We finished a rich day (which I will soon describe) with the GEGAC men's choir serenading us. Led by James, a retired Maori nuclear physicist, who wore a purple and white New Zealand aloha shirt, the choir opened with a Maori welcome chant. Had we been Maori, we would have chanted back, but we weren't, so we just clapped. The menu was multi-cultural, from a hauntingly sad Maori funeral song; to Australian folk songs from the whaling days and the port of Albany, opening to the Southern Sea ; to John Denver's Country Roads; to The Old Rugged Cross. The choir had more facial hair than scalp hair and was comprised of a frolicking mob. To make us laugh, the second song after the Maori chant was the theme song to Gilligan's Island, appropriate since we were on an island. One of the guitarists kept breaking his string.
The day began at sunrise with our delegation doing a prayer circle on the dock beside the lake as we watched sea gulls and terns fight over whose post on the pier belonged to which bird. Territory matters! It looked like rain, so we took off the sweat lodge coverings, then were guided to return to the veranda and begin doing Cherokee bodywork for anyone who wished to experience it.
Virtually every culture has a form of hands on healing, very much like osteopathy. Probably Hawaiian hand-on-healing, called lomilomi, is most familiar to people, since it is offered in every hotel in Hawaii, though how authentic some of these lomilomi practitioners are, is an important question. Hands-on-healing exists around the globe. I learned the Cherokee form in a traditional way through a part-time apprenticeship to elders. However, Cherokee bodywork is an endangered species and one of our efforts through Coyote Institute, is to preserve and promote indigenous forms of bodywork/osteopathy, but that is another story. I have met Native Studies scholars in the United States who believe that American osteopathic medicine, credited to have been invented by physician A.J. Still, is actually a revision of Pawnee bodywork. Still was a long-time physician to the Pawnee Nation, and is form of osteopathy looks remarkably similar to the kind of hands-on-healing done by the Pawnee. In his story, he walked into the woods with a sack of bones and came out with osteopathy. Many doubt that he could have done this in one night and suspect that years of watching Pawnee healers probably had an impact. Cherokee bodywork is similar to that of Pawnee and consists of a combination of what's now called Energy Medicine (see Dr. Anne-Marie Chaisson's Sounds True CD on this topic for more information) coupled with massage and manipulation, prayer, and singing. Unfortunately, though, I recently gave a lecture in Talequah, Oklahoma, home of the Western Band of Cherokee, and found that less than 10% present had experience of any kind with Cherokee bodywork. This is presumably related to the strong Baptist and fundamentalist Christian influence upon the Cherokee. Fundamentalists see this form of healing as devil worship.
This time, we put three blankets, on the veranda, with the lake and its waves to our back and began doctoring a woman with a sore right hip. A cloudy sky slowly gave way to bright blue sky. We soon had a curious audience and more takers for the work. We were consistent with the "do it wherever" philosophy that we had seen from the Northern Territories people. Our first client felt much better, which resulted in even more enthusiasm from those present to participate. In the middle of the morning, a boat load of elders arrived for demonstrations and for lunch, and we were soon working on the women, whose stories were sometimes very sad as their pain reflected their difficult lives. We felt honored to work on them and to provide a little relief where we could.
Our activities stopped while the Northern Territories group repeated yesterday's demonstration of their form of "sweating" on top of a fire and their way of ceremonially "burning" people with palm bark. I wrote about that yesterday in Day 6's blog. Shadow, Lily, Lily's grandchildren Colin and Lazarus and nephew David, and Lily's colleague Mavis (a healer training to be a primary health care worker) gave a warm and amusing demonstration on Shadow's two young boys (Shadow and Judd) undergoing a coming of age ceremony.
After a full lunch, that included fresh mussels picked by Shadow's boys and put right on the barbecue, we spent the remainder of the afternoon working on elders until the boat had to leave. I was most impressed with the way the women who were in their late 50's and older had taken on the pain for the larger community, including the men, many of whom had inflicted some of their pain upon the women. These women had seen no choice but to rise to the occasion and maintain the intactness of their families and their culture, to the great benefit of everyone, but with pain now lingering in their bodies. We worked with some of that pain, offering suggestions for how to continue to release it. Interestingly, we only had the opportunity to work with one man. Apparently, the women were more available to this form of work, or less shy, or something else that we don't understand. While the people from the Northern Territories culture is intact, this group has had their ceremonies all but obliterated. One of the women had a sudden memory that she should lie with her head to the east -- one of the first indications that these elders are beginning to recover their ceremonies.
The elders left and the choir and other local officials arrived in two returning boatloads. Lily and Shadow conducted a smoking ceremony to honor one of the local officials whose father-in-law had just passed away. Lily said, "We don't say died, we say passed away." She built a fire from paper bark and gummy tree bark. When it was hot, she placed gummy leaves on the fire and a thick smoke ensued. Everyone was blessed with that smoke in very similar manner to how we use sage in North America.
The dinner discussion was interesting. James and other elders who had just arrived and had not been present earlier, all remarked upon how similar indigenous cultures are to each other. "More similar than different," James said. "Go figure that one out." Some opinions were voiced by several of the elders present. One said, "The spirits all talk to each other regardless of where we live. When you live in a manner in which you listen to the spirits, you get similar guidance all around the world. Listening to the spirits of Nature, to the ancestors, and showing respect for the land, it takes you to the same place, wherever you start. It's these cultures of greed and accumulation who look so different," he said. "They don't hear the voice of the land, the voices of their ancestors." A woman from the Northern Territories spoke up. "They are poor beyond belief," she said. "We whose cultures are intact and who have never lost our ways and our cultures -- we are the richest people on earth."
This led to a discussion of mental and physical health. Everyone agreed that participation in traditional culture, involving elders, listening to Nature, spending time with the spiritual dimension, sharing together collectively, relying upon each other, being accountable to each other, helping each other, and showing respect -- these are the elements of health. From there, we were on to an evening of rollicking song. On Day 8 we will begin to approach the question of how we bring these elements into the health care system, as our ceremonial time gives way to strategic planning.