Whispers from the Past – A Native American Experience

Whispers from the Past – October 2017

There is an event called Whispers from the Past that takes place each fall at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover.  I’ve always wanted to go but for some reason or another, I’ve never made it.  This year I was determined to go and I knew my mother would love it so we made plans to go.  The event is designed to provide attendees with an accurate portrayal of the lives – both past and present – of Native Americans in the Southeast.  There are approximately 530 different tribes in the US, each with its own customs and language.  That day we were just hitting upon a handful and the event  definitely lived up to its educational purpose.

We arrived just in time for the first dance demonstration – the Native American Pow Wow dancers.  As the dancers prepared their beautiful regalia, we listened to Alex Alvarez as he introduced each dance.  We learned that Pow Wows are the Native American people’s way of gathering in dance, song and friendship.  He went into great detail about the regalia, the significance of all the regalia, the reason for the dance and also a little information about each dancer who had traveled from all over the Southeast to participate in the event.

One dancer in particular, a young woman, wore a dress with metal cones that jingled when she walked and danced.  Alex explained that this was a healing dance and that there were several versions of a story involving a dream where the dress to be worn along with the dance and song to be performed appeared to a person.  Instructions on how the dance and costume would be used were spelled out in the dream.

The dance with the men wearing the bustles was incredible!  I think the back of the clothing in this instance was more striking than the front.  The dance signified the retelling of stories of the hunt to their tribe.  The beaded moccasins were adorned with fur from Icelandic sheep.  Alex mentioned that when a Native American wears something from an animal they are asking for that trait to reflect upon them.  The bone bead breastplates were worn to keep arrows from piercing their chests and the head-piece was made from porcupine.

There were several other dances and I hate that I lost track of their significance.  Taking notes while photographing was a little difficult! That’s why I let my photos tell the stories at times.  This is one of those times!

This was a very kid-friendly event with activities galore!  One that mom and I found very beautiful was leaf pounding….and it’s just what it sounds like!  We walked around the back of the Aldridge Gardens house and there were people placing leaves between two strips of white cotton fabric and pounding the leafs with a rock to make the transfer.  Some of the designs were really beautiful too!  Mom and I picked up the instructions and decided to try this at home.

Other families were making dream catchers together.  These are so iconic when you think of Native Americans.  We thought about making one ourselves but then mom spotted artist Jim “White Cloud” Hill doing a sage cleansing on someone and she was intrigued!  We walked around after watching a cleansing but she kept mentioning it so we went back so she could experience this.

The use of smoke is not uncommon in religion.  For Catholics, incense is used during mass and it is also used by Buddhist and others.  To many people it can symbolize spirituality.  For Native Americans,  the cleansing is done using a large feather to fan the smoke in order to rid the person from any negative energy and help with healing.  I could tell this ritual was having quite a positive effect on my  mother as I watched this play out.  She smiled sweetly as she followed Mr. Hill’s instructions during the process.  Afterward, he gave her a hug and maybe it was my imagination, but she appeared “lighter.”

Mom and I learned a lot that day at Aldridge Gardens.  It left us wanting to know more and I hope we can find other ways to learn about Native American culture in Alabama.  I know there are opportunities…

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