Friday, January 18, 2008

Meeting the Fox People

(There is only one place missing from my unofficial and random Top 3 list; I think it would be this one. I really don't like setting an order between them. But I'm sure that if someone asked me "And what did you do over the winter break?" I'd say something like "Oh, LOTS of things. I stayed with a very nice family; they took me to all kinds of interesting places, it was so much fun! We even visited an Indian reservation..." And so it was.)

I always knew I just can't leave the US without visiting at least one Indian reservation. If I had to choose my favorite folktales, Native American stories would be among them... and I was just curious beyond measure. More than ever, after hearing Dovie Thomason and Gene Tagaban at the National Storytelling Festival. I wanted to know more about the First People, because I know that what I know now is close to nothing (except for the stories, of course. My latest favorite is Coyote and the Anthropologist, because it's so true... out dear Coyote's bringing down the folklore department... tricksters tricksters tricksters). Gail, of course, soon got to know all my interests, and she came up with another surprise.
Trickster Tales in the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Do I have to say more?...
(They call themselves the Fox People. Now isn't that just cool?:)
The first thing you see at the reservation is the casino. Because it's just HUGE. According to Gail, it looks like the Emerald City - she has a point. It's definitely bigger than the royal palace at home (nope, we don't have kings anymore in case you wondered...:). I'm not really interested in casinos (and the only form of shopping I pursue is shopping for books), so we just passed it on our way, huge, shiny, modern, fancy, great, so much about the casino.
The rest of the reservation was quiet, the sky was gray, the weather was dull, and it was half-raining, with patches of fog between the pine trees. The woods were deep and green-and-brown, smelled like pine needles and rain. It must have been such a wonderful place before the roads and... well, white people and modern stuff (and the casino. Okay, I admit it, I hate casinos, sorry) (random humming "Hate is a strong word, but I really really don't like...") (no worries, sometimes I just start thinking in lyrics out of the blue, you'll get used to it...)
The museum itself was much more quiet (surprise surprise), a nice modern building with glass walls and a tower. And the exhibition itself... whoa.
They told us it usually takes 3-5 hours for an average visitor to go through the whole exhibition (if he doesn't stop to read everything word by word). We somehow jogged through it in 2; we just didn't want to miss the storytelling...
First we had to go downstairs, back to the Ice Age, with white and dripping walls and all kinds of wild animals (huge wolves, yay:), and a reindeer hunt scene in the middle of the hall. Scientific or not, I decided I love dioramas (we have very few of them at home; museum people think they are not... professional... or whatever... enough.) I did not have the time to read all the info, but I couldn't miss touching everything that was there to touch, stone weapons, furs, everything. They did a very good job on the natural background too. And then there was that place where stone age tools and weapons were in pairs with their modern equivalents - fun fun fun. Goes on the list of good ideas (preparing for next semester's Museum Exhibition course, hah).
And then (and then, and then, and then... I could go on like this for days, insert 5-year-old me hopping on one leg up and down cheerfully...) there was the best part of the whole exhibition: in a big hall they set up a full Pequot village, with wigwams and a lake and a small fort and people all around (they looked like they would start moving any moment; very realistic). There were huge trees and animals and... really, everything. People eating, fishing, making tools, sleeping, tending the crops, women weaving, shaman healing... it made it so easy to imagine how life went back in those times. And even though I am not familiar with Native history, I saw lots of familiar things (ghosts of long past Prehistory classes came back to haunt me... not that I mind, professor, really ;) It was one of those walking back in time experiences which make the heart of a storyteller beat faster (and make her grin like crazy). They did an excellent job with the diorama, and the additional rooms of further information, the videos, the computers where one could listen to the Native languages (oh my god, those sounds... and I thought Hungarians were cool with the gy and the ű...) and of course, all the artifacts.
I think mortals like me have to go back there more than once just to go through the whole thing (or at least spend a full day in the museum). It's really, really worth it.
They even have a movie about the Pequot war, if it was longer it could be a "real movie", I mean, played in theaters. It's bloody and cruel and... well, history. "And then white people came." Not many cheerful stories start with this sentence... I was somewhat shocked to learn that the Mohegans of Granny Squannit sided with the English. The whole war started out as a personal offense, and ended with a nasty massacre... the movie was great, Native people spoke their language, the actors did well, the costumes were nice, and the main character... well, he had a beautiful face;) All in all they did a great job with it too, just like with the rest of the museum (which is now officially one of the places I would like to show to some people at home: "Now this is how it should be done.")
And we made it back to the main hall just in time for the storytelling.
The guest teller that day was Johnny Moses (his traditional name is - Walking Medicine Robe); a fragile small man with a cheerful smile and face and gestures that can show you anything in a story. The program promised us tricksters, and tricksters we did get - he was one himself, for a start. He was funny and lively, and so were his stories; Coyote vs the great rock, and Octopus Woman vs Crow, and Ant vs Bear, and the kids all just loved them all (especially the gross parts - oh yes, every trickster tale has a gross part... at least one;). He speaks lots of languages, it was so much fun to hear him talk... well, he is a real storyteller, heart and soul and all. I realized again that I have so much to learn...
And of course I couldn't leave the museum without buying some small stuff for my Story Bag (a shell; an obsidian arrowhead; a small stone with the sing of the Otter, my other favorite animal next to the butterfly).
Before we left, we went up to the tower to look around - unfortunately the weather decided to get worse, and there was a heavy fog hanging above the woods and the hills, so even though with windows all around, it was like standing in an empty room with white walls... which of course did not keep me from pressing my nose against the glass and staring at the deep green ghosts of the trees below.

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