Saturday, November 16, 2013

Because a stone has seen so much


“Why rocks?” I ask.
“Because a stone has seen so much.” –Louie Robles.

   “Joyce (Stanfield Perry - Cultural Resource Director of the Juañeno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation) shares that “the rocks are the Old People, the first people, from the time before we were beings. They were just bundles of energy [. . .] Rocks have a spirit. They are alive, and they are beings that connect us to the past, all the way back to…forever.”
    Ceremony, old and new, is grounded in such rocks. In following the story of rocks like this mortar, we learn more of the Acjachmen story as well. The Acjachemen people are so named in remembrance of the night long ago when, grieving for their leader Coronne who had transformed into a mound of earth, the people comforted one another by sleeping atop each other, as a moving pyramidal form.
The place they slept, Acjachema, honors the story. The name commemorates the land, allowing future generations to remember the culturally significant event that happened there.
    (Father Gerónimo Boscana) assumes that “the most correct signification of the word Acjachema does not apply to stones so much as “[. . .] a heap of animated things”, he implies that stones are inanimate. In traditional Acjachemen thought, however, rocks animate and alive. They pulse with the vibration of all their minerals, with all their ayelkwi, or knowledge-power. Rocks hold as much cultural significance as the sky holds stars. Rocks walk themselves to ceremonies. They sing across valleys. They burst into fire and they hum to themselves. Through rocks, the ancestors speak and the spirits appear.
    In questioning Boscana’s assumption, we—non-indigenous individuals such as myself—open the door to a discussion we may have otherwise overlooked. We allow ourselves to think of rocks in ways we may not have ever considered—as sentient, powerful, animated beings. According to traditional Acjachemen worldview, rocks were born in the time when animals, rocks, and trees were the Káamalum, the Original People. Just like such animals as Round-headed Katydid, who became the first basket-maker, and Green Bottle fly—who according to one story lit Wiyot’s cremation fire with her fire sticks (hence she still rubs her hands today) (Harrington)—rocks are attributed with power and spirit, free- will and knowledge.
    Louie (Robles, Acjachemen tribal member, storyteller, and singer)  reflects on rocks. “Often in ceremony we refer to rocks as ancestors,” he tells me. “In a sweat ceremony, you say bring in some more hot ancestors, because they are actual pieces of mother earth. They are aged. They represent age, and all the knowledge and wisdom that comes with age. Because a stone has seen so much.”
 Louie continues to explain his views towards rocks, offering an example of a rock pile. “Your average person could walk by a pile of rocks and say ‘oh that’s a pile of rocks,’ ” he explains. “A native person could walk by, and say ‘look at the ancestors here.’” His words remind me about the story of Acjachema, the place where the ancestors slept all together. Rocks, similarly stacked and piled, are ancestors too. I wonder about the ancient rock cairns that people have occasionally seen in the southern California hills, the cairns that the Lobos describe in their report. Are these groups of ancestors perhaps tapping into something deeper, into the story of Acjachema?”

From: "A Celebration of Ceremony Among the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation" by Julia Edith Rigby (4-20-2012), condensed from "Puvungna; Singing Rocks and Dancing Bears (pages 46-53)"      

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