Rides and Tales

Observations From Behind Bars

Drums in San Pat

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 Saturday, I stuck my green bandanna in my pocket, put that lucky Flour Bluff woman on the pillion and pointed my wheel towards the historic town of San Patricio, TX, settled by Irish in 1829 and home of the World Championship Rattlesnake Races.  We weren’t bound for the snake fiesta, though, but for a smaller Native American gathering and naming ceremony.
This date is usually set aside for the Apache “coming of age” ceremony for girls.  Since there were no girls coming of age, this year, the group decided to have an informal get-together and included the naming ceremony.

 There were people napping in this large tipi when we arrived but, later, it became the boardroom when the elders of the group met.  It’s an impressive structure and when the wind picked up and began blowing down some of the campers’ tents, the tipi didn’t even ripple.


 Of course, the group had their drums,  center of ceremonial life.

 When a long-time musician friend and member of the group invited me to join the drummers, I reversed my usual policy of non-involvement.  This was a fortuitous choice as, in this tradition, women don’t sit in the circle, but stand behind their men and sing.  Had I declined the invitation we would have been observers rather than ‘part of’.   Our friend coached me on protocol.

 Members of the South Texas Trail Riders Association came by to say hello and have their horses complimented.  When the drumming resumed I noticed a couple of the horses dancing to the beat, out in the field behind the tipi.

 The songs were in several languages, none of which was English, and while I just hummed along, the little blond boy sitting across from me knew the words to every song.  That same boy’s grandmother was the lady receiving a name, that day.

 After a break, the group formed a circle and Larry “Running Turtle” Salazar (South Texas Alliance  of Indigenous Poeple) and his assistant moved inside the circle, clockwise, ritually purifying each person by “smudging”.  Using turkey feathers he directed the smoke from sage and sweet grass onto each person in a prescribed manner while make a short prayer.

 We were told that when a Native person is given a birth name in English (or, Spanish, of course) that is not his true name.  When a person decides to follow traditional ways, he may ask to be named.  After the name is revealed, the person receives it in front of the People. The person then commits to four-year task or endeavor.

 The lady moved clockwise, from person to person, introducing herself by her English name.  She was then draped in a ceremonial blanket that was opened (“like a cocoon”) when she was given her tribal name.  She then introduced herself to each of us by that name.

 That’s a pretty dry accounting of  a significant  milestone, I guess, but some things can’t be related with words and pictures.

Later, we ate stuffed smoked jalapenos and barbecue and socialized.

It was a full and rewarding day, one that turned out to be longer than what I’d expected, but not near as sunny; before leaving the Bluff I’d removed the liner from my riding jacket.  The wind was feeling cooler and I determined it was time to get into it.  I’m pleased to say that our ride home was uneventful.

   We’re alive, and in Texas.

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Written by fiddle mike

March 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

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