Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Atmore Pow Wow fiesta

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was close to December and it was Thanksgiving day. Thanksgiving day celebration in America originated from early European pilgrims day where they did not have enough food to feed themselves and Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. Hence the word "Thanks" for the "Giving" from the pilgrims to the natives.   Jason, Tony and I had planned to attend a Pow Wow fiesta, a yearly Native American celebration of Thanksgiving day at Atmore Indian Reservation near Mobile, Alabama. A Pow Wow is a gathering of Native people, a group of people coming together to dance, sing song, play drum and to celebrate the Thanksgiving day. We arrived at Jason's house early in the morning and was invited to breakfast before we continued to Atmore.
           As we pulled into the Reservation parking lot, we can hardly find a parking lot as it was crowded with cars, trucks, buses and even horses! There was indeed an element of festivity in the air.The celebration was held on a playground next to the parking lot. The dance area was at the centre of the playground marked by haystacks which doubled as bench for spectator to sit.  We saw a drumming area, a congregation of officials on a stage, many caravans housing guests, score of stands selling hot dog, burger, balloon, cotton candy, gumbo, corn on a cob, strand of garlic, garlic sausages and Native American crafts. There was a mobile truck selling CD of Native American music cum a makeshift library, dishing out information about Croak Indian Reservation and the Pow Wow. 
Pow Wow Drumming and Humming Area
            I careened out to look out for familiar Native American tribes that I knew from my early days cowboy film where the Red Indian, as they were known back then, was always portrayed as the bad guys. I look out for the Apache, Cherokee, Mohican or Sioux tribe, nor would I know how they look like in flesh or costume, but I could not find them. Instead, from the mobile library, I was informed that it were the lesser known tribes that were there - the Creek, Alabama, Choctaw, Ciushatta, Chickasaw, Muskogee, Seminole - My jaw dropped at hearing those names! I never heard of them or knew there were so many tribes. As I walked about the playground, the Native Americans all looked very proud in their outfits and with their culture. Everyone walked with their heads held high. Some had colourful outfits that can be disguised as a bird, be it an eagle or a turkey. I bet there was a Chief Sitting Bull or Chief Thunder Cloud among them.  
          
Dancers strutted their stuff to the drum beats
          The Pow Wow event started with the "Star Spangled Banner", America national anthem, everyone stand up, some held their hand to their chest and sang along. Once the national anthem ended and a short speech by the organizer, the drumming started as a slow rhythmic beating, which increased in pace over time. The humming naturally accompanied the drumming, and then the dancing started. I can only make out the work "hei","umm" and "ya"in those humming, and before long I also can hummed along too. A middle aged Native American in yellow feathers outfit led a group of equally dressed dancers, strutted their stuff, mimicking an eagle souring through the sky, savouring the freedom and reeling in the rays of the sun. It was the eagle dance I was witnessing. It lasted like 5 minutes and I was told that the drumming and the humming transformed the dancers into a trance like state when they danced. It was a beautiful dance and it was the first time that I had seen a whole dance. I was transfixed through out the whole dance. The beating of the drum soothed me and I hummed along as well, imagined I too soared over the sky like an eagle. When the dance finally ended, there was a thunderous claps from the audience followed by the typical Native American war cry yelping as typically shown in film. I took the opportunity to approach the lead dancer, asked for his permission and Tony clicked the photo memento.
I am not sure what is his name, but I am 
sure he was a chief.
          Next was the ladies group doing the harvesting dance. To me it was not as intriguing as the man's, but nevertheless still a great watch. On careful observation, the dancers, both male and female, had some mixed Caucasian features. So were the drummers, the hummers and the host themselves, all carried similar traits. Later I was told it was hard to find a pure bred 100% Native American nowadays. The tribes had inter racial marriage and had been fully assimilated into American society. Moment later, a familiar yelping sound filled the air. This was the war cry that I was more accustomed to when I was a kid. The lead male dancer was shouting out loud while his right hand closed and shut his mouth in rapid succession, making yelping sound so synonymously to a war cry. A mock fight broke out, more yelping sound, and then in unison the sound stopped. Almost everyone gave a monstrous clap. A dance well executed.
To American, Tony and I looked alike
Me and Jason, who still lives in Gulf Shores today
         The event continued with humming and drum beating contest. This one boggled me as they all sound alike, some slower, some faster than others, with the familiar "ya" and "hei" and occasional "loi" and yelping in between. After a couple of humming, I signalled Tony and Jason for lunch. We had garlic sausages and then lingered around the craft stands. The curios sold were mainly handicrafts, old silver wares, beads and Native Indian statues. I bought a statue, but now, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not recalled which tribe it was. After lunch we stayed on for a couple more dances and drumming. We left the Reservation as a cold front started to blows in. I went home feeling very satisfied to be able to see with my own eyes a Native American Pow Wow gathering. The first 3 dances, the drum beat and the humming left the longest lasting impression in me. Jason and I mimicked the drum beat and hummed all the way home until Tony asked us to shut up. 

Anyone can let me know what is my tribe?
         This Pow Wow trip ticked a big check in my personal to do list.The drum beats and hums of the Native American dance is still fresh in my memory until today. "Hei" "Yo" "Hei" "Yo", "Hoi", "Yo", "Hoi", "Yo"!! 


Location: Poarch Creek Pow Wow Grounds, 5811 Jack Springs Rd. Atmore, AL 36502, USA. 
Tel: (251) 368-9136 

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