This month Father’s Day is being observed in many countries. While we may honor our birth fathers or men who helped raise us, it is important to expand our definition of what it means to be a father and how best to honor this mentoring relationship in our culture.
Tradition and the passing down of heritage are especially important in American Indian culture. And while the Native Indian mothers are the keepers of wisdom and teach their children their traditions and ancient crafts, it is the father who young sons watch for examples of how to be a man. From their fathers they must learn how to fortify themselves for life with bravery and strength and create a lifetime that honors those who came before them.
It is with this in mind we take a closer look at ceremonies happening now. For the Hopi, June is Wuko’uyis, “month of planting big fields.” These are the final weeks of the Katsina season, an annual cycle of religious ceremonies.
For many months the Hopi men have appeared in the streets and plazas of town dressed as Katsinam and wearing sacred, generational masks.
The Hopi believe that as the dancers wear the masks and regalia that depict their spiritual beings for ceremonies and perform their Katsinas spirit dances, they become one with that supernatural being. They are dancing as the spirit in human form. They believe they may cure illness, bring rain, and help maintain balance in the Hopi world.
It is an interesting custom that only males may dance… a tradition passed from great, great grandfathers to future sons. There is much for the sons to learn before participation. Dancers must know the songs, the dance steps, and everything they believe his particular Katsina would do. When the dancer puts his mask on, it is likely the same mask that his great, great, great grandfather wore! Just knowing that his ancestor breathed in that very same mask is an incredible honor.
All month long the Katsinam appear in the villages and the Hopi celebrate with elaborate ceremonies and dancing. Estimates are that there are approximately 650 active Katsinam, each with a male and female counterpart. All the dancers except one are male. Each Katsina has a special meaning: The Grandmother Katsina and Broadface are protectors; the Sunface represents the sun and is therefore very mighty. The most powerful Hopi Katsina, Maasaw, is the god of the underworld and controls the night and fire. It is said he circles the earth each night and decides who is good and who is not and therefore who goes on to the next life.
For now, it is time to plant corn squash and beans. This sacred corn crop is ground into cornmeal and used to make bread. They traditionally use the corn husks to make baskets, dolls, mats for sleeping on and more. Ceremonial dances in the Kivas and celebrations abound. The people gather together in large fields for planting. It is a joyful time of asking for the blessing of rain so the corn can grow healthy and strong.
In much the same way, the spirit of tradition and honor from generation to generation, father to son and father to daughter receive this blessing for fertile ground, life-giving sustenance and strong, healthy growth.
This Father’s Day let us honor the greater gifts that our fathers bring.