Manataka American Indian Council

 

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GRANDMOTHER L. COTA NUPAH MAKAH SPEAKS

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weaver of Dreams

by L. Cota Nupah Makah


 

The shuttle filled with handspun wool yarn slips in and out of the loom. Softly the whisper of wool on wool breaks the silence. No other sound can be heard in the dark cool hogan except the pounding of the comb as she tamps down the yarn into the already-forming pattern.

Lazy fat sheep graze outside on the mesa floor where the cooler climate allows them to be at peace.

The Hogan stands as it has for many years. Nothing has changed. Hanks of carded, dyed wool hang from a rope line just outside the door. Metal wash stand and pail sit alongside the house. The iron kettle suspended over the fire pit serves for washing as well as dyeing the yarns.

Dried bunches of herbs and desert flowers hang under the eves of the porch roof. These are kept there for medicinal and for dyeing purposes. The colors of the flowers and plants that live in the dessert give off a color all their own.

Sitting on the floor of the hogan in front of her ceiling-to-floor anchored loom, she quietly weaves her dreams into the rug. "Swish," the shuttle of dark yellow yarn goes back and forth. "Tamp, tamp," goes the comb as she taps each piece into place.

Her now-graying hair is pulled back tight from the perfect part in the middle of her head. The thick coils of hair are twisted just above both her ears. This is how she has worn her hair from the time she was married.

Slender hands slip the shuttle into the strands of yarn. Her fingers, clad in turquoise rings, shine in the darkness. Even at her age, her hands and fingers are still nimble and able to do the weaving work. Within her quiet dignity she sits on the floor, weaving her vision with the strands of wool.

As she weaves, she remembers her wedding and the hours she spent grinding the dark blue corn for the wedding feast. She remembers the low dark hogan, with only slits for letting in the light, where she sat at the grinding stone. Her young arms had grown tired from the long hours of crushing handful after handful of shiny blue corn under the stone. Her Grandmother and Mother looked on, watching her as she worked.

A smile come across her face as she also remembers her young man, whispering to her through the slits in the hogan, hoping no one could hear him.

During the grinding of the corn for the wedding ceremony a young girl was not allowed to see her husband-to-be. She was to spend her days in meditation, preparing the feast and her dress for the wedding day. Months ago she had made her wedding present for her husband-to-be. She had hand-beaded a beautiful leather shirt for him to wear. He, in return, would gift her with some thing he had made too.

The wedding day dawned pure and sweet with the desert sun spilling over the land. She was washed in aromatic herbs and her pure white wedding dress, beaded with red, was slipped over her head.

The women of her house had long been at work, making the Piki bread for the feast. This paper-thin bread was baked on a flat stone over live coals and then rolled up. Delicate as a butterfly's wing, the puffy Piki bread lay in baskets near her mother's fire pit.

There is the traditional parting of her hair by her mother. The oils are applied, and then the heavy mass of hair is wound and pinned over each ear. Her favorite Auntie paints the traditional red dye down the part in her hair. Other items are added to her dress and hair as the women adorn her for the last time. Her moccasins are of the softest white deer skin with thick soles to protect her feet from the fierce heat of the desert floor.

It is soon time for her to make her next step in life as a wife and mother. The corn pollen that has been gathered and made into corn cakes is placed in her hands. She is given a rolled bundle of white deer skin with red and blue tassels of yarn on the ends. This and the decoration on her dress signal that she is a virtuous women. She is coming to her husband willingly and with love for him and her people in her heart.

For the last time she looks around her mother's hogan. With tears in her eyes, she is given a strong hug by her father and mother.

In the modest way, she keeps her eyes diverted to the ground as any maiden should on her wedding day. This is the step into her life journey as a woman, wife and mother, and she makes it with dignity. The bundle is placed into her hands along with the corn flower cakes.

The women have made a deep pit and built a fire in it to create the coals for her wedding bread to bake in. The deep pit is swept clean, and lined with damp corn husks. A big pot of the corn mush is poured into the pit lined with corn husks. The soft mush is then covered with more corn husks, and hot coals. This will be baking during the ceremony. This bread is the first bread she and her new husband will break after the ceremony. She will serve this bread to her family and friends at the wedding feast. This is the same corn she had worked so hard during those long hours of grinding, to make for them.

Those days have long slipped by as the shuttle flies in her hands. She remembers the many rugs she has woven and sold on the roadside stand to the picture-taking tourists. Her rugs have fed and clothed her family for over 50 years.

They are all gone from the Mesa now. Her husband lost to cancer, her sons to war, the daughters married off and moved away. She lives alone and seldom sees her grandchildren or her great-grandchildren. They have fallen away from the traditions and language of the people. The city has swallowed up her family like some hungry giant that eats at the roots of the Mesa.

Life changes and people change but the weaver never changes. She weaves the threads of tomorrow. Through her dreams she creates the designs of the future. The stories of her people live on in her beautifully created rugs and wall hangings.

Time passes and she grows older but her still slender hands tie and weave the rugs just as they did 50 years ago. Darkness comes and she lights her oil stove to chase way the nights chill and brew herself a cup of tea. She still eats the traditional corn cakes and whatever meat she manages to trap or hunt for her evening meal.

Tomorrow she will go to the Canyon and weave her rugs so that tourists can take pictures and buy some of her weavings. This has become her life and still she remains in her dignity and her traditional ways if living.

The past remains in her heart and in her dreams. This can never be taken from her and she will hold the visions of her people for the future. Somewhere, on some wall or floor, lives a piece of her dreams and visions. Perhaps you have one in your home or have seen one in your lifetime.

Take the time to truly look and understand the symbols of the people, when you next view their weaving or beadwork or leatherwork. Look deep into your own heart and you may find yourself remembering the vision of the Earth Mother.

Blessings
L. Cota Nupah Makah
 

Copyright July, 2008 by L. Cota Nupah Makah
All publication rights reserved

 

 

 

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