The official festivities of the Barona Pow Wow are over, but I lay here in the middle of the night listening to the true soul and spirit of the Native Americans who have gathered together this past Labor Day weekend. Out of the public eye, we listen to the beating drums while men and women sing in harmony to wordless songs, but telling of a strong and emotional story.
I have always admired the Native American culture. My interest started during my college days when a former boyfriend had family in New Mexico and I went out to visit. I later went on a solo research excursion for my Cultural Anthropology class to the San Ildefonso and Santa Clara Pueblos, located north of Santa Fe. There, I was welcomed to view private collections of galleries, local homes, a high school basketball game, dinner, and introduced as if I was one of their cousins. Those heartfelt moments inspired me to begin collecting black pottery as mementos of time spent with them. I chose black pottery because I liked the look of the black on black designs as it was popularized by Maria Martinez who was from San Ildefonso, and who had learned techniques from the Tafoya family of the Santa Clara Pueblo.
Thus, attending a Pow Wow was on my 50 Weeks list. The Barona Reservation hosts a yearly Pow Wow on Labor Day weekend, and they offer free admission and camping. How welcoming they are to visitors. It was definitely time to visit a Pow Wow.
The day didn’t start off so great…it was actually horrible. As Richard and I begin the trek to the Barona Reservation for the Pow Wow, we first hit construction traffic near my house, which was a big pain in the you know where. Really, construction on a holiday weekend, really? Then as we leave the bank ATM, our exit was blocked by a delivery truck, and no driver seemed to be around. Finally, the truck was moved. Thankfully we are on the freeway headed east. Besides the escalating heat, everything seemed fine now. We get to the pow wow (the baseball fields) and the locate the campsites — basically any spot amongst the eucalyptus trees. We find a nice cozy area with shade and start to unpack and put the tent together. The tent was borrowed from a friend, and as we try to sort out the pieces, we realize the main tent itself was missing. Are you kidding? Now what? Richard decides that we will go north to Ramona, buy a tent and return. Okay. So we head on to Ramona, on some scenic roads that I had never driven on, find a Kmart and buy a tent for $25.
These things happen in threes right, so hopefully that is it. We quickly regain our campsite, and put up the tent. In hindsight, buying a new tent was a better choice, as the borrowed one looked very complicated. Tent in place, we then decide to head on over to the Pow Wow and see what’s going on. First thing we see are all the merchandise vendors; later. We head on over to the food vendors and I get a much needed ice cold lemonade, and Richard inhales an overloaded chili cheese dog. (I’m going to start calling him Hoover.)
We sit under one of the humongous white tents, plopping down in the middle of all the other saved chairs. We can’t tell if the areas are reserved for certain groups, but oh well, I guess we will sit until someone tells us to leave. There is some Gourd Dancing contests going on, primarily with the younger age groups. We notice there are two groups of drummers, the center drum circle which look to be elder types and experienced, and the outer drum circle, which seemed younger and more energetic.
But we are still so hot and miserable from what transpired earlier, I contact my friend Rosey, who coincidentally is staying at the Barona Resort down the road. We leave the Pow Wow to meet her, and as soon as we walk into the Casino, greeters hand us lemonade, such a nice touch. I like this place already. Rosey finds us, gives us a quick tour and hands us a keycard for the pool area. We cool down in the pool, and relax on the shaded chaise loungers. And to top it off, she gives us two buffet vouchers. Rosey, you are a lifesaver!
Once refreshed at the pool, and bellies filled, it was time to return to the Pow Wow for the main events. Another friend, Lisa-Marie, had decided to go to the Pow Wow with her husband Jimmy and their sons. We meet them in the grandstands just in time for more Gourd Dancing and the Grand Entry. It’s really quite an amazing sight. Men, women and children enter the center one by one dressed in full finery, while the drums continue to be played. Some in feathers, other with metal decorations. Some in buckskin, others in soft cottons. The colorful parade continues with one person after another entering, creating a spiral formation. The younger males with the double feathered regalia are the ones doing the fancy dancing, twisting, turning, leaping — what energy they have and they keep going and going like Energizer bunnies.
Eventually a break is taken for the Pow Wow blessing, honoring those who have traveled far and near, and keeping in mind those who have served our country and who are still serving our country. For a group of people whose lands were taken over through bloody force, Native Americans are very patriotic and feel a strong connection to our country. Various dignitaries are introduced and more drumming and dancing. It was also pointed out to us that the Barona tribal chairman was sitting there amongst the crowd in a black shirt and jeans, just one of the guys.
We decide to hit the vendors and check out the goods. Lots of interesting things: thin-skinned drums, hand carved wooden flutes, animal skins, rugs, ponchos, tons of jewelry, pottery, dream catchers. My favorite booth was the one from The Indian Store of Vista which housed all sorts of things like the skins, books, costume items, medicinal herbs, everything.
After looking at every single booth, listening to and watching more drumming and dancing (I do wish they had some sort of official program, because I couldn’t understand a word being said through their speaker system), we decide to turn in. From the campsite, we can hear the Pow Wow continuing, but little did we know that our true adventure would be experienced right in the privacy of our tent. (Oh, I know you reader #9, get your mind out of the gutter!)
Many Pow Wow participants are staying overnight in the campgrounds and have gathered together out of the public eye to reconnect with friends and family. They come to Barona year after year, continuing the tradition of the Pow Wow. And like most cultures, any gathering is a good reason to celebrate. (My own Filipino culture loves to honor every saint with a fiesta.) Well, those that hitched up their tents in the campsite came to party!
Just when it seemed that it was silent enough where I could hear the stars twinkle, the drumming begins. Then the singers join. Are you kidding me? Aren’t they tired? The Pow Wow has been going all day, and festivities start again the next afternoon. Don’t they know we are trying to sleep in here? Ugh…hmm…the music is actually…quite beautiful.
The drumming, the singing, the passion. You can hear it in their voices. The soul of the men and the heart of the women singing of vocables (no actual words) combine to provide those around with a glimpse into the rawness of their spirit.
I close my eyes and dreamily listen. I dare not walk outside to physically intrude, but I am trespassing on their impromptu private moments. I imagine them all gathered around the in-ground fire pit we had seen dug up earlier in the night, with boiling pots steaming on top of a metal grill. One by one the camp dwellers walk on over, each adding their individual vocal talent to the operatic menu. The drumming, the singing, the passion continues, and I admit, I don’t want them to stop. But after a final crescendo, they do stop…for a moment.
The laughter begins. Okay, yes they were probably drinking some adult beverages, but these type of gatherings are meant for such activities. Again, I felt somewhat of an intruder, listening in on their conversations. I dared not leave the tent, but rather I observe with my ears. I learn to enjoy the sing song laughter of the women after a good joke, the choruses of their ayes. And boy did we pick the location alright, as we can hear several camp parties forming all around us. I did have to get up and pee, and yes indeed, I see that all around us were groups standing, sitting here and there, enjoying the company of friends new and old. Secrets were shared, and egos were boastful. I wonder if they knew someone was listening in on their private moments. I’m not a gossip columnist, really.
Before you know it, someone starts singing, and again, one by one others walk over and join in, like a flash mob. The drumming, the singing, the passion continues all night…and into the morning…5:00 am to be exact.
Yes, it did bother me at first, but I soon felt privileged to experience this true view of the people of the Pow Wow. Pow Wows are meant for Native Americans to gather, and the campsite lets them do just that, away from the public eye of those that want to experience culture for the a couple hours. To capture the depth of another culture is truly a gift, and I felt we were given a gift that night. And it wasn’t only me, Richard felt the same way commenting that they are the “happiest people I’ve ever run into” and that “everyone needs to go to a Pow Wow just to forget about our materialistic society.” Ditto.
The impromptu gathering brought out their naked souls and gave them all true joy. Hearing and feeling their emotions made the bad start to our trip worth it. I would gladly camp amongst the Native Americans again, next time I will crawl out of our tent and try to sing along…wait, with my voice, drumming may be more neighborly.
Barona Indian Reservation is located outside of Lakeside. The Pow Wow is usually held over Labor Day weekend, and 2015 will mark the 45th annual celebration. www.barona-nsn.gov
The reservation also has a museum that provides insights into Barona’s history and the Kumeyaay-San Diegueno culture. www.baronamuseum.org
The Barona Resort and Casino is an excellent place to stay for both an adult getaway or for family excursions. Besides the casino, there is a pool, day spa, golf course, and lots of dining options. Make sure to join Club Barona for discounts and free offers. www.barona.com
For more info about Pow Wows throughout the United States, go to www.powwows.com.