Monday, January 31, 2011

Religious Freedom

In 1913, my great great grandfather Steven Moses (pictured above) once stood trial on the Spokane Reservation for continuing to practice traditional ceremonies. Court papers housed in the Probate Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Wellpinit state the following:

Record of Court of Indian Offenses
Defendants: Steve Moses, Jim Andrews, and Ben Moses.
Complaint: Running a medicine dance.
Plea: Not guilty.
Witnesses: None against.
John Inkster testified in their behalf.

Chief Jim Sam telephoned from Wellpinit that these parties were running a medicine dance at Walker’s Prairie; that they were the medicine men; that the Indians were giving away their property; that they confessed to Jim Sam; that Jim Sam would not appear at the agency for the trial, nor provide witnesses to prove his charge.

Finding of the court: Not Guilty.
Judge William Three Mountains
Superintendent Emery A. Peftly
At the Spokane Agency, January 20, 1913.

My great great grandfather was acquitted of all charges, not because he enjoyed the protection of religious freedom under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but simply because the prosecuting witness failed to appear. Even in recent times, American Indian spiritual practices have not always enjoyed the protection of law.

Tears of Repentance

After teaching a course in Native American Film at Whitworth University, I got to thinking about the clash between Christianity and indigenous forms of spirituality. I was raised to respect both spiritual systems, and still I am always saddened by the harsh realities of our history.

This post explores one aspect of that reality.

The spirituality of the North American Indian people has posed a theological obstacle for Christians ever since the two cultures met in the early 1600s. Christians arrived on our shores armed with advanced weaponry and a great commission to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost…” (Matthew 28:19). Inspired by this charge, the Puritans sought to establish a Christian nation on the American continent based on their perception of God’s law, but contrary to popular mythology, the Puritans had no intention of establishing religious freedom. As soon as the Puritans gained military independence, they quickly forgot the generosity of the tribes that once saved them from starvation at New Plymouth. They began an aggressive campaign to deprive the Indian people of their lands and to force them to convert to Christianity.

In 1653, John Eliot published a religious tract entitled Tears of Repentance: a Further Narrative of the Progress of the Gospel Amongst the Indians in New England. Under this title, Eliot compiled various “confessions” made by the Indian people of the Massachusetts colonies. Each confession was translated into English, and despite the diversity of confessors, each statement contained the same basic information. The following words offer a sample of their confessions:

William of Sudbury
His Indian Name is

The Confession which he made on the fast day before the great Assembly was as followeth.

“Before I prayed to God I committed all sins; and serving many gods. I much despised praying unto God, for I beleeved the Devil, and he did dayly teach me to sin…

“[After] hearing that Cutshamoquin prayed, then I thought I will pray also: a year after … I went to Mr. Browns house and told him I will pray to God as long as I live; he said, I doubt of it, and bid me cut off my hair; and I did so presently … then I began to beleeve that Christ dyed for us, for sin; and I saw my heart very full of sin … Sometime I am angry with myself, for my many Evil thoughts in my heart, and to this day I want grace, and cannot confess, because I have been so great a sinner…” (Eliot, 1653).

Those Indians who converted were spared the immediate destruction of life and property. Most were removed to so-called “praying towns” where Indian converts hoped to live in peaceful co-existence with the English. However, not even a genuine religious conversion would protect the converts from the ravages of Puritan aggression. During King Phillip’s War, most of the praying towns were burned and their inhabitants left to starve. Perhaps on a deeper level, the English understood that the confessions they helped to contrive were little more than statements of convenience from a people desperate to survive. If they had truly believed in the power of their own faith, perhaps they would not have been so quick to condemn their own Indian converts.

The English were not entirely motivated by a redeeming faith, but rather by a weighty sense of entitlement and self-importance. In his introduction to Tears of Repentance, Eliot declared: “These Indians (the better and wiser sort of them) have for some years inquired after Church-Estate, Baptism, and the rest of the Ordinances of God, in the observation whereof they see the Godly English to walk.” (Eliot, 1653). These same “Godly English” would ultimately commit all manner of murder, coveting, and theft against the Indian people. Their religion was not necessarily bad, but the manner in which they promoted their religion was unthinkable.

Looking back across history, how many people have betrayed their own deepest values the moment they sought to force those values upon another?

More than 400 years later, the American people have yet to reconcile themselves to the stark brutality surrounding the establishment of this nation. For me, it's not about blame. An honest assessment of our true history will go a long ways toward bringing genuine cultural healing and equality.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Driving Lessons

Driving lessons continue for our son Dakota, and now he has advanced to learning to drive a stick shift. It's all kinds of fun, and I have to say that he is doing quite well.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Joseph Moses

Recently I received a phone call from my relative Fred Andrew. He made contact with me because of a blog I posted several years ago regarding the Chewelah Indians. Of course, we share many of the same ancestors, so we compared genealogical notes.

Fred sent this photograph of my great great grandfather Joseph Moses (1859-1945) and his sons. Many, many thanks. lemlmts istemelis.

Friday, January 28, 2011


My friend Carole Parks and I recently discussed the subject of nightmares.

Dreams have always given insight and guidance to my life, even the bad ones. When I was a child, my sleep was plagued by nightmares, sometimes as often as three or four times per month. Most of my nightmares involved supernatural or demonic beings, but some represented more earth-bound fears like family arguments or an upcoming math test. As a child, my nightmares often paralyzed me for hours, but as an adult, I learned to tell their stories. The act of re-telling the details of a frightening dream seemed to diminish some of its power. Nowadays, I rarely have scary dreams, but when I do, their message takes center stage. If something demands my attention with such great urgency, I should probably listen.

Recently my friend Adam Brown loaned me the book Dreaming True by Robert Moss. The author offers an insightful statement about nightmares that makes a lot of sense and confirms my attention to dreams.

"Dreams come in gentle and timely ways to show us challenges that lie ahead. If we ignore our dream messages, the dream messenger becomes louder and more strident, like a friend who will phone or come round in the middle of the night because she has vital information for us. That information may involve something very challenging or unpleasant. Maybe the message is that we could lose our job, our relationship, or our health. And maybe we don't want to face such possibilities. So we slam the door on our dreams even as they grow more vocal and dramatic. Now the dream messenger pursues us in terrifying guises, and we flee from the nightmare - the aborted dream - back into the dream of waking life, mumbling, 'It was only a dream.' What happens in the end is that the issue presented in the dreams will bite us in the throat in waking life.

"...How do we get beyond nightmare fears?

"First, we need to stop running, turn around, and brave up to what is pursuing or threatening us. Start by getting yourself calm and strong enough to ask whatever you fear in the dream, 'Who are you? Why are you pursuing me? What do you have to tell me?'"


Image credit: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Marriage Proposal

My co-worker received a marriage proposal from a complete stranger. I'm not joking.  

The other day, my co-worker Jessica came into work and said, "The funniest thing happened to me in Target." She was looking at art when a man with a thick accent approached her and said, "You're beautiful." She thanked him, and then he asked her to marry him! To seal the request, he handed her a wrinkled piece of paper that was handwritten and photocopied. (How personal is that?) I quote the letter with all grammar and spelling letters intact (although I erased the name and phone number):

Girl She is beauty itself. Me wish it is hard action to know a girl For interrelation, mutual, support, collaborate, contribute Ma name is _____ life lonely singl man apatrment necessity helper. littl speak english. I hope littl problem non at path happiness. (Here he provides his full name and two cell phone numbers). I always try to consult yo ur wishes. enclosure own Letter in envelope and to send appointed address on envelope.

In all my life, I've never heard of such a thing. We all laughed as she related the story, but now I'm not sure if it's funny or tragic. Did he really expect to find a wife or was this an immigration issue? Maybe his visa is about to expire. I suppose we'll never know, mostly because Jessica declined his marriage proposal and ran away.

The opposite side of the paper had a photocopied poem that read: "Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. Loving someone deeply gives you courage." 

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Quiché Language

My recent post regarding the Mayan tuj (sweathouse) has invited other memories from my experience in Guatemala. In particular, I had great hopes of learning to speak one of the Mayan dialects.

My first opportunity to learn a Mayan language came after my transfer to San Bartolo Aguascalientes, in the Department of Totonicapán (Guatemala is divided into several “departments,” which are much like provinces or states). The people of that region speak Quiché, the largest of more than 20 Mayan dialects spoken throughout Guatemala and southern Mexico. In fact, it is estimated that more than 1,000,000 people speak Quiché – one million. This figure does not include the several million people who speak the other indigenous languages of Central America. It is amazing to consider the strength of their language, especially when the Spokane language is threatened with extinction.

The people of San Bartolo patiently entertained my every question regarding the language, but for practical purposes, they mostly spoke to me in Spanish. In hindsight, it was easier for both of us to use a common tongue, but I now recognize this as a critical error. I did not avail myself of the opportunity to immerse myself in the Quiché language; rather I limited myself to learning word lists and memorized phrases.

After two months in San Bartolo, I received a transfer to the tiny village of Choquí, deep in the pine-covered mountains beyond Momostenango. The people in that area also spoke Quiché, but they did not always agree with the phrases I had already learned up to that point. They were adamant that their version of the language was correct, so much that I even witnessed them arguing with people from neighboring villages regarding the proper way to say certain words. And these were not polite disagreements; they were truly angry about the other party using the “wrong” words. Looking back, I laugh to myself as I think that they must have shared enough of the same words to sustain an argument.

Just as they differed in their speech, the people sang different versions of the same hymns. Our area covered three branches of the church, so we often attended religious meetings in each one. They all used the standard LDS hymn book (in Spanish), but they sang without accompaniment, meaning that each congregation developed its own unique melody and tempo. The Spirit of God did not sound the same in Choquí as it did in Patulup. When I was a young missionary, the lack of uniformity made me uncomfortable, but now I appreciate the distinct beauty of each community.

Sadly, I received yet another transfer after only two months. I served the rest of my mission far removed from the Quiché speaking people of Momostenango.

Despite living only four months among the Quiché people, I cherish the words and phrases I did learn. I always smile to remember the traditional Indian women who greeted me as they passed on the streets or the rugged mountain trails. In a characteristic sing-song manner, they stretched the final vowel of each phrase to emphasize their sincerity. “Sacaric taaaaaaaaat. A utz a waaaaaaach?” This translates to English as, “Good morning, sir. How are you?” But a literal translation does not convey the whole meaning. It was their manner of speech that gave a sense of warmth and respect.

Actually, the Spokane and Quiché languages are almost entirely different, and yet both languages use a similar form of vowel extension to communicate sincerity or emotion.

In conclusion, I always remember a little prayer that my friend Jerónimo translated for me:

Nimalaj ka Tat chila’ chicaj, quin maltioxij nu c’aslemal.

It means: “Our most great Father in heaven, I give thanks for my life.”

I did not learn the Quiché language to the degree that I hoped, but these words remain strong within my heart.


Note: The photograph shows the cover of a Quiché lesson book that I bought during my mission. The title of the book is “Idioma Quiché,” by Felipe Rosalío Saquic Calel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Prophecy and Purpose

After writing my previous blog post, Rhonda reminded me that I dreamed of Dakota several years before his birth, and that I wrote those dreams to her in my missionary letters. Thankfully, she saved the letters and shared them again with me.

The first letter was written on July 23, 1991 from the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Among other things, I mentioned:

"I dreamed I was holding a small baby boy in my arms... All I knew was that I was given to take care of him, and the devil kept throwing knives at my baby. But no matter what happened, the devil couldn't hurt my baby boy because he was safely held in my arms."

The second time I dreamed of my future child, I wrote the experience in a letter to Rhonda from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. The letter was dated on April 20, 1992. I wrote:

"Last night I dreamed that I was on the beach at sunrise watching the sad, blue waves come up onto the sand. I was overcome by the sadness of the deep blue water, when I saw a small child come running onto the beach. Somehow seeing that boy gave my heart so much joy. The waves came up to take him away, but I took him into my arms to protect him so that no sadness would come upon him. He had deep eyes, light brown skin, and sandy brown hair. As I held him in my arms, I whispered into his ear, 'My precious child, I love you.'"

As I reflect upon these experiences, I'm amazed to think that I saw my son four years before he was born. But I'm also struck by the recurring theme of protecting him from sadness and danger. Perhaps even then, my soul understood the challenges we would face together. My son has indeed looked into the well of sadness, but with all my heart, I strive to embrace the prophecy of my dreams and shield him from the daggers of life.

He appeared in my dream at least one other time before he was born. Unfortunately, I don't think I kept a journal of my experience, so I have to write about my dream from memory more than a decade after the fact. The dream happened sometime during Rhonda's first trimester of pregnancy. In fact, I think it was before the twelfth week because we had not yet learned the sex of the child. Based on these facts, I estimate the dream must have happened between September and November of 1994.

In my dream, I saw a baby standing on a table. I was surprised because the child was tiny, like a newborn, but there he stood upright like an adult. He even spoke like an adult. I don't remember the full conversation, but he said something like: "I want to let you know that I'm a boy, and I will be your son." He also said, "I want you to know that my name is Edward Dakota Moses." He carefully articulated each syllable of the name, as if to emphasize its great importance. Then he said, "When I'm a child, you'll call me Dakota, but when I'm an adult, you'll call me Edward. Dakota is my childhood name and Edward is my adult name."

Not long after my dream, Rhonda got an ultrasound and confirmed that the baby was a boy.

Dakota's delivery was a long and difficult process, but even then, Dakota's spirit influenced our dreaming. Several days before his birth, my auntie Dena had a dream that my dad told her to follow him. "Hurry up!" he said, "My grandson is about to be born." In her dream, they arrived just in time. She looked up and saw the hands of the clock standing at 10:04.

During the delivery, Dena shared the dream with all the people in the room, including the doctor. It was probably close to 7:00 in the evening, but Dr. Condon remarked, "I suppose it's possible." Rhonda continued to push for the next several hours, and after an exhausting labor, she finally gave birth to our beautiful baby boy. In that moment, I looked over my shoulder to see the clock, just as the hands reached 10:04 pm.

And then just a few years ago, I had a dream that Dakota, my father, and I were walking together on a road. We arrived at a bridge and my father said to me, "You cannot cross this bridge. It belongs to your son."

"Where does it lead?" I asked.

"This is the bridge to adulthood," he said. "You already crossed your bridge, but this one belongs to Dakota. After his 18th birthday, you will have a dinner and a ceremony in his honor where you will put away his childhood name. From that day on, he will have the right to be known in the community as the new Ed Moses."

After so many spiritual experiences, I see my son approaching adulthood and struggling to understand his own value in the world. I suppose every young man passes through some degree of sadness and self-doubt. It's only natural that he would have to discover his own path in life, but I want him to know that he is never alone. I love him with all my heart. The ancestors are guiding him, his family supports him, and all the signs indicate he is a man with a great purpose.

Monday, January 17, 2011


The other day, Dakota came home from church wearing a black suit, a long black overcoat, and a necktie that he somehow managed to fix into a perfect bow. (He says he learned to tie a bow using a regular tie on Youtube). Despite the cold and rain, I insisted that he follow me outside for a picture. In that moment, and many others like it, I found his quirky individuality very delightful. In a way, he reminds me of myself at that age when I used to wear a suit to school, but I was more of a misfit than a trendsetter. Somehow Dakota pulls it off with much more grace and style.

If he could only see himself through my eyes, he would know how he makes me proud.


The "golden hour" occurs approximately an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. The lack of direct sunlight eliminates the extreme contrast of darks and lights, and often casts a warm glow over the world. Some of the most dramatic and breathtaking landscape photography is achieved during that hour.

For a brief moment in time, even the urban decay of old downtown warehouses and boarded up windows becomes like a city paved with golden bricks.

Even this dreary garage door comes alive with warm, fiery tones set against a deep blue sky.

But the golden light fades quickly as one color blends into another and finally falls into darkness.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the Same Space

In the Same Space
by C. P. Cavafy

The setting of houses, cafés, the neighborhood
that I’ve seen and walked through years on end:

I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.

And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


This poem touched a nerve and made me reflect on all the years I have lived in this community. When I was younger, I always longed to immerse myself in far-away cultures and places, where people speak other languages and think different thoughts. Part of me still feels that way, but what would I do without all these familiar streets and the memories of people long since gone?

Friday, January 14, 2011

El Tuj

CNN iReport recently posted a video depicting a Mayan sweathouse in the highlands of Guatemala. This brief video prompted memories of my own experience in Guatemala and inspired me to research some background information regarding the cultural practices of the Mayan people.

My Experience of the Mayan Sweathouse

From 1991 to 1993 I served an LDS mission in the Central American nation of Guatemala. About two months after I arrived, I was assigned to work in a rugged, back-woods area known as Momostenango, where the local people were primarily Mayan. Most of the adult men spoke both Spanish and Quiché, one of several Mayan dialects, but many of the women and the elderly only spoke Quiché.

For two months, I lived and worked in the small town of San Bartolo Aguascalientes, named for its volcanic hot springs.

The people of San Bartolo were very private and reserved. In the local cemetery, I once witnessed a group of indigenous people performing prayers for the dead where they burned copal on the graves and sang in the Quiché language. The spirit of their ritual appealed to me, but when they noticed my presence, they turned their backs and effectively placed a psychic barrier between their prayers and my unwitting intrusion. In hindsight, I appreciate the appropriateness of their actions. I was, after all, an outsider seeking to change their spiritual practices, but as a young man, I was always disappointed that the people largely withheld their beliefs from me.

I first encountered a Mayan sweathouse near the hot springs of San Bartolo. My companion and I were walking down a dirt road when I noticed a small, round structure made of stones and mud. I became animated and excited, as if I had found a long lost friend in a strange and distant land. My companion snapped this picture, but we never got to speak to anyone about it.

A few months later, I was transferred to perhaps the most remote place in the mission; a place called Choquí, at least a two hour hike beyond the last section of paved highway. We lived in a small apartment attached to the LDS church while everyone else lived in small adobe houses with rooftops made of ceramic tile or thatch. In fact, the church was the only modern structure in the town. Even so, we still had no running water, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. We cooked on a Coleman stove and used a gas lantern for our evening reading light. Once a week, the church sent a jeep with two barrels of water, one for me and one for my companion. Those two barrels had to serve all our needs for a full seven days – drinking, cooking, bathing, house cleaning – everything.

Choquí was something of a cultural anomaly. The people were 100% Mayan and almost 100% Mormon. In fact, from the doorstep of our little apartment, I used to look out over the valley and count the Mormon steeples from the neighboring towns. Several miles away stood the LDS chapel in the tiny village of Patulup, and a few miles beyond that was the chapel at Nimtzituj.

The people in that area embraced Mormonism en masse during the late 1970s, but a strong undercurrent of ancient Mayan practices persisted.

We once arrived unannounced at the home of the LDS branch president in one of the neighboring villages. As we entered the main room of the house, the branch president and his counselors, along with many other members of the branch, were all dancing in a circle to the sound of drums, flutes, and deer hoof rattles. Many of the people wore animal masks with antlers on their heads. When the branch president saw us, he raised one hand to stop the music and then spoke directly to us, “Elders, I apologize, but today is my son’s birthday and we are having a little dance in his honor.” I thought it strange that he should ask our forgiveness, but I later learned that the Guatemalan establishment had a long and bloody history of suppressing indigenous practices and persecuting its original people. Perhaps the branch president feared our disapproval as official representatives of the church.

Despite some cause for concern, some of the local members came to trust me.

Every Tuesday night the entire region came alive with campfires, like hundreds of orange flickering stars on the dark hillside. I asked Gerónimo, a 15 year boy who acted as our translator and guide, “Why are there so many fires?”

He paused as if to measure his response, but then he provided a simple answer, “La gente está tujeando.” I was unfamiliar with the verb tujear, and when I questioned him, he explained that tuj is a traditional Mayan sweathouse used for personal bathing. Essentially he created a Spanish verb by combining the Mayan noun tuj with the Spanish verb ending –ar. As I listened to his explanation, I became animated, just as I did in San Bartolo when we first saw the sweathouse by the road. I practically begged him to invite me, but Gerónimo paused again and said, “I’ll talk to my dad.”

Several days later, Gerónimo returned and informed me that his father had invited us to tujear at their home. I was beyond excited for this amazing opportunity.

In many ways, the Mayan tuj we experienced is different from the sweathouses on the Spokane Reservation. For one, the tuj was made entirely of stone and mud. On one side of the structure, they used the same volcanic rocks that we use in Spokane, but they were permanently fixed into the wall. They literally leaned the fire against the outside wall of the house until the inside wall glowed bright red.

The space between the volcanic rocks allowed smoke to fill the sweathouse, so several minutes before we entered, Geronimo’s father Anastasio opened the door and allowed the smoke to escape. Even so, the interior walls remained coated in thick black soot. We stripped down naked, with the exception of a hat that the old man gave us for keeping the ashes out of our hair. Well, one of us got to wear a straw hat and the other had to wear half of a rubber ball in place of a hat. Once inside, Anastasio encouraged us to breathe the hot steam and to strike our skin with bundles of medicinal leaves that he provided.

After several minutes, I explained that my family also uses a form of steam bath where we purify ourselves and pray. I asked, “Do you pray inside the tuj?”

He measured his response and said, “Elder, you’re a missionary. You know that we’re supposed to pray at all times and in all places.”

“But is the tuj a spiritual place?” I pressed.

He paused a moment and answered, “No. We only use the tuj to clean our bodies.”

After the sweat, we went outside and sat under the clear evening moonlight. The family had set up a temporary partition made of blankets and old bed sheets, creating a private outdoor bathing area. As we waited, we were told that someone would soon provide hot water for us to wash away the ashes from our skin.

As a humorous side note to this story, it was Gerónimo’s sister who arrived with a large pail of hot water. I’ll never forget her innocent voice as she said, “Elder, do you want more water?” As missionaries, we had taken the Mormon equivalent of a two-year vow of celibacy, so imagine our shock when this young woman entered unannounced and saw our nakedness. She was not the least bit disturbed, but my companion and I literally dived for cover in a rush to hide ourselves from view.

As I reflect on this experience, I feel fortunate to have participated in the Mayan sweathouse. Even though they said the tuj was not a spiritual practice, I could not help feeling connected to the spirit of that land.  

By the way, I re-checked my mission journal and read that I participated twice in the tuj, once on December 28, 1991 with Elder. B. and once on January 15, 1992 with Elder S. It's odd that this experience made such an impact on me, but I wrote very little. After the first sweat, I simply wrote:

"I sweat today in a tuj. It was cool, but I feel really tired. Well, I went in tired and came out even more so. I'm going to eat and then go straight to bed."

After the second sweat I wrote: "Elder ___. and I went to the Tuj with Jerónimo and the family. It feels so good to come out of there. I feel all clean now."

The only explanation I have for the brevity of my comments is that we got up extremely early and walked between 8 and 10 a day just getting to our various appointments. By the end of the day I was usually quite exhausted. We really had very little time or energy for personal matters like journal-writing or letters.

An Ancient Practice

My reading suggests that the Mesoamerican sweathouse has a lengthy documented history, dating back to the Late Classic period between 600 and 900 C.E. (Ichon). In fact, the 16th century Magliabechiano Codex clearly depicts an Aztec sweathouse, as shown above.

In reality, the practice probably pre-dates the written and archaeological records.

Some researchers suggest that use of the sweathouse is in decline; however, as Cresson says, “the bath is still an important feature in many Native American communities. In the Guatemalan highlands, it goes by a number of terms, of which Quiché tuj is perhaps the best known. Scholars, though, are more likely to refer to them as temazcal, from the Nahuatl term temascalli, ‘a house like an oven where people bathe themselves.’”

By many accounts, the Aztec and Mayan sweathouses had a deep spiritual importance. Archaeologists have uncovered sweathouses in the heart of ceremonial complexes throughout the Aztec and Mayan cultural regions, which would seem to suggest their importance in ritual and spiritual events.

By the 1500s, Aztec communities had already established specific rituals related to the sweathouse. “Magliabechiano describes the elaborate rituals necessary for entering the bath, including the burning of incense and the daubing of black paint over the body in honor of the god Tezcatlipoca. Analogous rituals, including the veneration of the ‘spirit of the steam bath’ usually addressed as ‘mother’ or ‘grandmother’ and possessing both positive and negative qualities are still performed throughout Central Mesoamerica” (Houston).

Despite the assertion of Gerónimo’s family to the contrary, sweathouses are still used as a medicinal and spiritual practice throughout Mexico and Central America. In some places they are used to restore imbalances of the body, to eliminate fevers, and to ‘sweat out’ a variety of illnesses (Cresson).

Sweathouses also have a strong connection to midwives and childbirth. In some communities, women give birth inside the sweathouse as a means of healing the mother, blessing the newborn child, and protecting the community from an imbalance in the powerful spiritual forces associated with pregnancy (Cresson).

Cresson quotes Wagley regarding the relationship between the sweathouse and the Mayan people:

“The afterbirth should be buried in the floor of the sweathouse, which is attached to the family dwelling. There is a belief that the afterbirth continues to be part of the individual.... Each individual should therefore know where his afterbirth was buried. Later, one may be sick and the soothsayer's divinations may indicate that the treatment calls for prayers to be offered in front of the sweathouse in which one was ‘first bathed’ and in which the afterbirth ‘lives’. Thus, when a birth occurs away from home on a trading trip or at a coffee plantation, the afterbirth should be cooked in a clay vessel until it is dry. In this form, it may be carried back to the village and buried in the family sweathouse. ‘The sweathouse will be happy again,’ said Diego Martin, ‘when the family returns with a new child and when there are fires in it again.’ Even after a person is adult, he should return to this same sweat bath from time to time to burn a candle and to pray. According to several of my informants, most people forget to observe this ritual until a crisis forces them to remember.”

But in fairness to Gerónimo and his family, they undoubtedly had good reasons to deny any spiritual component to the sweathouse. On the one hand, they may not have felt comfortable admitting to any pre-Christian practices in the context of Guatemala’s adversarial religious environment of the early 1990s. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the spiritual aspect of the sweat had in fact fallen out of practice in their community. As Cresson wrote, “The therapeutic uses of the sweat house are often accompanied by ritualistic practices adding a certain religious aspect to the whole procedure. Such religious practices, however, have been gradually dying out; the sweat house is now used more simply for cleanliness and its use as a medicinal treatment is becoming more secularized.”

Someday I hope to visit Momostenango again. When I do, I hope to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the spiritual reality of Guatemala's indigenous people.

Works Cited

CNN iReport. "Sweatin it out Mayan style." 11 January 2011. Ed. Tracy Bymoen. Percy von Lipinski and Tracy Bymoen. 11 January 2011 .

Cresson, Frank M. "Maya and Mexican Sweat Houses." American Anthropologist 40.No. 1 (1938): 88-104.

Houston, Stephen D. "Symbolic Sweatbaths of the Maya: Architectural Meaning in the Cross Group at Palenque." Latin American Antiquity 7.No.2 (1996): 132-151.

Ichon, Alain. "A Late Postclassic Sweathouse in the Highlands of Guatemala." American Antiquity 42.No. 2 (1977): 203-209.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lucy Finley

The other day, I found an old negative of a picture I took of Lucy Finley back in the mid-1980s. The story behind the photograph is worth telling.

When I was a kid, I attended most of the annual powwows, especially in Wellpinit and Cusick. Like other kids my age, I enjoyed the powwow food and the carnival games, but I spent most of my time in the wardance arena. Sometimes I danced, but most often I sat in the stands and watched the others. 

That was where I first saw Lucy Finley.

Lucy was a traditional dancer with an amazing style. Some traditional women danced with solemn faces and rigid, almost stylized movements, but Lucy could light the floor with her beaming smile and graceful exuberance. She clearly enjoyed the dance, but more importantly, her movements seemed to blend with the spirit of the drum as her presence filled the room. She always smiled and waved her eagle fan in a broad, sweeping motion, as if to offer a blessing to all who saw her.

Even as a child, I loved to see her dance. One time I asked my yaya Messie, "Who is that woman?"

She smiled and said, "Oh, that's my beautiful lady." For years I never even knew her name. If I mentioned the "Beautiful Lady," everyone in my family understood.

Sometime in the mid-1980s, I saw the Beautiful Lady dancing at the Cusick Powwow on the Kalispel Indian Reservation. In many ways, I was a shy and socially awkward kid, but I really wanted to take her picture. I hesitated and started in her direction a dozen times, only to get embarrassed and turn away. I laugh now to think that I fretted most of the afternoon, but I finally worked up the courage to ask.

After I made my request, she actually stopped smiling and said, "I'm really thirsty. Do you see that stand over there? Go buy me a Coke and we'll talk about that picture."

I immediately did as she said, and a few minutes later, I returned with a cold can of Coca Cola. She opened the top and took several drinks in silence. Finally she said, "OK, I'll let you take my picture, but you have to promise that you'll send me a copy." I agreed and wrote down her name and address on a small piece of paper.

As she posed for the picture, her beautiful, radiant smile returned.

Several weeks later I developed the film and sent a copy of this picture to Lucy's address, and then a few weeks after that, I received a card in the mail. Lucy thanked me and said that she didn't actually expect a young teenage boy to fulfill such a promise.

For many years after that first meeting, Lucy remembered me. She sent me Christmas cards and always hugged me when she saw me at powwows and traditional gatherings. She's gone to the other side now, but I will always cherish her memory.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Music Man Cast List

The Music Man cast list has been published. Dakota is a member of the Quartet, Whitney will play the part of Gracie Shinn, and McKenna is one of the River City Kids. The full cast list can be viewed here.

After waiting on pins and needles, the kids can finally relax. Thank goodness the tension in my house is broken.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Music Man Auditions

The kids auditioned for CYT Spokane's production of Music Man. Dakota and Whitney had call-backs, but no word yet on the casting. The cast list will be announced online here.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My Father's Childhood

Today is my father's birthday. He's been gone for almost seventeen years, but on this day every year, his memory is always my first waking thought. All these years later, a wave of sadness still sweeps over my body, but then I get out of bed and face the day as always. I've learned to adjust and to be happy most of the time, but death takes something both intangible and irretrievable. Some things are never quite the same again.

My dad would have been 63 today. I mentioned this fact to my son and laughed through my tears, "He's not even old enough to retire. How did he leave so soon?"

This evening I called my aunt to see how she's dealing with the anniversary of my father's death. I say "death," but I realize that requires some explanation. He was born on January 5 and died on January 8. These days are like a yearly ritual for me where life and death stand together. What is more, my aunt pointed out that this year, the days of the week are also aligned. Both then and now, January 5 falls on a Wednesday and January 8 falls on a Saturday.

Actually, I should also say that my aunt was my father's first cousin, but she helped to raise him, so she became a second mother. I grew up calling her "Auntie," but now I call her Yaya (Grandma). We reminisced and consoled one another, and then I turned my thoughts toward some happy memory from my father's childhood. I've always wondered what he was like as a child.

I asked if she remembered when my father was born. "Of course I do," she said, "I was there. Well, I didn't go to the hospital, but I remember the day he was born."

The extended family all lived together with my great grandparents Wilson Moses and Lizzie Homer Moses in a little house on Beacon Hill, near Hillyard, Washington. She said in those days, my relatives had their children at home. When the babies were born, the older children had to go upstairs and not interfere with the delivery. She said, "Grandpa (Wilson Moses) never let the kids look at the picture albums, except for when the babies were born. He would give us their picture books and tell us to stay upstairs."

My grandmother Minnie's delivery was different. Yaya said, "I never knew what complications she had, but Grandpa said they had better get her to a hospital."

At first Minnie refused. Wilson said, "It's up to you," but eventually he convinced her to seek outside medical help. Wilson helped her into the car while Lizzie and their daughter Messie drove her to Sacred Heart in Spokane. My father was born less than fifteen minutes after they arrived at the hospital.

"And he was a chubby little baby, even that first day he was born," she laughed.

I asked, "Did he live with the family on Beacon Hill, or did he live someplace else?"

"Oh, he lived with us," she said, "We all lived together in that house."

My uncle Pat was only a year older than my dad, so they basically grew up together. Yaya said, "Ed and Pat were like brothers. They were always together, like two little rug rats." I laughed to hear my father called by that name.

"If they grew up together," I asked, "How come Pat learned to speak Indian and my father didn't?"

She said that her Sile and Yaya used to talk to the kids in Salish, but my dad would always laugh and say, "What? You can't speak English?" If they pressed him on the issue, he would say, "Why do I want to twist my tongue like that?" Wilson just laughed and then spoke to my dad in English.

Yaya Messie said, "Well, he doesn't want to learn, so let him go."

Years later, my dad told a different story. He once told me that his parents never spoke to him in the Indian language because of their traumatic boarding school experience. Well, they really did have some negative experiences in the white man schools, but it’s not exactly true that they refused to teach him. She says that they addressed him in Indian all the time, but he insisted on speaking English. “But he must have understood the language on some level,” she said, “Grandma and Grandpa spoke to him all the time.”

She told many other stories regarding his various misadventures, most of them relating somehow to his "big mouth." She said he was a silly child, "just crazy." But by the end of our conversation, we laughed and felt lighter.

I recently read that grief is a blessing because it reveals what we cherish most. Our tears wash away the bondage of false expectations and help us to know that the essence of those we love is never far away.


This photograph shows my father as a baby with his grandfather Wilson John Moses. It was taken in 1948 or 1949 at their home on Beacon Hill, near Hillyard.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Belated Christmas Card

Christmas break was not very restful, especially considering the funeral. Some things can't be helped, but I think we just crammed too many activities into our vacation. Now that I'm back to work, I realize that I did not send out our family Christmas cards, even after going through all the effort to create them. I hate to see my efforts wasted, so I'll post the picture we took for our family Christms card.

Happy belated Christmas, from our family to your's!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year Sunset

The first sunset of the new year deserves its own post.

Brutal Cold

After our most recent snowstorm, the clouds soon parted and revealed a magnificent winter sun amid the flawless blue sky. But the absence of cloud cover has plunged the temperature well below freezing. The daytime high hovers in the single digits, while the nighttime low falls well below zero. The cold is both brutal and beautiful.

New Year's Eve

My family spent the last night of 2010 with Rhonda's extended family, playing card games, and of course, eating way too much food. Laughing with family is a wonderful way to start the new year.


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