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he' ii e's
The signs posted on the Yavapai-Apache Reservation read 'Sunrise Ceremony - This Weekend.' As I weave my truck around the cardboard structures, I search for signs of activity. Somewhere, the family who invited me to this occasion one month before, as a photographer, have set up camp. Putting away my white-man instincts of following written signs only, I pull over and look for smoke; a campfire. Ah-ha, follow the road past the cornfields and to the river.
he' ii e's is an Apache word for Sunrise Ceremony. The term comes from
the reenactment of the creation story; the first woman's lifespan. First
woman, Is cha na gle' se', came to Sedona in a log after being flooded
out of the fourth world. Through her lifespan she bears a child, becomes
old and then turns young again before leaving the earth.
reenactment type of ritual is performed when a girl reaches the age
of womanhood. It is a practice most common to the Apaches on the San
Carlos and White Mountain Reservations in Arizona, and the Mescalero
Reservation in New Mexico. The Tonto Apache of the Verde Valley desire
to bring it back into their culture as well. Today the San Carlos Apache
will teach them the old ways.
By the time I arrive at the camp, it is nearly dusk. A large fire flickers beneath four pots of boiling meat and one large pot of coffee. Near the rear of the camp, a wickiup has been built by the initiate. It is framed with 32 branches and has willow greens for fill. This is a metaphor for the womb; 32 represents the mother's ribs.
A second camp exists across the way. This one is for the godparents. As I sit by the fire with camera and notebook in hand, an elderly woman who has traveled from San Carlos, near Tucson, sits beside me. She is the young girl's advisor, and is in charge of showing her how to perform the four-day ritual and what each act symbolizes.
each step in detail is a crucial part of the tradition. The woman explains
that earlier in the day she bathed the young woman in the spring water
from Montezuma Well. This will be her last bath until the four days
of ceremony are over.
next day I wake before dawn. I proudly arrive at the camp by 4 a.m.,
only to find everyone else has been up for at least an hour.
dressing ceremony is scheduled for 9 a.m. and starts at 10 a.m. The
medicine man and his attendants are to conduct the ceremony. With them
they bring a piece of rawhide, an abalone shell, a feather for the girl's
hair and a necklace, which has a straw and scratcher attached to it.
These things along with a cane with two eagle feathers attached, are
placed before the girl on a blanket, in the wickiup.
this point on, the girl will not be able touch herself. If she needs
her hair pulled back, the attendant or godmother must do so. If she
perspires, a handkerchief is used to wipe her face. Her lips must not
touch a cup of water; it must be sipped through the straw. And if she
has an itch, the stick is used to scratch it. These things are done
in honor of Tu'baa chis chin'e, 'daughter made of water', daughter of
Is cha na gle' se', first woman.
The day once more begins early. Upon my rather late arrival, the girl and her attendant are already in the field standing before the hide given earlier by the medicine man. They are donned in deer-hide dresses prepared by the godmother along with matching moccasins. A heavy-beaded necklace, also created by the godmother, lays upon the initiates chests.
dresses are heavy and warm and the girls are already perspiring despite
the cool morning air. The girl and her attendant must dance to 64 songs
today. They have started early and will dance deep into the evening.
motion represents the stage in creation when the daughter tries to entice
the sun into a mating ritual. It is also done in reverence to the sun.
old lady whispers to me that this is something every teenager should
go through. I laugh. The girl is then lifted up from the ground and
begins to dance once again.
The last day of dancing
girl and the singers begin the day beneath the tepee-styled framework
in the field. A white strip is painted beneath their eyes. More songs
are sung as the crown dancers come again to perform.
Finishing the ritual
is Monday and most of the guests have gone home.
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