All Night Wake

“To grieve and pay homage for the disruption of our Ancestral Burial Sites”.

The Kumeyaay tribes hosted an all night wake in the shadow of the rock formation I’ve alternately heard called the spoke wheel or the medicine wheel.

I cannot adequately put the event into words. My group took the evening hours to absorb the cultural event around us as best we could. We asked people to describe the dancing and the peon games and the spiritual meaning of the event – do we meditate, pray, ponder the life of the deceased? This was a rare opportunity for us and I wanted to make sure the staff was present in truest sense of the word, and able to really appreciate what was happening around us.

In the twilight hours things grew quiet so we took the opportunity to do some star gazing. The Milky Way ran brillant and nebulous across the sky and before we knew it, the dark faded to early morning.

As the attendees started to wake from their nighttime revere, I asked an elder the meaning of the spoke wheel. This adequately passed the time until sunrise when the dancing would resume. He recounted a long story for us which I have not yet asked permission to pass on so I cannot recount it here, but it stole our hearts.

As the first rays of sun kissed the mountain ranges surrounding us and turned everything into pale pinks and soft yellows, the attendees who had made it through the night were invited to participate in the last dance. I do not know the words that were spoken, but the dancing when on long enough that even the beginners had time to acclimate to the movements, and by the end we moved as one.

“This night has bonded us”, the elder had finished his story. “We are all in this together.”


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