dimanche 25 septembre 2011

Harvest Festival of the HoCank and the Jewish New Year


I stepped out of the gymnasium into the pleasantly chilled air of this waning days of the Northern Summer; I could still hear the drums and jingle of the dresses. Hocank Indians were celebrating the Harvest Festival, the corn is being harvested, many of the families having the same corn unadulterated for centuries.
I am a Jew and for us the Jewish New Year begins at sundown on 28th September, the Wednesday. For Jews, the New Year is a complicated story; it would take a whole chapter to explain why the New Year falls at the beginning of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. But it also once celebrated the harvest of vegetables in the land of Israel.
I had been told that the food would be distributed at around 5 pm. I arrived there at around 5 30 pm (12 30 pm French time) and was immediately given a bowl of corn soup, some home made bread and piece of home made beef pudding. I nibbled on it for a while and when an elderly lady sat down next to me, I offered her the corn soup that she accepted with thanks, since it is a delicacy for the Indians.
The MC, Chris by name is a professional at this, holds sway with his smooth talk, mixing in every day affairs with the history of the tribe. He welcomes me, saying to the audience, let us welcome Dr S who has arrived from the other end of the world from the Republic of Congo! They know that I am coming from somewhere so Chris could make up any country he wants, it does not matter. At one celebration, he said, let us welcome Dr S who is coming here from Mozambique, and on that occasion he was right, I had just been to Mozambique. The head dancer is a friend of mine, like many other people in the auditorium and I had a brief chat with him. He asked me some questions and promised to come and see me to discuss some matters pertaining to the cultural aspects of his tribe. I said hello to so many young and old people, but in general held my place in one corner, quietly and sitting there observing this cultural marvel blossoming around me.
I felt sad for a moment, a conquered people who refuse to give up their culture and identity. Contrast this to the immigrants who come to America who can’t wait to give up their identities, whether they are Chinese/Indian from Asia or refugees from Africa. Many of these dances and songs are centuries old and the fact that they have kept this up is remarkable indeed in this country where the people are too happy to give up their centuries old culture for the superficial glamour of USA culture. I remember as a child, someone in Australia saying. All the way with LBJ but do we know where LBJ is going?
The outgoing little girl champion dancer had a give away, that is she gives gifts to so many people important to her during the last year she had reigned as the champion dancer of her people, one of the champion dancers. What a change, among the non-Indians, a departing person gets gifts from others; here it is quite the opposite.
I delved deep into the rhythm and the ambience that was evolving around me. Occasionally chatted with someone or other, but mostly sat there observing these ancient people and felt so grateful to have been a part of them for the last twenty years.
Slowly euphoria began build up inside me, I looked at them, most of the adults whom I have known for many many years and the children virtually all their life. This is a privileged position to observe this ancient people. This sense of community does not exist in other parts of this country where getting together means the getting together of individuals. Here the individuals are forgotten but the tribe is what is being represented.
I remembered a line from that powerful book, The Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen, “by surrendering himself each individual has become something much more powerful than himself; by giving himself to the group, to the tribal imperative, he takes on and shares the power of all.”
As I drove home to the Blue House in the next village, just five miles down the road, cutting through the virgin darkness of the night, with an occasional light breaking the silence, the music on the CD player on the radio, belted out a tango. How appropriate I thought, congruent emotionally, it was Adriana Varela and Roberto El Polaco Goyeneche singing: Balada por un loco. When I heard Varela saying, Gracias, Polaco, for dejarnos volar con vos, I was already high in the clouds, a sense of absolute euphoria.
To me, tonight being with Hocank Indians celebrating the Harvest festival my Jewish New Year Celebrations have also begun.
On Wednesday night, I would go with my Indian teacher to a sweat lodge and during the sacrifices of the ceremony, I would beg the Great Spirit, on the first night of the Jewish New Year, to take pity on my family in France and my mischpochah in Miami and Portland, SF and on my sister friends Dar, Georgia, Sylvia, Gena, wehnona, Michele among others.
For my Jewish friends all over the world and in the state of Israel, I wish you L Shana Tovah. May this year be as sweet as you would like it to be.

What all is left for me, when I reach the Blue House where the fragrance of its recent visitors still linger, is to find the Kim Crawford from NZ and savour it…