Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gerald Dawavendewa's THE BUTTERFLY DANCE

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Many times on AICL and in lectures, I've said that I wish I'd had Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer back in the early 90s when my daughter danced for the first time. In Smith's book, we see a little girl getting ready to do the Jingle Dance for the first time. I have that same wish about Gerald Dawavendewa's The Butterfly Dance. 

My grandfather, Rex Calvert, was Hopi. He met my grandmother, Emilia Martinez of Ohkay Owingeh (formerly known as San Juan Pueblo), when they were students at Santa Fe Indian School. They were married in 1922. Their marriage aside, the Hopi people of Arizona and the Pueblo people of New Mexico are similar in significant spiritual and cultural ways. For both those reasons, when I look at the cover of Dawavendewa's book, several things catch my eye. I see myself and family in the characters Dawavendewa depicts, in their clothing and their actions.

On the first page of The Butterfly Dance, we read:

Today is a special day. I wake up extra early because this is the day of the Butterfly Dance.

My name is Sihumana, which means Flower Maiden. My aunt gave me that name in a special naming ceremony when I was just a baby. Now I am twelve years old, and today I will be part of the Butterfly Dance, helping to celebrate our family and bring gentle rains for the flowers and plants that will make everyone happy.

The illustration for that page shows a sleepy Sihumana. It reminds me of my daughter, Liz, waking up early on feast day, and of Hayle, my niece, too. Like Sihumana, they yawn (and yawned--Liz is no longer a child) as they'd come awake to get ready for the day of dance.

In a straightforward way, Dawavendewa tells his readers about the practical side of being Hopi. On dance day, you have to get up early. In the days prior to it, you have to go to the kiva for several nights and learn, relearn, or remember the dance and its song.

He also gives us a look at the oral tradition in action. By that, I mean the pages on which Sihumana's Kwa'a (grandfather) teaches her about the dance and its significance. He talks a bit about clans, too. And, the notes at the end of the book tell us that the Butterfly Dance is primarily a social dance. As such, it can be filmed or photographed. Here's a video of the dance:

Dawavendewa's notes provide readers with additional information about the Hopi people, and for that reason, teachers will find The Butterfly Dance especially useful in this era of the Common Core, in their efforts to add nonfiction titles to their teaching collections. An additional bit of info that makes his work intriguing is the note that one of his artworks, "Earthbundle" that was aboard the Endeavor in 1994. The gallery, South West South, has a print of it, and explanation:
This print is from an original Dawavendewa painting created on white buckskin that went aboard the Space Shuttle 'Endeavour' in 1994. In the center is the Sun - Taawa. Above the sun are the symbols of the Earth, the Fourth world to the Hopi, and below the moon. Radiating from the sun are markings representing the Milky Way. Within the stars are corn plants, a symbol of the four directions. All are encompassed by a rainbow- a symbol of life. Placed with the Earth Bundle was a Paaho, a prayer feather for the blessings and prayers for the Astronauts journey. 
Dawavendewa is enrolled at Hopi. Visit his website to learn more about him and his work, and get a copy of the book from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.