My former mentor and dear friend gave a lecture in the Fale Pasifika on ’Ceremonial Space’, in that lecture he said something my mind would dwell on for years. He explained the lashing of the ceiling beams, the metaphor of the structural pillars, and the allocated seating within the meeting house proper. He said, “ the space walks us through ritual and signification… titles and therefore your position or (physical spot ‘at the table’) are inherited. You are the latest model of your ancestors, an avatar for them.” – Albert Refiti.
(Fale Pasifika. Image by Trends.)
Those words then branded in mind, were a form of remembrance for me. The sacred and the profane aren’t strictly theoretical sociological concepts. In fact they can be within or without a ring of wooden benches, presenting a meshwork of physical thresholds.
You see, every year, once a year, a ceremony is held is held by the Thon Khon Gah (Black Leggings Society) of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. I attended every year since I was four. Back then Thon Khon Gah was held twice a year (spring and fall). The society (like all of our remaining societies) was revived after being banned by the US government. My great great great Grandmother Keintaddle was the last Auday Mawtawn (explaining this would take a while, just know, Auday are very important) of Thon Khon Gah, and a direct descendant of Koitsen-ko (the elite of the warrior society). It was through her rights of passage that the society was revived by her great great Grandsons the Palmers. Thon Khon Gah became the grounds of my girlhood, a place of ceremony, and one school of thought into Kiowa way.
When I was a little girl there were so many cumbersome rules:
- Don’t slouch when you are on the tso’tsain (the wooden bench, situated at the forefront of the dance arena)
- Don’t look tired or fuss when you are dancing and there is a break in the verses.
- Don’t talk loudly when you are in the arena. In fact, if you must speak at all – do it forward facing and always remember the reason for the dance.
- Absolutely no playing on the rocks. (there are gloriously rocky rocks that can be seen from any place in the arena at the east entrance, and there are always at least two or three kids flinging themselves about on them. There is one orange rock in particular that is the perfect rock for a reenactment of the Little Mermaid. Needless to say, the rocks, are positively sensational.)
I was what my Grandma described as ‘vivacious’, and had a particular animation for going about my day. I am not sure if these rules were everyone’s rules, but they certainly applied to me. By my teens the rules became protocol, and the protocol grew in depth:
- Greet Daw’kee (the creator) in the morning to prepare for ceremony.
- Learn the songs, they tell of who we are.
- When passing a member of Thon Khon Gah (a veteran) acknowledge them with respect and reverence. They gave so that we are.
- Be helpful, and useful to your kin and the elders, “They need you and you need them, we all need each other” -Gus Palmer, former Commander and Chief of Thon Khon Gah.
(from left to right: My mug, Rachel Cocker Hopkins, Deborah Cocker, Atah Cocker circa 1997. Second image: Jordan McOnie nee Cocker, Deborah Cocker, Theresa Kiley circa 2007.)
The seemingly empty grassy clearing in the trees we occupied with benches, lawn chairs, and teepees was as my mentor said, filled with “ritual and signification”. The spaces/ relationships between people as well as physical spaces, hold the ontological framework of Thon Khon Gah:
the distance between the seats
the distance between the drum and the arena
the distance between each dancer
the regalia we wear on our bodies
(Kiowa Sun Dance Circle at the Medicine Lodge Treaty, 1867, including the Kiowa- Apaches. Diagram prepared by James Mooney. 1896. This isn’t a diagram of Thon Khon Gah but of another ceremony. The ‘aerial view’ shows the teepees’ spatial relationship to one another.)
“It is not, then that organisms are entangled in relations. Rather, every organism – indeed, every thing- is itself an entanglement, a tissue of knots whose constituent strands, as they have become tied up with other strands, in other bundles, make up the meshwork.” – Tim Ingold
All of these signifiers are the emblems and residue of a lifeworld. These signifiers in synchronicity are for the trained eye a manuscript of sorts, and a telling of Koi’Gou (Kiowa) ways.
Think about it.