A Drumstick’s Story: Part 22

By Joe Liles
News From Indian Country Feb. 2010

A Drumstick's Story: Part 21  

With special thanks the Hopi Nation, the People of Peace.

I don’t want to be too direct, but in order to save time in case you are new to my story, I’ll get straight to the point. I am a drumstick, and I am the one telling you this story. Thanks for joining me.

When I left you last, R.D. and I had met all the guys in an Indian music band at the Tuba City Fair. There was E-rock who played an instrument called rhythm guitar, Buzz who played another kind of guitar that made a booming bass kind of noise, and Lakota who was the singer.  Now, Lakota could sing, and he could scream. I think both were required for this band’s kind of music.

There was also R.I.P. who played a guitar that had a high pitch to it. He could make this guitar play notes all over the place. And last, there was Don’t Worry whose whole name was Don’t Worry, be Hopi. He was the drummer. The kind of drumming that Don’t Worry did was very different from the drumming at powwows. He used two sticks at the same time! Imagine that! He could make those sticks go all over the place to hit various drums and pieces of metal. 

The band was named Skinjun, and they had just won a contest called Battle of the Bands. I was just glad there was no bloodshed in this battle. These guys were pumped up after their victory.

The Fair was over for the day.  Buzz and Lakota had left to go to a party somewhere in town, but E-rock, R.I.P., Don’t Worry, and R.D. stuck around the fairgrounds for a bit.  Don’t Worry got his big bass drum out of the back of E-rock’s pickup truck and placed it sideways on a blanket he spread on the ground. The guys pulled up some chairs around the drum. E-rock had his own drumstick. He gave sticks to R.I.P. and Don’t Worry.  R.D. pulled me out from his belt loop, and, all of us, we kept time for a beautiful song.

E-rock took the lead. R.D. handled the seconds. R.I.P. and Don’t Worry came in with strong voices. This song had the tempo of an Honor Song, and it sure made me feel good! I could tell that these guys were searching for something to give meaning to their lives other than going to parties and such. I could feel power coming from them. When the song was over, E-rock spoke.

“You know, it’s about two weeks before our next gig, which is down in Phoenix. The guys and I have been talking about using this time to go visit our families.” He turned to R.D. and asked, “Want to come along? You got a car?”

“Yeah,” R.D. replied. “My car is in the parking lot. Sure, I’ll go. I’m just making my way back home to California, but I’m in no rush.”

“Great!” E-rock said. “It was going to be a tight fit in my truck. How about we let Don’t Worry ride with you. Since it is not too far, I say we go to Don’t Worry’s home first. He lives on Second Mesa up in Hopi country. Maybe we can crash there for the night.”

I was concerned about the crashing part, but E-rock and R.I.P. got in the pickup, and R.D., Don’t Worry, and I headed for R.D.’s car in the parking lot.  We met up with E-rock’s truck at the exit for the fair.  E-rock led the way and R.D. followed. I rode in my regular place on the dashboard. We headed east out of Tuba City on Highway 264.

“Does your radio work? Don’t Worry asked. “My people have a cool radio station called KUYI.” R.D. turned on the radio. “Here you go, tune it in!” he said. Don’t Worry turned the knob through all kinds of static, hisses, and pops, but then an amazing thing happened. The sweet voice of a young woman filled the car.

“Hey out there, you’re listening to the sound of KUYI, Hopi Radio, 88.1 on your FM dial. I’ve got a special dedication for you. This next song is for Pauline from her grandfather. Pauline, your granddad is so proud of you for doing well in middle school. He wants to congratulate you for making the Honor Roll.”

With that, a song I thought was kind of wild came on the radio. It was about rocking around the clock, whatever that meant. Don’t Worry said, “Now that’s what I call good rock and roll!”

Darkness had come over the land.  From what I could make out with the car’s headlights, the land was mostly flat in all directions. I was a little concerned.  Here we were speeding down a two lane highway in the middle of nowhere, trying to keep up with the tail lights of E-rock’s pickup truck, and listening to something called rock and roll. I could imagine us hitting a big rock in the road and rolling over. I kept a close watch out the windshield.

When that crazy song was over, I was relieved to hear that sweet voice again.  “Our next dedication goes out to Suma from his girlfriend. Suma, I know you are having a hard time right now, and this song is to make you feel better.”

The radio filled the car with the sound of the staggered beat of a hand drum.  This song sounded like a two-step or maybe even a 49, but when the words came in I was surprised. The words were in English and talked about someone named Sponge Bob Square Pants. I know Indians sometimes have unusual names, but I had no idea!

I wondered if the guy this song was dedicated to had square pants or maybe he was spongy, or worse still, maybe he was both! I figured this was why he was not feeling so good.

More songs came on the radio and that sweet voice of the announcer soothed me to sleep. I had an amazing dream. I was with a whole bunch of people in a strange land.  Everything was illuminated by a dim gray light. The people had planted a reed in the ground. Someone there called it bamboo. All the people started singing.  As they sang, the bamboo grew. If they ever stopped singing, the bamboo stopped growing and made a circular joint on its surface. The people sang again, and the bamboo grew. Bit by bit, joint by joint, the bamboo grew high into the air until it went out of sight.

Someone hollered out, “It has gone through the opening!” The people cheered and started climbing the bamboo. They were led by a lady and her two sons, who looked like they might be twins. Pretty soon the bamboo was completely covered with people as they made their way up and up. I wondered where they were going and just what this opening was all about. But before I could find out, I woke up to hear Don’t Worry’s voice.

“Turn at the next road to your right.  This will take you up on the mesa to my village, Shongopovi.” We drove up an incline until we got to the top of a hill.  The headlights of R.D.’s car lit up a sign that said in big letters:  “Attention Visitors! No Photographs, Sketches, or Recordings of Any Kind.” I could see E-rock’s truck parked by the sign. He was joking like he was taking a picture.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Don’t Worry said. “My people are protective of what they have left.  Outsiders are welcome, but you have to play by Hopi rules now.”

E-rock told us to lead the way.  Don’t Worry gave R.D. directions. We came to an open plaza and turned down a narrow dirt road lined on both sides with houses. Don’t Worry told us to stop at a particular house. This house was made with all sizes of rocks stacked carefully together.  A light came on inside and the door opened a little bit.

Don’t Worry hollered out, “Hey mom, it’s me! I brought my friends to see you!” The door swung open wide and a smiling lady came out. Don’t Worry ran over and gave her a big hug. R.D. grabbed me from the dashboard, stuck me in his belt, and joined the others going inside.

Don’t Worry’s mother was very happy even though it must have been past her bedtime by now. She welcomed us to her home and immediately started fixing some food. Soon we were all sitting around a table with a feast before us!  There were bowls of beans, squash, corn, some of that mutton stew I had seen before, and a new kind of bread. It was kind of thin and rolled up. But the thing that surprised me was this bread was blue! I had never seen blue bread before.

The guys ate and Don’t Worry’s mother mainly just watched. She had a smile on her face that told me she loved her son and was proud of him. Don’t Worry gave the rest of the guys an introduction to this place where he grew up.

“There are three major mesas out here,” he said. Well, really, they are all offshoots of the huge Black Mesa which rises steadily to the north.”

I remembered Black Mesa.  It was the one R.D. and I followed for a long ways when we went up to Monument Valley from Canyon de Chelly. It was the place that was rich with coal up on top.

Don’t Worry continued, “On the way here, we passed what is called Third Mesa. You might have noticed the signs for Hotevilla and Oraibi. They are the principle villages on Third Mesa. In the old days, Oraibi became like a magnet place that attracted Hopis from all directions.

“But where we are now is Second Mesa. Some say the village we are now in, Shongopovi, is one of the oldest Hopi villages. Some say it is the oldest of all. “Just up another branch of Second Mesa is Mishongnovi. If you keep going down the highway that brought us here, maybe another ten or fifteen miles, you will come to First Mesa where there are more Hopi villages. Many people wonder why the Hopi people live out here so far away from everything. Water is scarce out here. Life is hard. This is a land of delicate balances where you have to live a life of prayer in order to survive.  This is why religion is such an important part of our lives.

“It all goes back to our beginning as a people. The elders and our priests in our kivas tell us that we emerged into this world from down below. The world we are living in now is the Fourth World we have lived in.” My dream about the bamboo and the opening above was beginning to make sense.

“When the Hopi came to this world, we were told that each of our clans was to go its own way to explore this new land. We were to go to each of the Four Directions.  If we stayed true to the Laws of Creation, we would find our way to a place that was promised to us by the Creator. This place would be the Center of the Universe. My friends, welcome to the Center of the Universe!”

Everybody laughed a little, but I could tell that everyone was serious. We all knew we were in a special place.

Don’t Worry continued. “I was told there was a time just after the Emergence when all the different kinds of people were gathered together. Each people was told to pick an ear of corn. Each ear of corn brought with it a way of life. The yellow ear meant a life of enjoyment and prosperity, but a span of life that was short. There was a white ear of corn, and a red one.  There was one that was speckled. There was one ear, a very short one, that was blue. It was said that the blue ear represented a life of work and hardship, but that the years of life would be many.

“One of the groups of other people chose the yellow ear, another group chose the white one, and so forth, until the only thing left was the short blue one.  This is the one the Hopi people received.  This is why our life is hard, but this is why we have survived for so long in this land. This is how we have kept our traditional ways alive!

“It is part of the Great Mystery of things that all the Hopi clans were led independently throughout the land and came to these three mesas to settle down.

“Tomorrow, I will take you around my village.  I will tell you some more about our history.  You will learn more about this powerful land.  You will learn how the Hopi people and what we do here are linked to the well-being of the rest of the world!”

. . . to be continued.

Comments and assistance:     

Joe Liles
Faculty Emeritus
NC School of Science and Math
1219 Broad Street
Durham, NC 27705
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Drumstick's Story: Part 21