Girl, as complementary to one another, live at these sacred sites.

The colors of the wedding basket show the white of dawn and all things light, the black of the universe and all things dark, the red of the rainbow and the sunshine that creates it. Pollen is sprinkled on the corn mush, in the shape of a cross and then a circle in honor of the Four Sacred Mountains. The groom eats mush of white corn meal and water in the East, then the bride; then the South, then the West, then the North, then the Center. A dowry is given to the bride's family to show respect and to thank the bride's family for raising such a wonderful daughter.

I then went on to talk about Navajo history.

Navajo-American War

On August 31, 1849, newly arrived American soldiers met with Navajo headmen to explain that they were going to build forts and begin settling the land.

The first fort the Americans built in Navajo country was Fort Defiance. The Navajos were ordered to keep their livestock away, but since there was no fencing that was impossible. One morning, the soldiers came out and shot all the Navajo livestock on the Fort premises. In February 1860, Manuelito, a revered Navajo leader, led 500 warriors against the Army's horse herd which was grazing a few miles north of Fort Defiance in retaliation for the American soldiers killing their livestock. The Navajos suffered more than 30 casualties but captured only a few horses. During the following weeks, Manuelito and his ally, Barboncito, built up a force of more than 1000 Navajos and in the darkness of the early hours of April 30, 1860, they attacked Fort Defiance.

The Americans considered the attack on Fort Defiance an act of war. A few weeks later, Colonel Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, led six companies of cavalry and nine of infantry into the Chuska Mountains to attack the Navajos, starting the Navajo-American War. A year of cat and mouse followed, with small skirmishes but no success on the part of the Americans.

Aaron is a direct descendent of Navajo Jack, Hosteen Kinlichinlii, who served as an interpreter prior to the Navajo-American War. At one time Navajo Jack and his family were imprisoned at Fort Defiance. When hostilities broke out between the Americans and Navajos, he returned to his home in Lukachukai, near Canyon de Chelly. He was wounded in battle three times during the War, but recovered each time. His story is chronicled in the U. S. War Records of the time.

In the meantime, the Civil War was underway and there were battles near Santa Fe between the Confederates and the Union Army, with the Union Army defeating the Confederates at Glorieta Pass. That being done, Brigadier General Carleton, Commander of the U.S. Army of New Mexico Territory, turned his attention to the Navajos. He called the Navajo land, "a princely realm, a magnificent pastoral and mineral country." "The Navajos were wolves that run through the mountains and must be subdued."

General Carleton turned his attention first to the Mescalero Apaches. His plan was to kill or capture them and imprison them on a reservation along the Pecos River, leaving the rich Rio Grande Valley open for land claims and settlement by American citizens.

In September 1862, he sent out an order:

"There is to be no council held with the Indians, nor any talks. The men are to be slain whenever and wherever they can be found. The women and children may be taken as prisoners, but of course, they are not to be killed."

The Mescalero chiefs submitted to Carleton's demand and took their people into imprisonment at Fort Sumner.

In December 1862, several Navajo leaders traveled to Santa Fe to meet with General Carleton seeking peace. They were told unless they went to Fort Sumner there would be no peace. This the Navajos were unwilling to do. On June 23, 1863, General Carleton set a deadline for removal to Fort Sumner. He gave them until July 20 to turn themselves in. "After that day every Navajo that is seen will be considered as hostile and treated accordingly." No Navajos surrendered. General Carleton ordered Colonel Kit Carson to march his troops from the Mescalero country to Fort Wingate and prepare for a war against the Navajos. Carson knew the only way to conquer the Navajos would be to destroy their crops and livestock, a scorched-earth policy.

Manuelito led his people to the base of the Tohatchi Mountains. There, as passed down through oral tradition, he told the Dine to capture eagles for their feathers, and to gather lots of feathers, to make two bows each, and spears. "We will not be killed poorly; we will be considered dangerous," Manuelito said. The Dine did what they had been told. Each man had two bows and lots of arrows. Then Manuelito told them to hunt deer and not to lose a single piece of ligament because they were used to grease and make bows. When Spring came, Manuelito told his people to make poison arrows. Snake blood was used, and the poison was put on the points of arrows. When the Dine were being attacked, they used their poison arrows. When an enemy was hit by one of the arrows his body would become swollen and he would not live long. That is why the Navajo were considered dangerous.

On January 6, 1864, the American soldiers entered Canyon de Chelly, the last stronghold of the Navajos. Though they had no major battles, they destroyed all Navajo property, including the beloved peach trees.

The Navajos lost heart. As Manuelito said, "We fought for that country because we did not want to lose it. We lost nearly everything. The American nation is too powerful for us to fight. When we had to fight for a few days we felt fresh, but in a short time we were worn out and the soldiers starved us out."

Navajos were sent to Fort Sumner, the first group of 1,430 leaving March 13, 1864. A second group of 2,400 left thereafter. The Long Walk was 250 miles. The U.S. Army surrounded them all the way. It was said that some Navajos starved to death during the long, tiresome journey. At the time of the Navajo roundup, some Dine got pretty weak, especially while on the Long Walk. The U.S. Army fed corn to its horses. Then, when the horses discharged undigested corn in their manure, the Dine would dig and poke in the manure to pick out the corn that had come back out. They could be seen poking around in every corral. They made the undigested corn into meal. Plenty of hot water was used with a very small amount of corn; and it was said that hot water was the strongest of all foods. At times, they would kill a rabbit or a rat. If a rat was killed, the meat, with the bones and intestines, would be chopped into pieces, and twelve persons would share the meat, bones and intestines of one rat.

On September 1, 1866, six years after the start of the War, Manuelito's starving, emaciated band of twenty-three warriors surrendered. They still wore leather bow wrist guards, for protection from the slaps of the bowstring, but they had no bows or arrows. One of Manuelito's arms hung useless at his side from a wound. Now there were no more war chiefs.

General William Tecumseh Sherman was sent from Washington to conclude a treaty with the Navajos which was signed June 1, 1868, allowing the Navajos to return to their homeland. Not all of their land was restored but at least they would not go to Oklahoma. They received 1/4 of their original homeland -3.5 million acres.

About the whole bad period from before the Long Walk until they got settled back in their homeland, our ancestors said, "We suffered from everything, especially hunger. We ate just about all the birds there were, also bears and porcupines. Crows were about the only bird that couldn't be eaten. Some people tried it, but they said the meat was so bitter they couldn't swallow it."

Aaron is continuing in this Navajo tradition of courage and service, interpreting student life for the Native American students at the University of Wisconsin. He will have Marianne's love and support on his journey.

I concluded with the following Navajo prayer:

Song of the Earth, Blessing Song


Ceera, Marianne's niece, read Marianne's favorite Maya Angelou poem:

Touched by an Angel

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

Aaron and Marianne exchanged the following mutual vows:

As I stand here today with the world as my witness,
I pledge to you my undying and everlasting love.
I will stand beside you as your partner,
I will stand before you as your protector,
And I will stand behind you as your solace.
I love you and I always will.

Marianne's nephew, Mason, was the solemn ring bearer. Her father made a statement also wishing the couple well and pronouncing them married. Their wedding certificate was signed by my husband and Marianne's father.


A great party was held after the wedding. We ate, serenaded by the music of the Jan Wheaton quartet, listened to toasts and advice given to the couple, danced to the global tunes of a Trinidadian DJ, and visited with one another.

My son's friends from the Navy were present, two of them on leave from active duty in Iraq. I asked Commander Bill Jewett, a Navy Seal, to return the water remaining after the hand-washing to the Lake and he said he would. He went to his room, put on his wet suit, and finding no other way to the Lake, dived off the top floor of the Center into the Lake. He returned to the reception, exuberant, and honored the bride with his yellow scuba shirt.

While visiting, I told the Coyote Mountain story to Aaron and Marianne's friends, Carol and Laura and Marianne's brother, Bob, who value Native American culture.

The Coyote Mountain Story

After arriving in the New World, Coyote wants to make a new home as he had seen First Man do. First Man blew on four stones from the Lower World and made the Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajos.

Coyote schemes to avoid doing any work. He gets Badger to go to the Four Sacred Mountains to get a stone from each. Badger knows he will need bribes for the guardians of the Mountains to get a stone.

He digs up grubs to give Owl for ear wax. He gets a honeycomb for Bear for some nose hairs. He picks cherries for Mountain Sheep for tears. He catches flies for Turtle for a lily bulb.

With these objects, he goes to the Mountains. They are guarded by day by Eagle in the East, Yellow Warbler in the South, Blue Bird in the East, and Magpie in the North. Badger knows he won't be able to bribe them, but the night guards are another matter.

He goes to Wolf and offers him the ear wax for a stone. The ear wax will offer keen hearing. Wolf won't give him a stone since they belong to the People but he gives him some white clay that belongs to his wife.

Then he goes to Puma and offers him the bear nose hairs for a stone. The nose hairs will offer keen smell. Puma won't give him a stone but he gives him some yellow clay that belongs to his wife.

Then he goes to Fox and offers him the tears for a stone. The tears will offer keen sight. Fox won't give him a stone but he gives him some blue clay that belongs to his wife.

Then he goes to Porcupine and offers him the lily pad for a stone. The lily pad is sweet. Porcupine won't give him a stone but he gives him some red clay that belongs to his wife.

Badger takes the clay to Coyote. Coyote gets mad because he wanted stones. He sends Badger to get some magic growth potion from Whale. Badger knows he'll need a gift. He goes to Nightingale for some feathers which he gives to Seal. They allow the wearer to hear Nightingale's music. Seal tells Badger that Whale will want a gift and that he likes perfume. Badger gathers wildflowers for perfume and gives them to Seal. Seal takes them to Whale who fills a shell with some of his magic growth potion for Badger.

Badger delivers the potion to Coyote. Coyote made four discs stacked on top of each other of the clay from the Four Sacred Mountains. He takes the whale potion and pours it on the discs which grow into a mountain shaped like the paw of a coyote. Some of the potion spills on the ground and makes a deep arroyo.

Coyote tells Badger they need to dig tunnels into their new home. He gets Badger to start digging, telling him he will dig from the other side. But Coyote gets Gopher to do the digging, along with Skunk and Mole. Coyote now has an airy home in the center of the mountain with four entrances. Gopher, Skunk and Mole wander off to make homes of their own - they don't want to live in such an airy, drafty place.

Coyote had led Badger to believe they would live together in the new mountain. Now that the work is all done, Coyote tells Badger he wants to live alone and for Badger to move along. Badger doesn't bother to waste his time arguing with Coyote. He leaves and tries to figure out what he can do to make his own home. He remembers he still has clay left under his arms from carrying it to Coyote and he also has black dry soil on his back from the Lower World. He scrapes all of this soil off. He gets some of the wet soil from the arroyo and puts it on his soil. He makes a Mesa for himself.

So we have Coyote Mountain and Badger Mesa.

Hadlie's Birthday Party

The next day a barbecue first year birthday party, catered by a Native owned business, was held for Hadlie, Aaron's niece, in Aaron and Marianne's back yard. Aaron loves flowers. First come the tulips in April (symbol of perfect love). Then, birdfoot violets (modesty and simplicity), daffodils (regard, good fortune, joy), gayfeathers, pink evening primroses (fairies were thought to take shelter under their leaves during rainstorms), prairie roses (love and beauty), purple coneflowers (highly medicinal), shooting stars, spring beauties, tiger lilies (wealth and pride), Virginia bluebells (constancy, delicacy and humility), and Virginia creepers color the backyard. Berries from American Elderberry and nectar from trumpet honeysuckle vines provide forage for birds, while Juniper shrubs serve as nesting areas. White Spruce, Bur Oak and shimmering Maple trees shade the yard, along with supplying acorns for the squirrels. House Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, acrobatic Black-Capped Chickadees, aggressive Blue Jays and House Finches sing and feed from the bird seeder which my son hung from a tree.

I gave cloth dolls made from Native-design fabric with capes to Hadlie and her friends, Eva, Alayah and Ahnili. To Navajos, animals wore fur during the day but at night they hung up their skin and took on human form.

My husband brought Norwegian coffee and cookies, a real treat for Eva Blackhawk, from Denmark. Her favorite are the Marie cookies. Her daughter, Eva, stored a cache away for herself. My daughter-in-law, Malin, who is from Sweden, and the rest of us appreciated a part of Scandinavia being part of the festivities. Derek, a friend, photographed the event as his gift.

Aaron and Marianne opened their wedding presents. Aaron's good friend, Ned, gave them a striking Northwest Coast painting of an eagle and two wolves. They received many other wonderful gifts.

Malin, generously and kindly dedicated to her daughter being versed in Native and Swedish culture, asked me if there was anything special I wanted to do for Hadlie, as the three of us sat under the shade of a tree. So I told Hadlie the story of the Creation of the Navajo World, a part of the Blessing Way Ceremony.

The Navajo Creation Story

The Navajos believe that there are worlds below and above us, parallel to one another. We are in the fifth world. Life and moral behavior evolved as the predecessors of the Navajo people moved from the First World - the Black World - the Place of Running Pitch upward.

The First World - the Black World

First Man and First Woman were two of the beings from the First or Black World. First Man was made in the East from the meeting of the white and black clouds. First Woman was made in the West from the joining of the yellow and blue clouds. Spider Woman, who taught Navajo women how to weave, was also from the First World. Crawling creatures, slugs, larvae and insects inhabited this domain bordered by pits filled with burning pitch. It was the insects that decided to move. Dragonfly made himself a set of wings from thin, transparent mica and flew upward to the black dome of the sky. The locusts, bees, flies, beetles and ants did the same. Locust saw a faint blue light shining through a crack in the sky and flew through.

The Second World - the Blue World

They emerged into the Second World - the Blue World, a world of grass and shrubs with land stretching as far as one could see. White Crane flew from the East, Blue Heron flew from the South, Yellow Grebe flew from the West and the Black and White Loon flew from the North to see what was happening. They told the insects, "This is our land. You can't live here. Go home." Locust told them they couldn't, that they would eat different food than the birds and would not be a threat. Ants ate grass seeds. Locusts ate green leaves. Bees and flies ate nectar from blossoms. Dragonflies ate pollen. The birds said, "Okay."

For a time everything was okay. Then the Insect People ran out of food. They tried to move to the Bird People's Land. This resulted in the Great Insect-Bird People War in which the insects were almost exterminated.

To survive, they had to leave. They flew up to the hard dome of the blue ceiling where Blue Wind made a spiral passage through the sky and led them to new land.

The Third World - the Yellow World

They came into the Third or Yellow World, which was larger and brighter. There were mountains and rivers, animals and humans. Again, all went well for awhile until there was no food to be found. Neighbor fought neighbor.

The governing Council made up of Wolf, Bluebird, Mountain Lion and Hummingbird decided they needed to leave the Third World. They searched for an opening and heard a voice saying, "This way. This is the way to the upper world."

The Fourth World - the Glittering World

When they climbed over the edge of the sky they met First Woman, First Girl, First Man, and First Boy. The new world had high mountains with green trees and stone houses with walled patios. They saw irrigated fields of corn, which they knew nothing about. They agreed this was a better world for them. First Woman told them they would have to learn farming from the Pueblo People. During the growing season, they learned gambling from the Pueblo People. Coyote, the schemer, loaded his dice by putting obsidian inside and was a great cheater and winner. The Navajo People set up a game between the Pueblo People and Coyote. The Pueblo People chose Water Monster as an opponent. Coyote won everything, even Water Monster's fur coat.

Water Monster didn't know he had left his twin babies in the pockets of the coat. Coyote, finding them, was too afraid to tell anyone he had them, so he hid them. Water Monster opened the floodgates in the bottom of the ocean and flooded the Fourth World. When the People saw the foaming waves in the distance, they knew they had to leave. Thirty-two bamboo seeds were planted, one in the East and one in the West. They grew together into one hollow reed. A door was cut in the East, rock crystals were used for lights, and the People made ladders out of yucca.

First Woman told all of the animals to bring something with them. First Man brought his knife and medicine bundle. First Woman brought her tow cards, weaving sticks and spindle. The Four Winds blew clouds to brace the reed which was swaying as the People climbed higher. Five of Eagle's feathers were inserted on top of the reed as a roost for insects and flying creatures.

Yellow Hawk made a thin crack east to west in the glittering dome of the sky; Blue Heron made a thin crack north to south; Buzzard made a tiny opening in the center; and, Locust with First Man's flint arrow point made a hole the People could climb through.

Locust forced his way through the hole which made his face sharp and flat. He came out on a small muddy island. First Man and the People, climbing a ladder spun by Spider Woman, emerged into their new home, the Fifth World.

The Fifth World

The water continued to rise. First Woman checked Mink, Beaver, Otter, Muskrat, Wolf, Porcupine, Badger and Coyote to see if they had something that belonged to Water Monster causing the flooding. She found and returned the Water Babies.

They built a sweat lodge. Then they built a dwelling which would come to be known as a hogan made exactly as Talking God prescribed. First Man opened his medicine bundle. He took out four stones and laid them in the cardinal directions with soil between them. He blew upon them and the four stones became the Four Sacred Mountains of the Navajos, the boundaries of their homeland. The soil now stretched became the Earth.

First Woman put the Sun and the Moon into the sky and was in the process of having Fire Man carefully place the stars in an orderly way which would represent the laws for the People. But Coyote, known as the trickster, grew impatient, seized the corner of the blanket where the pieces of quartz lay and flung the remaining bits into the sky. This is why we have constellations and random stars.

The Holy People continued to make the necessities of life. Everything was as it should be when evil monsters appeared. The Holy People had to set guards to protect those living in the Fifth World.

American Soldiers

I continued this story as a gift of honor to Aaron's Navy friends that immeasurably love him. It is the story of Changing Woman and Her Sons, the Hero Twins. It is a Navajo story of restoration for warriors returning home from warfare.

First Man and Woman found a baby girl that they raised, the child of Dawn and Dusk, who was to grow to become the most sacred deity of the Navajo. She bore two twin sons. She changes each year from a beautiful young woman to a withered, wrinkled old woman and back again.

The Hero Twins Journey to Their Father

When the Twins reached twelve, they wanted to go and see their father but Changing Woman would not tell them who he was. They left upon their journey and came upon a thin wisp of smoke coming out of the ground. Peering closer, they saw it arose from an underground chamber in which sat an old woman in front of a fire. She looked at them, smiled and invited them in. It was Spider Woman. She fed them cornmeal which had within it a piece of turquoise for one and white shell for the other, told them their father was the Sun, how to get to his home, and gave them a hoop with two eagle feathers and another eagle feather to protect them, and prayers and songs to sing along their journey which would be hard.

They came to a Rock that Claps Together, squashing travelers who try to pass through. They acted as if they were going to cross through, but then stepped back, fooling the Rock that Clapped Together. They did this four times and each time the Rock clapped together, hoping to get them in its vise. Then the Rock asked them who they were and where they were going. They told the Rock they were going to see their father, the Sun. They sang the song given to them by Spider Woman, facing the Rock, staring at it without flinching, without fear, holding the hoop in front of them: "Rub your feet with pollen and rest them. Rub your hands with pollen and rest them. Rub your body with pollen and lie at rest. Rub your head with pollen and put your mind to rest. Then truly your feet become pollen; your hands become pollen; your body becomes pollen; your head becomes pollen; your spirit will then become pollen. Your voice will then become pollen. All of you are as pollen is. And what pollen is, that is what peace is. The trail ahead is now a beautiful trail. Long life is ahead; happiness is ahead. Be still." The Rock told them, "Pass on to the house of your father."

They came to an area filled with Sharp Reeds. The Hero Twins tricked the Reeds in the same way they tricked the Rock that Clapped Together, stepping forward four times, whereupon the Reeds closed in upon thin air. Again the Hero Twins sang Spider Woman's song and the Reeds created a safe path through for them. They traveled through the Cane Cactuses that would stab those passing through, again by stepping forward four times, each time fooling the Cactuses, then singing them Spider Woman's song.

They came to an area filled with boiling, shifting sands. They prayed and sang to the Sand Dune Monster. He said no one had ever prayed or sung to him and he let them through. Similarly, they traveled through the River upon which Water Bugs played with hoops. They asked how they might cross and the Bugs made a path for them. Then as they crossed over, the Bugs closed in on them to devour them. Little Wind told the Twins to blow the Bugs away and they did. In this way, they crossed the River.

Then they came upon the Chief of Old Age, who told them not to walk on her path, but to the left of it. They were tired and failed to do this and became withered old men. Spider Woman restored them but she told them she could only do it the one time.

Next they traveled through the land of the Daylight Monsters who lived in bleached, barren mountains that blinded the weary traveler. Making it through them, they then had to traverse the land of the Dark Light Monsters that lived in a canyon without light. As they traveled through this canyon, they felt it closing in upon them. Soon they were walking against the cliff upon a tiny ledge, slippery from sandstone shavings. They prayed hard and sang the song of Spider Woman and the canyon vanished.

The Hero Twins Arrive at the Sun's Home

When the Hero Twins arrived at the Sun's turquoise home, it was guarded by four bears, four snakes, four thunders and four lightning bolts, all of which the Navajo fear, for good reason. They sang Spider Woman's song and subdued them.

The Sun's daughter let them into Sun's home and hid them in the light of the Earth: red dawn, blue daylight, yellow evening and black darkness.

When the Sun arrived home, he knew someone was present. He had seen the Hero Twins at the zenith making their way to his home. So the Hero Twins came forth. The Sun, wanting to be assured these were his sons, put them through certain trials: sleeping outside on a cold, cold slab; sliding down poles with knives attached which would cut an ordinary person up; taking a sweatbath in a sweathouse with the hottest boulders placed inside; smoking poisoned tobacco, and inquiries into knowledge of their home and family. They did what they were asked without question and passed these tests with the aid of their sister, the Wind and a caterpillar that gave them spit to keep in their mouth while smoking the poisoned tobacco. The Sun asked them why they had come and what they wanted - that they could have anything they wanted. They said all they wanted were weapons to slay the monsters on Earth.

The Sun told them to show him where they lived, through a hole in the sky. The Sun saw the monsters and now He knew these were indeed his sons. He told them, "I know now you want to save your people and that to do so you will need weapons of war. You will succeed in this difficult challenge and in so doing you will grow into manhood."

The Hero Twins Acknowledged by their Father

The Sun took each Twin into a separate room and adorned them with battle moccasins, leggings, a war shirt, a headdress, and flint armor. Out of the joints came fire and lightning bolts. He named them Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water. He gave them flint armor, lightning arrows, the deadly sunbeam and rainbow, spears, knives of red stone and the weapons they asked for. He gave a small jet image of a man to Monster Slayer and a turquoise image to Child Born of Water to swallow. It was here they came to understand their outer physical and inner spiritual selves.

The Hero Twins Return to Earth

The Hero Twins returned to Earth with the help of the Sun who shot them on a lightning bolt down to the top of Blue Bead Mountain, the home of the Big Giant.

Defeating the Big Giant

First the Hero Twins had to kill the Big Giant, their half-brother, representing selfishness. Their father told them they would not be able to do this without his help. When they reached the home of the Big Giant, they were to call upon the Sun. They did and they were able to kill the Big Giant with lightning arrows, the Sun shooting the first one.

Fighting the Monsters

Upon the Earth, every place the Hero Twins killed a monster it turned to stone. The lava flows near Mt. Taylor in New Mexico are not lava from a volcano, they are dried blood from the monsters. The angular rock formations on Navajo land are the carcasses of monsters turned into stone, such as Shiprock, the carcass of a man-eating bird.

The Hero Twins thus defeated the monsters, except for Hunger, Poverty, Cold Woman and Old Age who convinced the Hero Twins that they had a purpose. Without Hunger, there would be no incentive to grow crops, to raise livestock. Without Poverty, there would be no incentive to work, no incentive for improvement or ingenuity. Without Cold Woman, the world would always be hot. There would be no seasons, no plant growth upon the Earth. Without Old Age and its outcome of death, there would be no incentive to bear children, to nurture them, to pass on our wisdom and responsibilities to them.

The Hero Twins Near Death

The Hero Twins were tired and sick from fighting the monsters, from their contact with all of the negativity associated with them. They lay near death.

The Twelve deities of the Navajo came to the Hero Twins, unasked, knowing their presence was needed. They are Mother Earth and Father Sky, Dusk and Dawn, Sunlight and Sun, Talking God and Call God, Male and Female Corn, Pollen Boy and Corn Beetle Girl. They healed the Hero Twins and gave them this ceremony for the Navajos.

The World is in Harmony

With all of the monsters dead, Changing Woman took skin from her body and mixed it with cornmeal and made the first Navajo five-fingered ones. This was how we were created. There is a Navajo sandpainting showing the Four Sacred Mountains and a hogan upon Mother Earth, beneath Father Sky with the Sun and Moon below Milky Way Boy. It is a land of beauty. It is a land of harmony. This is our home. This is our world.

Elmside Park

In the Spring, baby Bird Callan was born. She lives with her sweet, loving Mommy and Daddy in a house near Elmside Park, alongside Lake Monona. I made her a cat quilt. The geometrical cats were made from violet, fuchsia and teal fabric connected together by an ecru fabric washed with mauve and aquamarine. Each cat had a heart of a contrasting color, linking them together. I top quilted a series of hearts vertically and horizontally, joining the quilt to its batting and backing.

There are two effigy mounds near her home, a bear and a lynx, and a tree sculpture. They emerge from the Earth, reaching skyward, connecting Earth and Sky, man and animal life in union. The mounds were made by nomadic Paleo-lndians that lived during the Middle Woodland period from 700-1200 AD. These Indians made mounds of dirt into the shape of birds, animals, and forms that are thought to represent water spirits. About 900 effigy mound centers were built, including more than 15,000 mounds, of which about 3,000 were actual effigies, images of an identifiable or allegorical animal or bird.

The "four lakes" area near Madison was the center of the effigy activity in Wisconsin, especially in variety and number built (around 1,500). A journey among them reveals a story of ancient rituals of life and death, of clan memory, of homage to Water, Sky and Earth, to totemic animals, and alignments to the cycles of the Sun and the Moon.

Harry Whitehorse, a Ho-Chunk artist, carved a hackberry tree at the Park, struck by lightning, into a manifestation of these mounds: an Indian encircled by an eagle, a wolf and bears. He stands watch over the sacred mounds and Lake Monona. Harry Whitehorse remembers, "My mother told us that the mounds were built by our ancestors, the ancient ones. We were always taught to respect the mounds and not damage them in any way." As a child, Harry Whitehorse's uncles passed on to him the craft of wood carving. He was taught to fashion useful items that have been a mainstay for Ho-Chunk people for countless generations. From the ash tree, he carved bows and arrows. Basswood proved useful for common eating utensils like spoons and bowls. As a child, he was taught "that nature has definite patterns and that nature is perfect in what it does. Those lessons define my approach as a realistic sculptor and painter. I strive for the qualities of attitude, accuracy, and detail within my art works."

The Great Archer

I imagined the Indian man in the sculpture as the Great Archer that pulled the bowstring and shot each arrow into the world, straight, firm, without deviation. He set each of us on our course, using all of His knowledge and strength. Along the way, we lost the awareness of who we are, arrows of the Great Archer. We lost the understanding of the great knowledge and strength from which we were launched. We started trying to find our own way. We forgot that we were safe, that we were protected, that we were on a great journey in which we would encounter new worlds, new peoples, new experiences. We did not have to be afraid, the balance of the Great Archer transfused into the arrow.

Some arrows fell along the way and they were buried. The grass and plants that grew upon their burial mounds only served to anchor them more firmly to Earth's bosom. Totems guarded these arrows. They were important teachers for the future. They would be nurtured by the Earth and sustained by the Sky until the lessons they had for humanity could be mastered. They would be fed by the natural bounty of the Lake - the Sturgeons, the Walleyes, the Big and Small Mouth Bass, the Bluegills, the Muskies, the Northern Pike.

Wildflowers bloom at Elmside Park in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Birds pollinate the flowers. Swallowtail, Sulphur, Gossamer-Wing, and Skipper butterflies siphon off nectar through their proboscis, protected by their ocellus patterning. Moths congregate near dim outdoor lighting.

"Hear us," the totem animals say.

"We will speak to you, if only you will listen.

There is no need to dig us up, to take us apart, to analyze us.

We will tell you what you are seeking to know.

You are the arrows, fashioned by the Great Archer, sent as His emissaries into this universe, to manifest His knowledge and strength, and the Bow's unparting love.

Though you do not know it, you are here to share your energy with a dying Planet. The Planet is dying because of an absence of love, of respect, an absence of the presence of the Great Archer, of the Bow that released us.

You are not alone. The Great Archer would not abandon you, would not shoot you forth without purpose, without direction. The Bow would not withhold its love, but instead would inculcate you with every particle of love within Her.

Trust the Great Archer. Trust the Bow. They are present, aware of your mistaken forlornness."

Just as the Ice Age passed, so the time in which we could not understand the mounds passed. We came to learn the lessons of the mounds, the Earth and the Sky, the totem animals and the Great Archer and the Bow. We fly through the Air, propelled by Holy Wind, supported by Earth's gravity, certain of our purpose, certain of our destination.

Wisconsin Native Americans

Just as Navajos fought for their land so too did Indians in Wisconsin in the French and Indian and in the Black Hawk Wars: Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Ojibwa, Oneida, Mohican Stockbridge- Munsee Band, and Potawatomi still live in Wisconsin. Other tribes at one time present included Petun, Illinois, Santee Dakota, Sauk and Fox, Kickapoo, Huron, Miami, Mascouten and Ottawa. Bird Callan is surrounded and nurtured by these brave peoples, attending their pow-wows and ceremonies.

According to the Ho-Chunk, who claim descent from the mound builders, the famed Marching Bear Group, comprised of ten bears, two linear mounds, and three thunderbirds near Prairie du Chien at the Effigy Mounds National Park, was created in order to record the journey that their ancestors made from the southwest in ancient times.

According to David Lee Smith, tribal historian and cultural preservation officer of the Ho-Chunk of Nebraska:

Effigy mounds are one of the most sacred religious sites for the Winnebago or Ho-Chunk Tribe. These effigies representing the bear, the birds, and the snake were constructed by the Winnebago over 1,500 years ago. These mounds are a story and prophecy told in dirt. Winnebago oral tradition tells us of our migration out of the southeast with other Siouan tribes a long time ago.

To preserve this history, holy people began the construction of the Walking Bear Mounds and related mounds. Four times a year, during the Summer and Winter solstices and the Fall and Spring equinoxes, major ceremonies were held on top of the mounds. Only medicine men of the Bear, Thunder, and Snake were allowed to perform religious ceremonies. They represented the Air, the Earth, and the Water. Sacred fire was brought in by one of the other clan medicine men, usually the Elk clan. From the snake or linear mounds, medicine men read the future in the stars and prophecies were told. The Winnebago people [also] worshipped the power of the sun, for it represented the all Holy One.

The various mounds, built as long as 2,000 years ago, contained many artifacts, including shells from the Gulf Coast. They evidenced the ancient trade networks that had at one time spread out many hundreds, even thousands of miles. Nineteenth-century literature speculation mistakenly attributed these monuments to Phoenicians, stray Vikings, the lost tribes of Israel, refugees from Atlantis, an extinct race of giants, and Welshmen. We need only turn to the first inhabitants of this region to know their source.

The Ring

As the mounds are holy to the Ho-Chunk, so too are the Sacred Mountains to the Navajo. As an adult, I dreamed that my Daddy held my hand, and took me to the foot of the Turquoise Mountain. He walked with me a short distance and then said, "This is as far as I can take you Yagniza." I walked further up the mountain alone. I knew I could make it to the summit because of all the running I did. Suddenly, I was at the top, transported, without feeling any passage of time, space or effort. I was just there.

A turquoise hogan stood before me. Inside were two wrinkled, aged women, dressed Navajo style, a loom stood off to the side. They welcomed me in, and I stood next to the fire simmering in the center, Navajo tea brewing. I imagined them to be Spider Woman and Changing Woman.

I said, "I'm looking for an altar, a Holy Book buried underneath there, to guide me." Without speaking, they told me, "We have no book, we do not write. We have no altar." A fire simmered in the center of the hogan, Navajo tea brewing in a kettle.

Spider Woman said, "I will give you a gift, instead, the gift of silence." I saw a pond in front of me. A clownfish swam effortlessly before me in the clear, greenish water. I heard its fins. I saw a small red ant crawling along on a green leaf. I heard it walking. The forest I was sitting in was alive with sound. "You don't have to speak to fill the silence, Yagniza. It's already full. You can learn from it." "Here is a ring for you, Yagniza." It was silver with coral, stamped with an ant, a spider and a cockroach. As I felt myself waking up, I heard one of the women say: "Study how the natural can be corrupted, how trust can be violated, how love can become confused with pain."

I wear the ring from Spider Woman and Changing Woman. We are one, we are safe, we have the Great Archer's Holy Spirit within us. We can be still and confident as the spider sits in the center of her web. We can be secure knowing we can adapt to any environment as the cockroach does. We can relax in peace, knowing of social cooperation, of the certainty of the ant of its place and the tenaciousness of its commitment to its assigned task.

There is nothing lacking in our native faith. When confronted with any difficulty, we can call upon the heroism of Monster Slayer and Child Born of Water who traveled to their Source with the help of Spider Woman, overcoming their fear and obstacles along the way. Being tested, they fulfilled their Father's will, without question, without hesitation. Made aware of their physical and spiritual selves, their request to their Father, for weapons to slay the monsters on Earth that were killing the People, was answered. Defeating the ego, the Big Giant, with their Father's help, they could return to Earth to serve the People and not themselves. They accomplished the mission of finding out who we truly are and what we are called upon to do. We can rest in their knowledge.

Let the Great Spirits Soar

In the end, my simple message is that of the Ho-Chunk artist, Larry Whitehorse, "Let the Great Spirits Soar."


Indian Mounds in Wisconsin, Birmingham, Robert A. and Leslie E. Eisenberg, 2000, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin;
"Visit to Effigy Mounds is a walk through history," Elizabeth Ann Hulick,;
Wisconsin: The Story of the Badger State, Norman Risjord;
Between Sacred Mountains, Stories and Lessons from the Land, Rock Point Community School, Chinle, Arizona;
Dine Bahane, The Navajo Creation Story, Paul G. Zolbrod, University of New Mexico Press;
Navajo Folk Tales, Franc Johnson Newcomb, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Second Printing, 1993;
Navajo Religion, A Study of Symbolism, Gladys A. Reichard, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1977;
Navajo Stories of the Long Walk Period, Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile, Navajo Nation, Arizona, 1973;
Navajo Wedding: A Dine Marriage Ceremony, Eleanor Schick;
The Indians' Book, An Offering by the American Indians of Indian Lore, Musical and Narrative.

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Are You Ready for Adventure?

I traveled to Falun, Sweden, to meet my new grandson, Sander Briggs, born May 17, 2004. My flight led me from Houston, Texas, to Amsterdam, to Stockholm. I took the train from Arlanda to Falun.

Falun is forest after forest after forest, interspersed with crystal clear lakes. Each time I visited I went on long walks in the woods with my son’s dog, Rambo. Falun is near Carl Larsson’s garden, his home and art studio where he created his enchanting paintings of family life, the daily round as well as the festive occasions. In painting after painting, he portrays his wife, the seven children and his home. Also nearby are the Store Kopparberget (copper mine) with its goat mascot, and the home town of the famous hand-crafted and painted Dalarna horses, Nusns. As I love arts and crafts, the Dalarna Museum’s collection of traditional folk costume, textiles, folk music and typical, traditional peasant paintings is a joy. Fikas, coffee, pastry and conversation with relatives and friends, are an important part of Swedish culture. So are sports as evidenced by the state-of-the-art town's athletic facility for ice hockey, basketball and swimming.

My husband gave me a talking bear named Ranger Rex. He says, I’m Ranger Rex. Are you ready for adventure? Every day I respond, Yes! Getting to know Sweden has been a great adventure for me.

I dream of the day my grandchildren and I will pursue adventures together. For example, I want to explore Machu Picchu in Peru with them. Why? I want to bring the grand Incan culture to life for them and to introduce its great statesman, El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. I want to hike the arduous four-day Inca Trail laid of stone by the Quechua people, from Abra de Runkuracay to Sayacmarca, to Phuyupatamarca, to Huinay Huayna, to the Gateway of the Sun, Intipunku.

Incan History and Culture

The Inca people originated in the Cuzco valley of what is now modern day Peru around 1100 AD. The Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu in Quechua, meaning Land of Four Quarters) existed in South America from about 1200 until the death of the last emperor Atahualpa at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadores in 1533. A spirit of the Inca, Viracocha, was similar in appearance to the Spanish. At first, the Spanish were considered emissaries from God to free the Incas from the tyranny of Atahualpa. The Empire included regions as far north as southern Colombia and Ecuador, all of Peru and Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina and northern Chile, 2500 miles along the Pacific coast. Its capital was the modern-day city of Cuzco (Quechua for "Navel of the World"), in what today is Peru. An extensive highway and supply system connected the cities and administrative centers. Relay messengers, chaskis, covered one hundred fifty miles a day. The Incas numbered about 100,000 but they ruled over ten million peoples from other ethnic groups. Over seven hundred different languages were spoken.

At the top of the Inca Empire was The Inca, which means a man of the blood royal, lord, king or emperor. Next were the royal family, nobles, military leaders and religious leaders. Third in line were the governors of the four provinces of the Inca Empire. Then came the local officials. Last were the peasants.

The great historian, El Inca, described the origins of the Inca in his famous treatise, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru.

The Origin of the Incan Kings

In the words of El Inca:

After having prepared many schemes and taken many ways to begin to give an account of the origin and establishment of the native Inca kings of Peru, it seemed to me that the best scheme and simplest and easiest way was to recount what I often heard as a child from the lips of my mother and her brothers and uncles and other elders about these beginnings. My mother dwelt in Cuzco, her native place, and was visited there every week by the few relatives, both male and female, who escaped the cruelty and tyranny of Atahualpa. On these visits the ordinary subject of conversation was always the origin of the Inca kings, their greatness, the grandeur of their empire, their deeds and conquests, their government in peace and war, and the laws they ordained so greatly to the advantage of their vassals. (CR 40-41)

Before the rule of the Incan kings, men lived like wild beasts:

Our father the Sun, seeing men in the state I have mentioned, took pity and was sorry for them, and sent from heaven to earth a son and a daughter of his to indoctrinate them in the knowledge of our father the Sun that they might worship him and adopt him as their god, and to give them precepts and laws by which they would live as reasonable and civilized men, and dwell in houses and settled towns, and learn to till the soil, and grow plants and crops, and breed flocks, and use the fruits of the earth like rational beings and not like beasts. With this order and mandate our father the Sun set these two children of his in Lake Titicaca, and bade them go where they would, and wherever they stopped to eat or sleep to try to thrust into the ground a golden wand half a yard long and two fingers in thickness which he gave them as a sign and token: when this wand should sink into the ground at a single thrust, there our father the Sun wished them to stop and set up their court. (CR 42)

Finally he told them: When you have reduced these people to our service, you shall maintain them in reason and justice, showing mercy, clemency, and mildness, and always treating them as a merciful father treats his beloved and tender children. Imitate my example in this. I do good to all the world. I give them my light and brightness that they may see and go about their business; I warm them when they are cold; and I grow their pastures and crops, and bring fruit to their trees, and multiply their flocks. I bring rain and calm weather in turn, and I take care to go round the world once a day to observe the wants that exist in the world and to fill and supply them as the sustainer and benefactor of men. I want you as children of mine to follow this example sent down to earth to teach and benefit those men who live like beasts. And henceforward I establish and nominate you as kings and lords over all the people you may thus instruct with your reason, government, and good works. (CR 42-43)

When our father the Sun had thus made manifest his will to his children he bade them farewell. They left Titicaca and traveled northwards, and wherever they stopped on the way they thrust the golden wand into the earth, but it never sank in. From this place he and his wife, our queen, reached the valley of Cuzco which was then a wildness. (CR 43)

The Incan Emperors, Descendants of the Sun

The first emperor was Manco Capac whose rule begin circa 1200 AD. He governed with equanimity, focusing on domestic issues, interspersed with military expeditions to conquer new lands. If his opponents surrendered they were well-treated. If not, little mercy was shown to them. As he won more and more lands, his armies became larger and more successful. Manco Capac knew how to win people over using persuasion instead of force. He would send messages to the leaders of the lands to be conquered telling them of the benefits of joining the Incas. If they gave up their land, they would be in control of their local area and leadership but they would be within the Inca Empire. They were allowed to retain their particular faith, while adding the Incan Sun god to their pantheon. The heirs of all local chiefs were reared and educated in Cuzco according to Incan precepts.

The Incas did not use money, but relied instead on barter. Instead of collecting taxes in the form of money, Inca administrators required adult men to work for the state for a set number of days per year. As to crops, one third was raised for the state, one third for the Sun, and one third for the vassals.

Incan Warriors

El Inca witnessed first-hand the testing of Incan warriors. Here are excerpts of his report:

Each day one of the captains and overseers of these rites made them an address, reminding them of their descent from the Sun; of the deeds done in peace and war by past kings and other famous men of the royal stock; of the courage and spirit they ought to show in wars to extend the empire; of patience and endurance under hardship as a proof of generosity and magnanimity; of clemency, pity, and mildness toward their subjects and the poor; of rectitude in the administration of justice; of the duty to prevent anyone from being wronged; and of liberality and openhandedness toward everyone, as befitted children of the Sun. In short they were taught all aspects of moral philosophy as they knew it, having regard to their divine origin and descent from heaven. They were required to sleep on the bare ground, eat little and badly, go barefooted, and do everything else likely to make them good soldiers. During the whole period of the ordeal, which lasted from one new moon to the next, the prince went about clad in the poorest and vilest dress imaginable, consisting of wretched tatters, in which he appeared in public whenever necessary. It was said that this was so that in the future, when he became a mighty king, he should not scorn the poor, but remember that he had been one of them and had worn their uniform. He would thus be well-disposed to them and become charitable, so as to be worthy of the title Huacchacuyac, which they conferred on their kings, meaning, the lover and benefactor of the poor. (CR 370-371)

The testing included a six day fast; running a league and a half from the hill Huanacaurim, which they regarded as sacred, to the fortress of the city; demonstrating their agility and skill as teams in attacking and defending strongholds; going without sleep while serving as sentinels; being beaten with rods; wrestling, jumping, accuracy in aim and distance with the slingshot and bow and arrow; and making their own weapons, clothing and shoes.

After this ceremony was over, the king was informed, and he appeared together with the eldest Incas of the royal blood, and standing before the novices, he addressed them in a short speech, bidding them not to be content merely to wear the insignia of knights of the royal blood and to be honored because of them, but to exhibit the virtues of their ancestors, especially in doing justice to all, and in showing compassion to the poor and weak; and so to show themselves true children of the Sun, whom they should resemble like a father in the splendor of their deeds, to the common benefit of their subjects, since they had been sent from heaven to earth to do good to them... After the speech, the novices came one by one before the king, where they knelt to receive the first and principal token of knighthood, which was the boring of the ears. Second was the putting on of the loincloth, which was the insignia of manhood. (CR 372)

Pachacamac, Him Who Gives Life to the Universe

While they worshipped the Sun (Inti) as a visible god, there was one even mightier. As explained by El Inca, Pachacamac is him who gives life to the universe, and in its fullest sense means, him who does to the universe what the soul does to the body.

They held the name in such veneration that they dared not utter it except when they must, and then only with signs and demonstrations of great respect: raising the shoulders, bowing the head and trunk, raising the eyes to heaven and dropping them to the ground, raising their open hands before their shoulders and kissing the air. The Indians do not understand or dare not tell these things with the true interpretation and meaning of the words. They see that the Christian Spaniards abominate them all as works of the Devil, and the Spaniards do not trouble to ask for clear information about them, but rather dismiss them as diabolical, as they imagine. (CR 70-71)

Illnesses were treated by bleeding, purging, and the use of medicinal herbs. Cranial deformation, a flattening of the head, was practiced.

Incan Legal System

Incas believed the Sun ordered the laws laid down by the kings. Thus, lawbreaking was considered sacrilegious and an anathema.

There were no fines or confiscation of property. Matters were governed over all by natural law. Written laws included: avoidance of idleness; frugal eating; restriction of education in the sciences to the nobility; commoners should learn the trade of their parents; and thieves, murderers, adulterers, incendiaries and judges who took bribes were hanged without mercy. Children were to serve their parents until the age of twenty-five before being required to serve the state. Modest dressing was required to avoid the corruption of gay clothing and accessories. Judges were appointed to visit homes and assure that the obedience, occupations and needs of the children were being attended to and that the husband and wife kept the household and family in order. Violators were flogged.

Municipal law dealt with the particular rights enjoyed by every tribe or village within its own jurisdiction. Each tribe could follow its traditional laws so long as they did not conflict with Incan law. Agrarian law dealt with division and measurement of the land among the inhabitants of each village. Common law was the duty of laboring collectively on all public works, except for the elderly and infirm. The law of brotherhood was helping one another without payment in plowing, sowing, harvesting, and building houses.

Cases had to be heard within five days, within the province of the parties. Judges had no discretion in imposing penalties. There were no appeals from one court to another. Judges filed reports monthly to assure that due justice was being rendered.

Disputes between provinces were resolved by a judge of the royal blood dispatched by the king. If he was unable to do so, it would devolve to the king who would decide it only after visiting the province and investigating the matter himself. Conquered towns were not allowed to be sacked.

As written by Pedro de Cieza de Leon: The infliction of the legal penalties with such severity and the love of life and hatred of death natural in men caused them to detest the crimes that led to death. Consequently there was hardly any crime to punish the whole year through in the empire of the Incas, the whole thirteen hundred leagues of it and all its various tribes with their different languages being governed by the same law and ordinances, as if it were of one house. (RC 96-97)

Machu Picchu-Royal Retreat (Camp David)

Machu Picchu, meaning 'Old Mountain Peak' in the Quechua language, was a fortress city, a royal retreat for the Incan head-of state, similar to Camp David for the President of the United States. The second Inca king Pachacuti built Machu Picchu more than five hundred years ago. It is located in the Andes mountains, two thousand feet above the Urubamba River in a high saddle between two mountain peaks, at 9060 feet, about fifty miles North-West of Cuzco, Peru. It is five square miles of terraced stonework linked by 3,000 steps. It can house up to six hundred people. The misty, cloud-covered mountain top sanctuary fell into disuse and was abandoned some forty years after the Spanish took Cuzco in 1533. It was virtually intact when discovered by Hiram Bingham, an assistant professor of Latin American History from Yale University, in 1911.

Architecture, Civil Engineering and Stonemasonry

Two longitudinal roads and two transversal ones divide the city. Palaces, baths, temples, terraces, towers, fountains, storage rooms, staircases, and some 150 houses, nestle against the sheer cliffs of Machu Picchu. These structures, carved from gray granite boulders, reflect the architectural and aesthetic genius of the Incas. Many of the building blocks weigh 50 tons or more, yet are so precisely sculpted and fitted together with such exactitude that the mortarless joints will not permit the insertion of even a thin knife blade.

The Incas had to dig down to rock bottom so they would have a solid foundation. More than sixty percent of the construction is underground. Drainage channels, retaining walls, and special layering of gravel and other material supported the site.

Their water distribution system demonstrates intricate planning, with sixteen levels of fountains. The four inch deep and five inch wide culvert carrying the water is at a three percent grade which allows the water to flow fast enough without overflowing, yet at a steep enough grade to prevent sedimentary build-up. A central drainage moat to carry storm flow divided the city. In addition, a fountain system was constructed from Machu Picchu all the way down the mountain to the Urubamba River.

Tunnels were constructed by widening natural fissures in the rock large enough to allow for the passage of people and animals. Stone carvings of anthropomorphic faces, birds and alpacas decorated the site. Burial caves included mummies in a sitting position and personal possessions of the person interred.


Using terraced hillsides, maize, potatoes, beans and other plants were grown, irrigated by natural springs routed into channels and drainage systems. This supply of food allowed for the site to be self-contained and supporting. The terraces also helped to prevent erosion.

Designs Stylized animal representation in ceramics, wood carvings, textiles and metalwork are prominent throughout the site. Fierce animals with eagle talons, huge cat fangs, and serpents for hair, costumed dancers, llama, and bird motifs were popular.


The Intihuatana stone (meaning 'Hitching Post of the Sun') is an indicator of the date of the two equinoxes. At midday on March 21st and September 21st, the sun stands almost directly above the pillar, creating no shadow at all. At this precise moment it is said that the sun "sits with all his might upon the pillar" and is for a moment "tied" to the rock.

The Sun Temple, Torreon, allowed for the measurement of the June solstice. Another site, Intimachay, made it possible to determine the December solstice. Constellations of stars and the dust clouds in the Milky Way were given names.

As El Inca commented:

The Incas could establish the solstices only roughly because they did not know how to fix them by the days of the months in which the solstices occur. They counted the months by moons, as we shall see, and not by days; and although they divided the year into twelve moons, they did not know how to allow for the difference of eleven days by which the solar year exceeds the normal lunar year. They therefore relied entirely on the movement of the sun by the solstices to calculate their year, and not on the moons." (CR 116-117)

They celebrated the equinoxes with great solemnity. At the harvest of the March equinox they rejoiced and celebrated. At the September equinox, they held one of the four principal festivals of the Sun, called Citua Raimi.

As for eclipses:

They observed the eclipses of the sun and moon, but without understanding their causes. When there was a solar eclipse, they said the Sun was angry at some offense committed against him, since his face appeared disturbed like that of an angry man, and they foretold, as astrologers do, the approach of some grave punishment. When the moon was eclipsed, they said she was ill as she grew dark, and thought that if she disappeared altogether, she would die and the sky would fall in and crush and kill them all, and that the end of the world would come. When a lunar eclipse began, they were seized with fear and sounded trumpets, bugles, horns, drums, and all the instruments they could find for making a noise. They tied up their dogs, large and small, and beat them with many blows and made them howl and call the moon back. For according to a certain fable they told, they thought that the moon was fond of dogs in return for a service they had done her, and that if she heard them cry she would be sorry for them and awake from the sleep caused by her sickness. They observed lightning, thunder, and thunderbolts, and called all three illapa. They did not worship them as gods, but honored and esteemed them as servants of the Sun. Similar respect was shown for the rainbow, on account of the beauty of its colors and the realization that it came from the Sun. (CR 118)

Forecasting the devastation of the Spanish conquest, an astrologer, upon seeing the moon surrounded by three large rings, the first the color of blood; the second, further out, greenish- black; and the third smoky-looking, warned the emperor Huaina Capac:

Sole Lord, know that your mother the Moon is warning you like a loving parent that Pachacamac, the creator and sustainer of the world, threatens your royal blood and your empire with great plagues with which he will visit you and your people. The first ring around your mother the Moon, which is the color of blood, means that after you have gone to rest with your father the Sun there will be cruel war between your descendants and much shedding of your royal blood, so that in a few years all with be finished; and for this reason she would fain burst with weeping. The second black ring threatens us with the destruction of our religion and our state and the loss of your empire in the midst of the wars and the slaughter of your people. Then all will be turned to smoke, as the third and smoky ring indicates. (CR 574)


The Incas did not have a written language. They used quipus to record numerical information. Quipus are made of cord in different colors, strung from a horizontal piece of cord, with an elaborate knotting system. The color of the cords, the way the cords were connected together, the relative pendant placement of the cords, the spaces between the cords, the types of knots on the individual cords, and the relative placement of the knots were all part of the logical-numerical recording.

It allowed for the presentation of data such as items that were needed or available in storehouses, taxes owed or collected, census information, the output of mines, or the composition of work forces.


Llama, alpaca and vicuna wool provided the raw material for textiles. Vicuna wool was soft, less available and more difficult to weave; therefore, it was reserved for the nobility. Woven tunics, shawls, cloaks, mantles, bags and belts contained colorful bird and animal motifs.


Metallurgical artifacts found at the site were made of silver, gold (a single bracelet found when studying the water delivery system), copper and bronze. The artifacts included bronze axes, knives, awls, shawl pins, a mirror, and chisel. Other objects included jewelry, shawl pins, figurines of males and females, llamas and birds, a feather plume holder, beakers, bowls and spoons. The Incas had not yet invented the wheel. While not a metal, green chloritic schist was used for carving objects and jewelry.

Pottery, Gourds

The Incas sculpted large beer vessels out of clay for chicha, a beverage fermented by the enzymes in human saliva. They had two handles, a conical base so they could be stood up within the dwelling in a special hole made for this purpose, and stylized decorations. Decorated wooden beakers (qeros) were used for drinking. Smaller ceramic objects and decorated gourds reflected the artisans skill, using geometrical, stylized human, bird, animal and floral motifs. Ritual vessels included paccha, ceramic symbolic offering objects, such as a foot plow design with a full ear of corn and a bowl to hold the offering.


The Inca emperor had the right to wear a tunic completely covered with rows of complex geometric motifs, known as tocapu. He also wore a feather headdress (mascaypacha) with two of the outer-wing feathers of the corequenque, a rare species found in the desert of Villcanuta. A red tassel, like a fringe, stretched across his forehead between the temples. When he died, he was buried in his imperial insignia. The crown prince wore a four inch wide yellow wool headband. Sandals were made of woven plant fibers, llama leather, or metal for the nobility.


Bells made of shells, shakers, panpipes, ceramic ocarinas, flutes and drums provided music for entertainment and ceremonial purposes. A bone flute was among the artifacts at the site.

El Inca

El Inca was born in Cuzco before the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro in 1539. He was the son of a Spanish conquistador, Captain Sebastin Garcilaso de la Vega Vargas, with a grand lineage from Castille. His mother was an Incan princess, Chimpu Ocllo, grand niece of the last Incan emperor, Huaina Capac. He was baptized as Gomez Suarez de Figueroa.

He learned Spanish, Latin and Quechua as a child. He listened to the grand oral histories of the Inca from his uncles and he witnessed first-hand the civil war between the Incas and Spanish. Pizarro took Cuzco in 1544.

He went to Spain when he was twenty years old. He lived with his uncle, Capitan Alonso de Vargas. He took his father’s name, Garcilaso de la Vega. While he served as a military official for the King, he did not receive a royal post because his father had helped the rebels against Pizarro and possibly because of his Incan heritage.

He became a writer. He translated los Dilogos de amor by Len Hebreo from Italian to Spanish. He wrote La florida del Inca, an account of Hernando de Sotos expeditions of Mexico. His greatest work was the Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru. His work was broad in scope, focusing on the beliefs, customs, legends, folklore, history of the Empire, the politics, the economic system, the geography, and the unique flora and fauna. (

El Inca used the art of rhetoric, specifically the technique of persuasion, employing ethos, pathos and logos in the Royal Commentaries of the Incas to try and convince the Spanish to use persuasion instead of force in building a new empire incorporating the Incan people. El Incas identity, as an educated, confident member of the royal Incan family and the son of a Spanish officer with a grand lineage from Castille, gave him a unique credibility (ethos) and interest in arguing for the use of persuasion instead of force. He knew (1) the history of the Incas and how they used persuasion successfully to build their Empire and only resorted to force when persuasion failed (logos); (2) the culture of the Incas and the people so that he could demonstrate that they were capable of responding to persuasion; and (3) it was a morally correct win-win position for the Spanish government to change their domination from force to persuasion (pathos). He refused to accept a stigmatized role or that of a victim. Various studies of El Incas Commentaries have discussed these aspects:

"El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega used rhetoric, specifically, exemplum, en los Comentarios Reales de los Incas to compare the Incan and Spanish models for conquest, hoping to lead the reader to see that the Spanish model of conquest, relying on force instead of persuasion, would be unsuccessful, and thereby consider a different course of action." (Heid 3-4)

History is the sixteenth century was not merely reciting facts. The emphasis was not merely on names, dates and events. It was a call for action, a model for behavior in the present based on an understanding of the past. Garcilaso wrote this history with passion as a statesman, spokesperson for the Incas, and a citizen of Peru and Spain.

"Garcilaso the rhetorician, however, is concerned with much more than historical accuracy. Rather, he seeks to persuade his Spanish audience, and especially the Spanish crown, to radically alter colonial policy in Peru. Garcilaso must convince his readers that the administration of Spain’s richest colony is nothing less than a disaster for Peruvians and Spaniards alike. Moreover, the cause of this disaster is the Spaniards inability to communicate with, and hence understand, the civilization of the Incas. Spanish ignorance permitted the destruction of the Incan state, which in turn precipitated the decline of the entire colony of Peru" (Abbott 87)

Garcilaso's Incan and Spanish identity gave him a unique identity and understanding of Incan culture, coupled with the ability to convey it to the Spanish mind in their own language. More important was his attitude of pride in his ethnicity. He was faithful to his two heritages: "A los hijos de espanol y de india, o de indio y espanola, nos llaman mestizos, por decir que somos mezclados de ambas naciones; fue impuesto por los primeros espanoles que tuvieron hijos en indias, y por ser nombre impuesto por nuestros padres y por su significacion, me lo llamo yo a boca llena y me honro con l." (CR, lib. 9, cap. 31.)

The children of Spaniards by Indians are called mestizos, meaning that we are a mixture of the two races. The word was applied by the first Spaniards who had children by Indian women, and because it was used by our fathers, as well as on account of its meaning, I call myself by it in public and am proud of it. (CR 607)

El Inca lived and acted in concert with these noble words.

The famous historian, Arnold Toynbee, viewed Garcilaso as a unique, important translator of the Incan culture for the Spanish and the world:

"This book is one of the prime sources of our knowledge of the pre-Columbian civilization of the Andean World. Some acquaintance with this civilization is indispensable for an understanding of world history. In his role as a personal link between two dramatically different cultures, Garcilaso is a document in himself; one of those human documents that can be more illuminating than any inanimate records in the shape of rows of knots on cords or rows of letters on paper." (Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru, xiv). (Emphasis added.)

This understanding of El Inca as a rare personage is shared in the literature on him. He played an important role in world history as a result of his fluency in two diverse cultures. As El Inca spoke Quechua and Spanish, and wrote in Spanish, he served as a voice of the Incas. It was a moral imperative on his part. There was no other person that could fulfill this role and speak out for justice for the Incas. The Incas did not have a written language that could be used to communicate with the Spanish. They only had the voice of El Inca to avoid marginalization.

"Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca, traversed the privileged and cursed space between two disparate cultures. In spite of his mestizo heritage, or perhaps because of it, he was able to take the Spanish language beyond the limitations of European experience to rescue Inca culture from the misconceptions of Spanish official histories and to represent the psyche and the cultural, social, and political organization of a people whose oral tradition proved inadequate in a world of letters. In a cultural translation and mediation Garcilaso resists a dominant order where others (non-Spaniards, non-Christians) are fixed on the margins. (Blincow iii, iv) Time and time again he employed his own heritage, both European and Amerindian, to authorize his narrative, refusing to accept his mixed blood as a trap that would prevent his voice from being effective. (Blincow 3) Garcilaso makes history a collaboration of the various participants, not merely a saga of the victors." (Blincow 13)

El Inca needed to demonstrate to the Spanish that the Incas were not beasts and savages. In the fifteenth century, the Spanish were not sure that indigenous peoples were human beings as can be seen in the writings of Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo. Also, the indigenous peoples were considered uncivilized. El Inca presented the Inca Empire to the world, the royal and grand order of the civilization: the history, politics, economics, religion, social structure, and aspects of daily life. The Incas strived to expand their Empire and assure the welfare of the citizens. Social workers visited communities to provide support for families in the care of their children, the elderly and the sick. El Inca wanted the Spanish to embrace Incan culture just as it had accepted that of the Romans and Greeks. The alternative was the destruction of the Incan civilization and people.

"The Comentarios reales is the great apology for the Incas and their culture. The constant comparison between the Incan and European cultures in nearly all features of civilization and the parallels drawn between Incan and Hebrew tradition tend to exalt the Incan nation. They place it in a respectable position, make it understandable to seventeenth-century Spaniards who were well aware of the glory of Greece, the grandeur of Rome, and wisdom of the ancient Hebrews." (Castanien 118).

While the Spanish begin the conquest in a manner similar to the Incas, they soon turned to outright destruction and killing in return for securing land, social position and personal wealth. This contrast between the styles of the Incas and Spanish can be seen in the studies of Castanien:

"Initially, the Spanish conquest did not differ basically from the Incan. Certainly the Spaniards preferred to find people who did not resist, though it may be doubted that the Spaniards were quite so hesitant to give battle as the Incas supposedly were. The Spaniards immediately made efforts to convert the Indians. It was not long before the Spanish method of colonization began to show quite a different philosophy and practice. The Indians were enslaved, their masters so intent upon making their fortunes that the royal commands regarding the treatment of the Indians were more regularly ignored than obeyed. The contrast between the methods of the two powerful empires was sharp; the lesson for the Spaniards was that kindness and humane treatment accomplish more than cruelty and destruction." (Castanien 111)

The importance of El Incas writings can be seen in the severe restriction placed on their distribution in Spain and the New World:

"Thus on April 21, 1782, the Spanish King saw fit to address the following confidential order to his Viceroy at Lima:

Likewise the King desires Your Excellency to seek with the same caution to collect, sagaciously, the Historia of the Inca Garcilaso, from which those natives have learned many prejudicial things, as well as other detractive papers of tribunals and magistrates of the Kingdom, which were printed at times when they were believed innocent, though the suppositious prediction encompassed in the preface to the Historia should never have been permitted. For this purpose, I authorize Your Excellency, by order of His Majesty, to take whatever normal means may be conducive, even though it may be by having the copies of these works bought in all confidence and secrecy by third parties and paid for from the substance of the Royal Hacienda, it being so important that the collection be carried out in order that the natives be deprived of the additional incentive of such documents for reviving their evil practices."

Aranjuez, April 21, 1782. Galvez Senor Viceroy of Peru. (Varner 382-383)

Also in a response from the Viceroy of Buenos Aires:

"Your reply to my confidential order of the twenty-first of December concerning the surreptitious collection of the books of the Inca Garcilaso and many others unfavorable to the tribunals of the Kingdom, makes manifest the obstacles presented by the question of people being willing to sell them, either his relatives or others who possess them, especially a pious ecclesiastic whom you know to have them. In which case I order that you take all precaution to obtain them, either by borrowing them or by getting possession of them by any other scheme that prudence and sagacity may dictate." (Varner 383)

Professor and author Jose Durand writes of El Inca:

"What the Spanish colonies needed, Garcilaso argued in an age of Inquisition, forbidden books and racial intolerance, was a new regime led by those who understood the traditions and above all the languages of both Inca and Spaniard. Unfortunately, this enlightened (albeit self- interested) program was ignored and all known copies of the Inca's History in Peru were quietly seized by royal officials in the wake of the 1781 Tupac Amaru II uprising. Only after colonial independence had been achieved in the 19th century could his sympathetic account of Inca history once again be read freely." (Durand).

As Zamora commented about the publication of the Commentaries, "It is nothing short of a devastating indictment of the Spanish destruction of Inca civilization. It is a tribute to Garcilaso’s remarkable rhetorical abilities that the Comentarios reales received the official approval of the Inquisition and the Crown and was published, uncensored, in 1609." (Zamora 4)

"The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega is for Peruvians of today the founder of their literary tradition and the symbol of what was best in the mixture of Indian and Spanish blood. He was the first native defender of his nation, her first representative in the intellectual life of the western world. He was torn between his sympathetic, romantic attachment to an Indian tradition destroyed by European power and his wish to become a part of that destructive power. He was both the victor and the vanquished, the master and the slave, the oppressor and the victim." (Castanien 145-146).

"While there may be wound yet intact, Garcilaso’s voice deserves to be heard for its intuitions about the destiny of Peru, proclaiming at an unusually early moment, towards the end of the sixteenth century, that the future nationality would include Indians, Mestizos and Creoles, and would comprise all of the old Inca Empire. He was thus the first in the New World to foresee a new ethnically-mixed American culture. (Anadn 162.)

El Inca’s work is still important. We are still working to facilitate communication and understanding between indigenous peoples and their conquerors. We are still working to achieve equality. We are still working to secure justice. We are still struggling to protect the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. The voice of El Inca is not dead, but continues to speak with authenticity, intelligence, and morality. We need only listen.

This continued importance of the Commentaries to affect social change can be seen in the contemporary writing and research about El Inca:

"It is this potential for change in the seventeenth-century reader, whether of Spanish or indigenous origin, which makes the texts so important in the history of imperial Spain, and especially that of the colonial encounter. And it is this same potential for change which continues to draw readers from both sides of post-colonial situations from centers of economic power as well as from economically colonized countries to read the text as a model for criticizing contemporary political realities, and proposing new alternatives for the future." (Heid 287). El Inca fought for the Incas when no one else could. He fought with all of his heart. In his own words, he completed the Commentaries for patriotic reasons, for ethnic solidarity, so that the world might know of the Inca Empire and its people. Bravo for El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. He is truly worthy of the title El Inca. I want my grandchildren to know his story first-hand. It will truly be an epic adventure.


Abbott, Don Paul. Rhetoric and the New World. U. South Carolina, 1996.
Anadn, Jos. Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, An American Humanist. U. Notre Dame P., 1998.
Blincow, Frances Meuser. Discursive Strategies in the Work of El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Dissertation. U. of Minnesota, 1994.
Castanien, Donald G. El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. New York: Twayne, 1969.
Durand, Jos.
Heid, Patricia Ann. Rhetoric, Gender, and Narrative in the Comentarios de los Reales. (Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca, Peru). Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley. 1997
Varner, John Grier. El Inca: the Life and Times of Garcilaso de la Vega. Austin: U. of Texas P., 1968.
Vega, Inca Garcilaso de la. Comentarios reales de los Incas. 1609. Ed. Carlos Aranibar. Lima: FCE, 1991.
Vega, Inca Garcilaso de la. Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966.
Zamora, Margarita. Language, Authority and Indigenous History in the Comentarios Reales de los Incas." Cambridge University Press. 1988.

Exhibit 1

Pablo Neruda is a great Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet. Many of his writings were concerned with social and political justice.

Heights of Machu Picchu by Pablo Neruda

Stone within stone, and man, where was he?
Air within air, and man, where was he?
Time within time, and man, where was he?
Were you also the shattered fragment
of indecision, of hollow eagle
which, through the streets of today, in the old tracks,
through the leaves of accumulated autumns,
goes pounding at the soul into the tomb?
Poor hand, poor foot, and poor, dear life
The days of unraveled light
in you, familiar rain
falling on feast-day banderillas,
did they grant, petal by petal, their dark nourishment
to such an empty mouth?
Famine, coral of mankind,
hunger, secret plant, root of the woodcutters,
famine, did your jagged reef dart up
to those high, side-slipping towers?
I question you, salt of the highways,
show me the trowel; allow me, architecture,
to fret stone stamens with a little stick,
climb all the steps of air into the emptiness,
scrape the intestine until I touch mankind.
Macchu Picchu, did you lift
stone above stone on a groundwork of rags?
coal upon coal, and, at the bottom, tears?
fire-crested gold, and in that gold, the bloat
dispenser of this blood?
Let me have back the slave you buried here!
Wrench from these lands the stale bread
of the poor, prove me the tatters
on the serf, point out his window.
Tell me how he slept when alive,
whether he snored,
his mouth agape like a dark scar worn by fatigue into the wall.
That wall, that wall! If each stone floor
weighed down his sleep, and if he fell
beneath them, as if beneath a moon, with all that sleep!
Ancient America, bride in her veil of sea,
your fingers also,
from the jungles edges to the rare height of gods,
under the nuptial banners of light and reverence,
blending with thunder from the drums and lances,
your fingers, your fingers also
that bore the rose in mind and hairline of the cold,
the blood-drenched breast of the new crops translated
into the radiant weave of matter and adamantine hollows
with them, with them, buried America, were you in that great depth,
the bilious gut, hoarding the eagle hunger?
Translation by Nathaniel Tarn

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New School Valentine

her hands work slowly
mending away the years
and each delicate knot binds
love and kindness into
something beautiful and
real. Her hands
work slowly and
cradle me in
sweet, warm
Love, Your Son

My Mother The Angel

With sparkling eyes and the smile of a child, my mother floats free over treetops under the fluttering breath of her angel wings. And sneaking over where I sleep, she sprinkles her fairy dust into my dreams, causing me to smile in my slumber. And with her flowing eternal love, she zooms off, joining the stars in the incandescent firmament above.

The Rarest Element

Happy Birthday Mom,

Like lava pouring from the Earth, every year we are renewed, made again, on our birthday. You have become stronger than the rock cooled over millions of years. You are more special than the rarest element on Earth. You are more beautiful than all of the stars in the heavens. Happy Birthday momma-san. I thank you for being my mother, I thank you for giving me so much love and care all of my life. You are the greatest mom. You are the eternal fire of youth and happiness.

Happy Birthday!!
Love. Your Son

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