Earthtribe-Gather: Basket Dance    
 Basket Dance29 comments
picture7 Nov 2006 @ 14:18, by John Ashbaugh

For All My Relations

Friday night, November third, Full moon weekend, Two-hundred seventy miles west to a little shopping center parking lot next to the Motel 6 at Winslow. Grocery store, Subway, McDonald’s, KFC and Long John Silver’s and a little Mexican style sit-in or take-out or drive through. I been thinking ‘bout a Subway all afternoon on the Hiway and here it is a stone’s throw from my designated Motel. Smell of East Indian cooking wafts ever so slightly into the public area from the family kitchen through the doorway in the wall behind the counter. Not a very busy intersection. A quiet family corner with a few isolated businesses drawing in a few customers off of the hiway.
Diagonal across the wide mostly empty parking lot, here is a middle-aged man with a little knapsack hanging from his shoulder, can’t possibly have that very much in it. He is lost and doesn’t know where he is going, but that McDonald’s over there shows hope for a place to sit down and rest his feet for awhile, rest his whole body. He would just like to be able to get something to eat, and then he can go back to – somewhere over there, he waves his hand towards the darkness beyond the far walls of the shopping center, he is pointing towards the fields beyond – there and get some sleep. He really doesn’t know anybody in Winslow, and he doesn’t know anything about this place, except that there is the other side of the hiway, and those various similar businesses and whatever else is on that side, but he really doesn’t know how to get over there now, since all that construction has blocked all of the nearby crossing places, those within walking distance, for a man moving slowly and not really knowing where he’s going anyway.
All he wants now is to sit in McDonald/s and get something to eat and a cup of coffee. I can help him with that. What else can I help him with? He wishes he had money like me. How far into the night does he see, and what does he know that I don’t? And what kind of a path in life has brought him to this time and place? From his energetic school years into his hopeful and ambitious young adulthood. A little turn here and a little twist there, and somewhere along the line, what happened to home? No longer there. No money, no job, and functionally unable to even imagine getting a job with one of these surrounding businesses. Without a home, there is no place but to wander from field to field, across a wide empty parking lot, crossing a hiway like crossing a river, to see what is on the other side. Where are the comforting walls within which I can sit with company, whoever they are, the boys and girls behind the counter, the families with their kiddies,. and the other wandering souls?
Saturday, to Hoteville on top of the Third Mesa of Hopi-Land. Driving up through early morning’s darkness into dawn’s first light, from the south, the three mesas spread across the far horizon. Over the Second and down, and up the road to the Third to wait at the two-pump crossroads general store. Cell phone services don’t reach up here. Stan and Rose will be a little late, so I mosey on into the village, and drive to a faraway corner to park under a tree. Walk back on over to the plaza where the women’s Basket Dance is underway. I guess somewhere around a hundred women in a wide spiral according to age, from the youngest girls of seven or so, through the adolescents, into the younger women, followed by the matrons and on into the grandmothers. The spiral is a circle and a half with the youngest on the inside, all wearing traditional white leg wrappings and boots, with a red, white, and black blanket draped around their shoulders, hanging to their knees, a couple of the younger ones with their hair done up in traditional Hopi style with a wide ring of hair on each side of their heads, all holding a basket shield with both hands in front of their waists, each shield bearing a unique and colorful design, chanting and moving their feet continuously, almost giving the illusion that the spiral is moving, but it isn’t. It, and they, simply maintain a steady vibration.
Two women are dressed quite differently, in white robes with a cloth belt around their waists. Their heads sport a crown of feathers and their faces are coated with some yellowish-green dye. They are the gift-givers. A whole slew of large cardboard boxes in the space within the vibrating spiral of dancing women are loaded with all kinds of knick-knacks and paddywacks. The crowd of onlookers fills the plaza on the outside of the circle of dancers, and the surrounding rooftops are full to the brim. The two feathered women with painted faces are constantly on the move, running to the boxes in the middle, picking out this, that or whatever thing, and throwing it to the crowd. Quite frequently, the feathered throwers will break out of the circle and go into the crowd before throwing something out. All this stuff has to go out in all directions, including towards the crowds on the rooftops and to those on the plaza ground. What kind of stuff? Imagine the entire inventory of a dollar store. Household items, food items, trinkets, little hand-woven baskets, and occasionally something very special, like an article of traditional woven woman’s clothing, that a whole group of young men can get into an incredible tug-of-war for. There’s a ten o’clock session for about half an hour. The women take a rest. Then an eleven o’clock session, followed by a rest, then a noon session, and by this time, the crowds are getting dense.
Stan and Rose are here by now, and after this session, we go on over to Rose’s brother’s home for some corn and meat soup for lunch. Rose has brought her eighty-three year old dad up here for the visit home. About a dozen visiting family members of all ages are in and out during the afternoon. Then it’s back over to near the plaza again for the end-of-show big giveaway. The rooftops of two kivas are loaded with those big cardboard boxes full of dollar store inventory, along with a smaller supply of traditional basket shields and artifacts, and the women from the dance are up there, and when the crowd has assembled and have packed the surrounding grounds and rooftops, around four-thirty in the afternoon, the women in their black, white, and red robes, throw, piece by piece and item by item, every single thing out towards the crowd, and I can hardly imagine anybody who was trying not getting anything.
The runners had come in around eleven-thirty. About fifty or so young men had started off from some place across the terrain below the mesa some five miles away, and it was a race, cross-country. One sinewy muscular young man came in way ahead of the others, the first place winner by a long margin. Then one by one and several by several the rest came in. That last leg of the run, up the side of the mesa. After the noon basket dance and giveaway, the first four winners to come in were called up to a ceremony at the center of the plaza. Each was given a basket shield, and each in turn held his shield up to the four directions.
Following the last big giveaway, as dusk is approaching, we go back to Rose’s brother’s house for our evening meal, and the evening family time. Coal burning stove keeps the room warm, and a Coleman lantern lights the kitchen-dining room-living room until the time to turn in. There is a cot for me here in the front room that I can roll my sleeping bag out on.
Morning around the house and a short walk to the mesa rim for an overview. Rose and Stan have got to be taking grandpa back to the city with them. Pulling out time is around eleven. I take the road East towards Window Rock. String of polished Turquoise rocks along a chain of days.
Basket Dance
The dance is actually a Lakon ritual performed by women, who form a semicircle to sing and dance. At the end of each song, they throw gifts to the men, who engage in a noisy free-for all and grab at the prizes. Baskets are the most sought-after gifts, thus the name "Basket Dance"; however, an ear of corn or a box of matches are equally prized since it is the lady and not the gift that counts.
See also:
The Journal of American Folklore
Vol XII – No. XLV
April – June 1899<81:HBD>2.0.CO;2-S&size=LARGE
See also:
SEPTEMBER: Lakon, a basket dance, and Marawu. These are the first of the women's societies dances. These celebrate the completion and the harvesting of the crops, and are also curative.
OCTOBER: Owaqlt, a basket dance by the women's societies. This is the close of the yearly cycle and again in November the creation dances begin.
Here’s another description
A courtyard about 125’ by 75’, worn down to bare rock by hundreds of years of feet and defined by the walls of 10 or so stone houses that were all that old, too. Thousands of men and boys jammed in the courtyard, and thousands of women with their daughters and small children on top of, and in some cases literally hanging off of, the roofs.
In the center of it all, a circle of somber, slowly dancing women dressed in traditional Hopi way of red, white and black shawls, arranged in a progression from most elderly (age indeterminate) to the youngest of only 5 or so; all in synchronized motion with beautifully crafted baskets held in front of them.
In the center of the circle, a huge pile of goods. Food, candy, steel pots and pans, glass containers, pillows, handmade blankets, kitchen utensils, soap, toilet paper and virtually every household item you could imagine, along with a few of the highly prized handmade baskets and exquisitely painted pottery items. A few teenaged Hopi girls, also traditionally (but differently) garbed, tended the pile. (more)
Here is a nice story from the event.
“But sometimes miracles do happen…
"White people call it Basket-dance," he told me, "but it means hail. It brings hail and cold wet for the ground, so things grow next spring."
A good detailed description.
Ritual Calendar
General background information and pictures on Hopi Civilization
The Basket Dance Race
The Hopi Basketdance Race, a harvest-time competition celebrating Hopi
tradition, serves to symbolize Hopi prayers and experience, and is a
mainstay of the Hopi culture. The running tradition, kept alive by the
Basketdance race and Na Vo ti tah--spoken histories passed down by
generations--dates back to Hopi ancestral times and is part of Nuvayokva's
history as a runner.
"Basket Dance races and Harvest Races are a spiritual run," says Nuvayokva.
"Many Hopi men run these races for the pride and strength of their lives. It
does not matter if you are first or last, it's as long as you run for your
people and every living thing on earth. Hopi people run with prayer in their
heart, prayers of life, crops, and all races of life, Anglo or Hopi."

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