HAIR BEADS & DRUMS
Deerskin ribbons and hair beads remind me of my love for music and deep cultural roots.
“Don’t touch the drum,” said the elder whose name I’d forgotten.
I was a girl and girls can’t touch the drum.
We were in Potawatomi territory in those days, and if a girl touched the drum it might disturb the ancestors.
I could dance and sing and wear bells on my feet and cook and fish and build up a home and hunt down a bird – but never an Eagle or an owl.
But none of that mattered when I was 9. Because all I wanted to do was touch the drum.
It was the end the of summer, and the rez was preparing for the harvest powwow for weeks and weeks - so long I forgot to remember.
Papa filled up the house with sage smoke, then, to bring us goodness. Then, Papa and Yona went all the way down to Cherokee to the sweat and smoke and talk of serious things. Ma didn’t see, but there was a pipe and tobacco leaves in their bag.
At that time when I slept, I dreamt about booming sounds and dancing boys.
When that day came to meet and sing and dance and eat, I remembered to remember that I couldn’t touch the drum. Not it’s lacquered deerskin stretched across the frame nor its wooden silhouette nor the adorned drumsticks.
I sang the Morning Song, then my papa bade me come to fix me up real nice and braid my hair with deerskin ribbons, and all I did was pout. But how beautiful I looked - like a girl, like bold, like fierce, like lovely. The ancestors might be proud.
My ma strung up beads into my ribbons and fastened then round and round the ends.
I was a girl, and girls get to wear deerskin ribbons and beads and braids and jingle dresses. And we could heal with our dancing.
I put on my dress and jingled there far.
When we arrived, ma and I ate roasted corn and found Takoda. His hair was longer and blacker than mine and instead of braids it was wrapped up like a hose with colored bands to look like a chord of bubbles.
He was a boy and boys could play the drum. And despite my jealously, he could play quite well.
Ma bought me a wooden flute and I played for a while ‘til we had to sit.
As I ate and clapped and jingled, Takoda played the drums and danced to his father’s blessing.
The beat sounded and moved slowly, steady, like the world’s heartbeat. And I stared at the drums and listened to the elders tell the story of the beginning. I saw them make me into a girl and the vibration reached me fast and rattled my beads and made my jingles sound ever so softly and blew whispers into my flute.
And then, I remembered, I was a girl, and the drums touched me, and I could dance, and my dancing could heal.
Later, when we went home, I untied my deerskin ribbons, but before I could catch the ends, the beads fell out and onto the floor with a tip, tink, swivel. I reached down to scout them out and again I heard the drum. That night I did not sleep. I held my beads in one hand and my flute in the other and thanked the Great Spirit for making me into a girl.
Years later, in the 2010, I moved from Cherokee Nation to New York City to attend Julliard for music and dance. In a box of old sorted knickknacks my ma had found, was a blue pouch of those very same beads and deerskin ribbons. I held them in my hand and strung them up in my hair, which was, then, short a burgundy. I still couldn’t touch the drums, but the drums could touch me, and they made me study music and brought me to an orchestra to beat the world’s song.