The Weaver of Dreams
by L. Cota Nupah Makah
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
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.
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.
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
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
L. Cota Nupah Makah
Copyright © July, 2008 by L. Cota Nupah Makah
All publication rights reserved