Drum Beat Suite

Yesterday I attended a Pow Wow.  For those who have never been to such an event, it is marvelous opportunity to experience something of the spiritual, cultural, and artistic lives of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.  Many things struck me as memorable: the sacred fire at the east inviting all to make a prayer with a pinch of tobacco; the swirling colours as dancers drew us into the dream of living in vital harmony; the honour accorded elders; the joy – shining in faces of young and old; and feathers, beautiful feathers drawing my mind on high.  But one thing stuck out for me above all else: an announcement.

At the beginning of the Pow Wow, after the prayer to the Great Spirit, and the Grand Entrance, it was announced that a dear elder from the Six Nations of the Grand River had died, and so an honour dance was to be performed to help her on her way.  Alongside of this was what usually accompanies honour songs: the request for all to stand, for men to remove their hats, and the prohibition of photo or videos.  This latter struck me as especially significant.  In our world where video and audio record our every thought, our every choice, our every experience, and so define our very existence, here I divined something different.  Memory was loosed from technology.  What do I remember from this unrecorded moment?  I remember the drum, beating in a way that was not so much heard as felt; an invitation to have my heart beat in harmony with the Creator and all who held this moment as hallow.  I remember Margaret, a friend and colleague of mine whom I bumped into at this Pow Wow, who thought that this was a healing moment for not only those mourning the recently departed, but all who dealt with any manner of loss.  I remember the dancers spinning, feathers seeming to sustain them as they spun a prayer of thanks for an elder who was remembered in hugs that filtered throughout the community.  I remember the smell of sweet-grass smoke, wafting with memories and hopes for a future lived with integrity with those who prepared our way but have passed on to another way.

I am no Luddite: I am not against technology.  Sometimes I delight in what it makes possible.  But every now and then we live into the moment in an altogether different way when we set down our stuff.  We discover that much is to be gained from calling upon our senses to capture – not everything – but what most matters: a drum strung taut, singing the woes and the wonders of a world that can only be hinted at with words as paltry as these.

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10 thoughts on “Drum Beat Suite

  1. diannegray says:

    Oh, Allen – what a fantastic journey this must have been for you! You are very lucky to have been there to experience this.

    I Australia we are also very respectful of filming or taking photographs of Aboriginals. If someone from their community passes on, the newspapers know they are not to publish photographs of the deceased out of repect for their memory.

    Wonderful post – I don’t need pictures when I read descriptions like this 🙂

  2. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks Dianne! I was thinking of Australia as I wrote this; in particular the warning on films in which folk might have been photographed who have since died. This helps us to think about our need to be attentive to radically different worldviews as we use technology. Very interesting indeed!

  3. Brenda says:

    Very profound Allen…I so respect the need to be sensitive to other’s cultures. We spent a hour and a half with a couple yesterday in the hot pools in Banff…they were Palestinian and Iranian…discussing among many things…the need to respect and appreciate cultural differences.
    Thanks for “voicing” this for us…

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks! Yes, I think that the time I spent with you guys in Pakistan contributed to my interest in other cultures. Much to learn. Looking forward to seeing F. next weekend! She is pretty pumped about her trip to Muskoka. What adventures!

  4. Yes, I had this experience recently in recalling the words of a song from the 1970s. In my mind it was sung one way but the YouTube recording of the original was quite different. I think my memory had captured and isolated the pathos of the original in a way that technology couldn’t. Sometimes we remember the most important parts. Thanks for this.

  5. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks. We had a fascinating chat in class the other day concerning oral vs written cultures. Something gained usually means something lost.

  6. dianerivers says:

    This is so well-written. I delight in the image you’ve created and the way you created it. I can see the spinning dancers and their feathers and can smell the sweet-grass smoke as I sit in my own kitchen in suburban Chicago. It all feels very respectful and profound. Thanks for this!

  7. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for your very kind words. I really felt it a gift to be at this, and wanted to echo something of what I experienced.

  8. Pam Pederson says:

    Beautiful. Thank-you.

  9. agjorgenson says:

    You are most welcome. Have a blessed thanksgiving Pam!

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