Skip to content

the drum circle

We arrive at Babs and Dennis’ house which is a short distance outside of Forks to the north-west of town. After sorting out my wet tent and gear, I have a shower, throw my filthy and sodden clothes into the washing-machine and, then, retire for a nap.

Babs is involved in the local Quileute native community and we are going to drum circle, which she attends weekly, this evening. After an early dinner, we set off; I have no idea what to expect. We drive to the reservation at La Push at sunset – the beach is glorious with a series of small rocky tree-topped islands, off-shore, silhouetted against the orange sky.

Kids and dogs saunter, in mobile shifting groups, around the car park as people pull up at the reservation community centre. As we enter, Babs stops every few steps to introduce me to a multitude of people, whose names I can’t possibly remember. Food is provided and a number of women sit in the kitchen, keeping things in order. Babs contributes chocolate brownies to the spread. I load up a plate.

People drift towards the circle of chairs at one end of the hall. The event is a relaxed, but serious, affair, presided over by Roger and another man, whose name I have forgotten. News is announced, newcomers introduced. Kids and adults stroll in and out of the room, chatting and laughing, only occasionally being shushed.

Tonight, because it is the beginning of the school year, a group of teachers from the Forks High School are in attendance – they are warmly welcomed and encouraged not to make this a one-off symbolic start-of-a-new-year gesture. Babs’ friend, Sandy, works at the school, with difficult kid,s and, like Babs, attends the drum circle weekly. Sandy has come tonight bearing a gift for a young woman who has recently given birth to her first child. The new mother finally delivered, after a three day labour, on Labour Day and still looks exhausted.

After all the preliminaries are over, Roger, an important tribal elder, takes over and initiates a ceremony to honour members of the community who have contributed something of note to it. The six are seated in the middle of the circle and Rodger lists their merits and achievements. To the side two women stand next to a pile of blankets.

One by one the honoured one rise to receive their blanket, which the women drape lovingly around the recipients shoulders, after holding the blanket open to display the designs which grace them. The recipients accept this with varying amounts of comfort and poise. The first two, older men, sing as they approach the women. The younger members of the tribe approach more diffidently, seeming unsure if this ceremony enhances the image presented by their practiced cool, their baseball caps and oversized pants. They slouch forward uneasily, without song, and slip the blanket off their shoulders as they return to seats, holding the blankets awkwardly in front of them for the rest of the ceremony.

Later the floor is cleared and dancers emerge from behind an improvised screen wearing masks – wolf masks and an orca who become a wolf when he visits land. The raven is watching – moving his head this way and that to eye the audience. A circle of dancers wearing red caps with designs worked in buttons and beads, surround the masked ones – their job is protect the audience from the powerful spirits embodied in the masks.

When the dancing is over the young mother and her partner are seated on the floor on a blanket in the middle of the circle. People enter the circle and throw money onto the blanket, offer good wishes to the parents and view the new baby. Afterward the money is counted and the amount collected announced to the circle.

After the ceremonies are completed more news is announced and then the floor is open to anyone who wishes to speak.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *