Sunday, 4 October 2009

Anishinaabe Fall Ceremonies

[click the pictures in this post to enlarge!]

On Saturday I had an opportunity that not many people get. The ISC sent out invitations in the previous week to participate in an Anishinaape (Canadian First Nation) Ceremony, and I was one of approximately 45 exchange and international students who accepted.

If you've read any of my other posts you'll know my budget is quite tight, so I originally debated whether to buy the $35 ticket. I also wrote about the runaround to get the ticket after I'd decided to do so. The result was more than worth both the debate with myself and running around like a madman thereafter.

Anyway, Saturday arrived, and it was an early start. I'd set numerous alarms the night before as not to miss it, and was (un)lucky enough to find out what Toronto looks like at 7am. I arrived just before 8 in a groggy state at the ISC, had a complementary Tim Horton's muffin, and spoke to Yaz and his friends while we waited for the bus.

To my glee, it was an "American" school bus. I say American because it was like the ones you always see in films, but I'd take an educated guess and say that this one was actually Canadian.

After our stuff was loaded, the roll call had been completed, and the bus was boarded, we set off on our way. Our destination was about 2 hours away from Toronto, but I have no idea in which direction. About an hour into the journey Michael talked to us about the Ceremony protocol, then got out a drum and introduced us to the Anishinaabe music.

This increased my glee (if glee can be increased?): I had now been in a school bus, on a school trip, and sang songs. It was what I imagine kindergarten is like, all over again!

Anyway, back to my sane train of though: From what Michael said, music plays a completely different role in the Anishinaabe culture to that of ours. The concept is "hard to grasp in Western culture", but songs are considered to be alive; they are greatly respected, and seen as a measure of wealth. Families, Clans and important events have specific songs written in their honour, which are passed down through generations. You aren't allowed to play a song unless you've been granted permission, and Michael told us that in the past songs were used in a similar way to currency; to secure everything from property and livestock to wives and children.

I found that fascinating.

After the songs, I looked out the window for a while and saw my first glimpse of what I imagine the majority of Canada is like. I remember reading somewhere that a huge proportion of the population live within 100 miles of the Canada / USA border, and most of the rest of the land is untouched. This was 2 hours outside Toronto, and although the previous statistic may not be completely accurate, the transformation was astounding.

Houses were few and far between, and they were evidently rural. There was so much greenery, although the leaves had began to change so it wasn't all green any more. There were rivers and lakes too but we didn't get such a good view of these.

Below are a couple of pictures of the rural houses and not-completely-green greenery:

Nice, huh?

I looked out of the window for most of the rest of the way, soaking it all in, but it wasn't a touch on the place we arrived at shortly after. I think it was referred to as a reserve, basically just privately owned woodland on which the Anishinaabe conduct the Fall Ceremonies (as well as other things). There's another couple of pictures below:

There was some food out, which we ate while the ceremony was being prepared, then it was time to go in. The ceremony was held in a long tent, called a lodge:

This was a modernised one built with timber and canvas, but you can imagine that generations ago they'd look a bit different. I heard it referred to as a teepee at one point as well, I think, so I'm not 100% sure of the name.

I didn't take many photos inside because I wasn't sure if it was allowed, but the picture below is of the ceremonial objects:

The ceremony itself is to give thanks to Mother Earth, and acknowledge that she needs rest over the Autumn and Winter. A big part of it is the interaction of men and women, and the strawberries (red) and blueberries (blue) in the picture above represent those. There's also masks on the ceiling, half red and half blue, and women and men sit on opposite sides of the tent.

The other bowls are tobacco (brown) and cedar (green). Later in the ceremony, the "talking circle" happens, where everyone stands up, gives thanks for whatever they feel necessary, then make a wish. This wish is accompanied by throwing tobacco on a fire, which is followed by cedar to purify any negative aspects of the wish.

The mat in the picture shows a turtle, divided into red, blue, white and yellow. I think the blue is supposed to be black, as the red, black, white and yellow in Anishinaabe beliefs represent the worlds people, which were created by the Creator to populate the world. Instead of the Adam and Eve idea, they believe that 64 people were made originally, 8 of each gender in each colour group.

The Anishinaabe also believe that the world is split into "generations", but different in meaning toa generation of a family. Each lasts 400 years, and is referred to as a fire (2000 was the beginning of the 8th fire, for example). These were prophesised long ago by elders, and are interpreted as they occur. It is said that one day the 4 colour groups will reunite, and will realise the and fulfill the human purpose (I think, apologies if I'm remembering any of this wrong...).

The human purpose I referred to is our task given to us by the Creator. Everything else in the universe is doing what it's supposed to: Grandmother Moon orbits the Earth, Mother Earth provides sustenance for the creatures upon it, animals provide food for humans and clean the Earth, fish, birds and bugs all do the same. Humans, however, have veered from their path. They have fallen out of touch with nature, and it has affected their lives (and the lives of other creatures) negatively. When an elder spoke at the ceremony, speaking about the above made her very emotional. She said something along the lines of "we all do things that hurt each other, and hurt Mother Earth... We're capable of so much more, but we choose not to do it", which I thought was quite apt.

The talking circle began after a short "pee break", and I found it really interesting. It took about 2 hours for everyone to speak, leading us to miss the later parts of the ceremony, but the things people said were really insightful and inspiring. Most of us (exchange students) gave thanks for cheesy stuff like the opportunity to partake in the ceremony and our families at home and stuff, but the Anishinaabe's thanks were really eloquent and well thought out. I can't remember too much, unfortunately, but it was said that "it's not our job to live in fear", and that "we should not forget our links to nature".

Thanks were also given for things we'd normally take for granted, like the ability to cry (some of the speakers got emotional). It was inspiring and thought provoking stuff.

We were also thanked for attending the ceremony. Someone said that seeing all the cultures together in one place was really special, and that "hearing all our accents makes [her] heart smile". It was also said that 3 out of 4 colour groups were represented, which was good to see.

At the second "pee break", a 30 foot army tent had to be put up for eating space. The men did this, and the women (except those on "Moon time") prepared the feast. A few exchange students (including me!) helped put up the tent, and it's amazing how quickly the beastly canvas was erected. Once the tent was up and the feast prepared, we all tucked in.

Unfortunately no one used the tent, and it started raining really heavily, so we all got wet. Especially on the walk back to the bus!

That's all for now anyway, except for the picture of feast food below:

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