My tribe is known as the Wai’a’atika. During my spirit walk to meet my totem as a young warrior brave, the Great Bear came to me. He told me he would walk the warrior path with me, teaching me his ways. The Great Bear wisdom is the way of courage and peace. Size and strength matter but it is only the foolish who let brash fierceness lead the way. The Bear warrior’s heart tempers the way balancing harmony and respect for all living things. For truly the Great Bear is a lover of peace and tranquility.
It is now my duty and honour to teach the ways of the warrior to my son. This is my story.
SIGNS of LIFE
Since the second lesson on learning to read the signs of nature the sun had again crossed the sky as many times as there were fingers on one hand. The group of young warriors in training had counted its crossing as carefully as before. However, this time there were no guessing games. All of a sudden the lessons had become very serious and very real. Their mood was solemn. Had they known it, this too was a sign of their maturing and growth in understanding. Lighthearted childhood games had a rightful place in their lives. Important lessons were learnt by all children at these times. How to get along with others, problem solve quarrels and disagreements, enjoy friendships, share belongings and secrets were equally as important as the craft their fathers were teaching them.
The warrior lessons had moved into their rightful place too. Providing food, safety and shelter for themselves, their families and their tribe was the purpose behind the lessons. Other, deeper lessons too, such as strength, courage and bravery as warriors. As men, honour and respect for themselves, others, the Earth and Nature. As they grew in age and wisdom, the young warriors would realise just how much they had come to know and how important this long process of learning was in their lives. And in their turn, they too, would pass on the learnings to their own sons.
But now it was time for the third lesson on the signs of nature. The three lessons together formed a solid foundation for others to follow. First, there had been a pretend game set up for them by their fathers. The second, a very real and scary encounter with the mountain cat. It had taught them just how important it was to look for and understand the signs nature showed them. Their very lives depended on it. The time would come when their fathers no longer accompanied them and they would have to rely totally on their own abilities.
This trip, however, was to complete the first three lessons about nature’s signs. Once again the group left after breakfast. This time each of the fathers carried a small sack on his back. As before, they walked in silence in the way of the warrior. The path they took was a new one for the boys. It too led them deep into the forest in the direction where the sun would disappear when darkness came. Simply called The Way, it led them into a large circular opening. It felt peaceful and made the boys feel calm. Later they were to learn that this was a site the tribe came to for sacred ceremonies, initiations, dream walking and other occasions that demanded such a sanctuary. Surrounded by tall, stately trees, stone seating had been arranged around a central clearing of hard earth. In the middle were several very large drums supported by a wooden framework. In the very centre stood the tribe’s totem pole next to an intricately carved wooden throne. The boys were invited to choose a seat as the fathers made their way into the central clearing and began a soft, hypnotic drumming.
From the forest the tribe’s Shaman appeared dressed in full ceremonial clothing. He entered the ring and began the day’s proceedings with a ritual dance whilst the fathers drummed and chanted. The Shaman spoke to them saying this day marked a turning point in their training. The ceremonial ritual was to celebrate these endings and beginnings. From the sacks carried by the fathers they were given arm and ankle bands to wear. Made of beads and feathers and seed casings they rattled when the wearer moved. The Shaman taught the boys the sacred chant and dance of The Passing. This was followed by a shared meal of forest fruits, nuts and seeds after which the Shaman left.
The rest of the day was taken up with learning to identify the different spoor of the most common animals the boys would encounter in the forest. The marks were drawn in the earth with a special drawing stick by the fathers. Time was spent talking about the animal it represented – what it looked like, sounded like, what it was best used for. The marks were then erased. Each boy was given their father’s drawing stick and asked to draw the marks so they would get to know them well. Some spoor they recognised already. Others were strange and new. Not until the sun was beginning to dip below the horizon did they leave the clearing. Tired but happy they quickly fell asleep to dream strange dreams of drums, chants and animal spirits.
It was a day to be remembered and often discussed by the boys in hushed tones in the privacy of their gaming cave. There would be a long period now of practicing all the things they had learnt.
© Raili Tanska