John sets to work on setting up the video recording equipment. He and I can hardly believe Nishimani granted us full permission to record the ceremony. The kids are playing with dancing in front of the camera, then John plays it back for them on the iPad so they can see themselves. They squeal with delight and then want to do it again.
I have mixed feelings about walking in with our fancy tripod, iPad, and mics when others are arriving on carts pulled by donkeys, or they walked miles on foot to get here. But the equipment is how we can share this experience so others can understand the importance of this community dance and singing ceremony.
I meet a woman who remembers me from 1977. She laughs, instantly reaches out to hug me, and Tarquin translates she is saying, “Oh! You have grown so much!” I don’t remember her like I remember Maemu. She is glad I survived and grew up. She and many other people here have said to me, “Your chances to live through that war in this location were none, it was God’s will that kept you alive.”
Another woman arrives whose mother told her about me. Again, I don’t remember her because it was her mother that was the one who knew me when I was eight. We have a hard time making sense of who her mother was. I accept the imprecision of recounting history through people’s second hand recollections.
A few women are beginning to drum and sing. They are seated by the mud hut on a large round terrace surrounded by a low mud wall. Two women are sweeping the briar seeds off the dirt terrace where the barefoot dancing will take place. People are beginning to gather and sit in the few plastic chairs or on the low mud wall. When ceremony begins, I have no expectation except that I want John to get a good recording of the singing.
Immediately, Melita, one of the n’angas, walks over to where I am sitting. She takes my hand and brings me to sit in the center of the circle with the four others opening the ceremony. She ties shakers on my ankles and a cloth around my waist. By this time, about forty others have gathered around forming a circle two or three people deep. It is just like in my childhood, I have to just watch gestures and facial expressions to understand what they want me to do. I follow the lead of others, drink from the ceremonial gourd, and pour some of the drink on the earth as a gesture to feed the Ancestors. I feel deeply at home and totally honored to be invited in this important opening.
One woman who is watching me dance starts laughing so hard I wonder if she might fall off her chair. I turn and ask Vanessa, “Is she laughing because I am dancing so badly, so well, or has she just never seen a white woman dance?”
Vanessa smiles. “Maybe all of the above!”
I keep dancing. It is such intense footwork that if I try to dance from “Robin” I am instantly tired. If I let the Ancestors dance me, I feel fine to keep going.
The four women I am dancing with are so generous and encouraging. I watch their feet and try to copy them. The best I can do is be passionate and accept I am nowhere near the skill level of the ten year old girl dancing next to me. About sixty people have arrived now, and have circled around the drummers, myself and the other dancers. I feel totally welcome, just like when I was a girl, but now my husband is here too, along with Vanessa, Tarquin, and Digby.
The drumming begins to seep into me. I move closer to one particular woman drumming. She is so full of passion and honesty. I trust her completely. It feels like her drum is my connection with the Ancestors. The Ancestors are on the other side of the drum head and her skillful hands are knocking on the door to open it for me. I move my head within inches of her hands that are a graceful blur.
I tell Melida, who speaks some English, “I feel like I am going to dive head first through the drum.”
She has a fierce look on her face when she replies, “Do it!”
I am on the cusp, willing to listen, willing to see, but still held in this familiar realm. I let the drumming fill my mind and take me over. I go down to my hands and my knees. I am the one who does not know. I am ready to receive something new.
But it is quiet in my mind; I am not hearing the Ancestors yet. I am still softening the habit of only being aware of this material realm. She is beating the drum so hard. I let it soften me to hear beyond the drumming. Someone covers my head with a cloth, as it is traditional to cover a person who is receiving a vision.
I wait. From other vision ceremonies I have learned there is often a pause before the Ancestors begin showing me what I need to know. I am breathing in, and breathing out. Waiting. I have all the time in the world.
“TAKE OUT THE THORN.”
I don’t know how.
“STOP DISOWNING YOUR POWER.”
Tell me how.
“PUT OUT YOUR HAND NEXT TO THE THORN.”
I put my hand up in the air next to my vision of the thorn.
“NOW PULL YOUR HAND BACK.”
Without actually grasping the thorn, it stays with my hand and comes out of the side of humanity. Now that it is out, it is neutral, causing no harm. The thorn is not innately a problem, it only creates suffering when it is embedded in human skin, causing pain to human vulnerability.
What is the thorn made of?
US VS. THEM MENTALITY.
I DESERVE TO BE POOR. I DESERVE TO BE RICH.
I AM LESS THAN. I AM BETTER THAN.”
And you want me to help heal that?
“STOP DISOWNING YOUR POWER.”
Are you going to help me?
“THERE ARE PEOPLE AROUND THE GLOBE THAT WILL JOIN YOU.”
Will you help me find them? I hear silence and realize it is a dumb question. I was born already in connection with my “teammates”. This divine assignment will help me learn the power of compassion to heal “us” vs. “them” thinking.
I come out of the vision and take the cloth off that was covering me. Everyone is still dancing and singing. There are others who have gone into vision and are covered with a cloth. I don’t know if there is something I am supposed to do now that I have received my vision, so I get up and join Maemu who has arrived and is sitting on the low wall.
She holds me on her lap like I am her baby sister. It is one of the sweetest moments of my adult life. I am flooded with gratitude for her love, her grandmother’s courage to save my life, and for this community giving this ceremony so I can again, after forty-two years, experience a guiding vision from the Ancestors of this land.
Melida calls me into the center to keep dancing for another hour. I am so tired that I can no longer coordinate my feet. I just bend my knees and watch others go down in vision by going stiff and falling over. I know from doing other ceremonies it is important to keep the singing and dancing going for those in vision, but I am so tired and want to sit down. The group has grown to over one hundred, and there are plenty of fresh dancers, far more skilled than I, that could be called in. I sneak back to sit with Maemu.
At the end of the ceremony, the leaders have me come in the hut and I share my vision with them. I tell them about the thorn in the side of humanity, and that I am being asked to take it out so people no longer suffer from dual thinking, and from holding the delusion that they are less than or more important than another human being. Nishimani seems pleased that I received a vision.
The ceremony ends with eating and drinking. Two young women come around with water so we can all wash our hands, then we eat goat meat and boiled cornmeal with our hands. My heart is so full of love for the gift of the ceremony that I can’t stop smiling. This is an even greater number of people gathered than I ever experienced when I was eight. Vanessa lets us know later that this is the first time, even for Digby who has lived here all his life, that they have ever been invited to be part of a ceremony.