I was taken from this life
in the black night, blindfolded
to be clubbed to death
so that I
might be born again
in spirit song, dance and name
given by my great ancestor
who, ten thousand years ago or more,
crossed the Bering land bridge from
Siberia to Cowichan and the Salish Sea
warm land of the raven,
the black bear and the salmon.
I have suffered
four hundred years
of dislocation of the soul
in this barren culture, nameless
but for “primitive squaw.”
I have lost
Tamanawas, the sacred ritual dance
the Potlatch feast of giving and
my children and my language.
I will endure
four days and nights
confined and cold and hungry
while all around the rhythmic pulse
of elders’ drumming, chanting
guides me back in time and space
to voices still resounding
stories of a dancing flame
light upon the earth
And I will rise in cedar forests
and walk the clamshell middens
feel our language on my skin
and see with startled eyes new life
the Soulfire I’ve been given.
This was for the Shaman's Way contest but I think I missed it.
Cowichan --used to be pronounced coWEEchan now it's usually said like, Cow i chan.
The Canadian government outlawed many Coast Salish practices until the 1960's--the Spirit Quest, Potlatch feast and
Tamanwas dance among them. Children were placed in residential schools, away from their families, and were forbidden
to speak their mother tongue. More recently, the spirit quest ritual has been revived as (loosely) described in the
poem. However, it is also now used as a form of "intervention" to help address an array of problems frequently
attributed to colonization (e.g., drug and alcohol misuse). So, where in the past, young people would go off into the
forest voluntarily, it is now often the case, (at least in Cowichan) that young people are taken from their beds in the
night. Initiates are first symbolically "clubbed to death" then "reborn" after multiple days of ritual practices.