Spring Ceremonies

One warm sunny day after lunch, everyone in grandpa's household was resting, grandpa lying against the wall on a sheepskin, father sitting by the door repairing his torn moccasin, mother and Malo lazily clearing up the noonday dishes. The children were out playing. Now and then there was a little idle talk, but each person was mostly wrapped up in his own thoughts.

Grandpa saw himself making a windbreaker in his field, thinking that in a couple of days the job would be done. Visions of big melons and corn, which he hoped would be ready in time for the Niman Katchina ceremonial in summer, were already there in his thoughts. "If it rains..."

Father was thinking of all the things to be done in the kiva and hoping that they would get finished, the wedding robes and sashes which he and the men were weaving for almost five days. If his prediction is right, they should be finished in a couple of days. The bride will go back to her house about that time. He will then look over his fields to see if anything has to be done before planting time. "It won't be long before my oldest son finds someone to wed, if he hasn't already," the thought gives him a shiver as he imagines one night hearing someone's mother announcing her daughter from the doorway.

Mother was thinking of too many things. She and a group of women are weaving baskets, but she must let that go for a while for she heard that there would be another wedding. She must get the corn grinding done to help out her relations, so they will help when her own older daughter gets married, which won't be very long. Growing up comes mighty fast! She also thinks of her younger ones, and the meals for tonight and the next morning. She has heard that a woman's work never ends.

Suddenly there was a commotion and yelling outside. Father and grandpa look toward each other and nod knowingly about the secret they have kept to themselves. "Grandpa! Father! Mother!" the children yell bursting through the door, "Katchinas with long yucca whips are coming into the village," cried the older child. "Are they coming to whip us?" asked the smaller one. "No, they come as friends," father replies calmly. "They might have remembered you as good boys and brought you gifts," added Grandpa, "better run over to the plaza where you can be seen."

Yes, today is the day of challenge, a test whether we are in shape, and have the strength to out-distance these katchinas in a race of a hundred yards or more. Those who are sure of their ability to run may challenge them, because these katchinas are in shape and ready for this event. In the first round they are allowed to use their whips, which will then be taken away by the Katchina Father, depending on how he feels. Thereafter each racer must catch his challenger around the waist after he overtakes him.

They came in different representations, but the most feared are the one who rips y our clothes off, the one who clips h air from your head, and the one that feeds you hot chili pepper. There is also one that feeds you animal droppings. But the ones especially feared by men are the kokopell manas, or "sexy girls." When caught by them and once laid, it is very hard to get away, unless your aunts come to the rescue and drag them off of you. Just the same it causes great excitement and fun for the women.

Strings of corn and tamales, sho-me-vicki, are placed at the starting point. Each challenger gets his reward from these, and most of them are given to the children as gifts. The children are half hidden under their mothers' shawls, all the time in fear, hoping the kokopell mana will not see them and attack them as with the older boys and men.

"Mother, where is our big brother? He should have been here to get those prizes!" The smaller child boasted, "Our brother can run faster than anybody!" "He went herding sheep this morning and won't be back until later," she answered, to cover up for the older brother who is participating as a katchina.

Thus another event passes so that the spirit of life will be strong, bringing blessings for the coming spring. Our life was filled with such ceremonies not long ago, but today fast feet are being replaced with fast moving wheels. Our wonderful life will be restored only when we learn that wheels are dangerous to our health.