Cibola 109

This entry is part 108 of 119 in the series Cibola


Owl-Meeter Shaman

Again at dusk Blue Mockingbird alights
on the topmost twig of the mesquite tree
that stands on the western edge
of Rain Plaza. He preens
& pirouettes, hangs upside-down
as he holds forth once more
on his favorite theme:
Nights are for singing, days are for gathering songs.
How many medicine men do the packrats need?

Ah, my fallen nieces, my fallen nephews!
Since when can’t a shaman cure
his own ailment?
We tried to keep him
from making off with the better part
of the pueblo’s youth–at least until
I could assemble all my helpers,
send fog & nightmares down
on the warriors of Shiwanna.

He said If Owl,
if Rattlesnake,
if Gila Monster send sickness,
cut off their heads!
Surely a doctor
who spreads disease is no doctor.

The same way old Nawitsu talks: inside-out.
Up on Sun Plaza the priests smile
their tattooed smiles
& dribble coded messages
in colored sand; Nawitsu below
makes handprints, spits tobacco.
Straight-faced master of interpretation,
polished mask,
his medicine is proof against
excessive smoothness,
the dry scales of a snake
that nothing ever sticks to,
joy or pain.
            That’s what
I should’ve told the Black Shaman,
instead of impersonating
a respected elder with a set-
piece for the occasion:

(To be continued.)

Owl-Meeter Shaman: This fictional character was introduced in the song contest. In conformity with the conclusions of archaeologists, I picture Hohokam society as two-tiered. I further imagine a priesthood allied with the nobility, and medicine men and women of various kinds, similar to those who still exist among the O’odham, ministering to the needs of the common people. (There are many other examples in the Americas of native societies that persisted as hunting-gathering-gardening bands like the O’odham after the loss of priesthood, nobility and urban infrastructure to conquest and/or pandemics.)

Blue Mockingbird: A central figure in traditional O’odham oratory for the cactus wine drinking festival which doubles as a rain-bringing ritual.

If Owl, if Rattlesnake, if Gila Monster send sickness: The O’odham theory of disease attributes many illnesses to the involuntary giving of offense to a variety of animal spirits. Such illnesses can only be cured by all-night shaman-led rituals featuring, in homeopathic fashion, the chanting of songs given in dreams by the very beings responsible for the illnesses. Each shaman has ownership of the songs of one or more spirit being which he or she has personally received in a dream or vision-quest. Thus, an owl-meeter shaman is a master of owl songs. (See note to Cibola 83 for more on the owl-meeter shaman’s role.)

Nawitsu: The only mask traditionally worn by the O’odham. Nawitsu is referred to as a clown by anthropologists, though among Native peoples of the American southwest, clowns are far more sacred and powerful than the silly creatures usually meant by the English word. Here, I am imagining that Nawitsu’s role among the Hohokam was as a satirist and advocate for the common people, similar to the role of the Newekwe clowns among the Zuni.

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