A spiritual matter

Published 6:44 pm Friday, August 21, 2009

I don’t get to go out on location very much working here at the Suffolk News-Herald. But every now and then, I get out with the reporting staff to take some photos while they talk to the good people of Suffolk. This past Saturday, I accompanied Tracy Agnew to the Powwow in Chuckatuck to take some photos. Also, I’d never been to a Powwow before, and I was more than a little curious.

I’ve been told my grandfather was half American Indian. I like to call this a “family fact,” in that it’s simply what I was told, and I never got to meet my grandfather to confirm it. In my less-than-aggressive efforts to trace my own background, I have discovered, through websites like ancestry.com, that my ancestry is likely to be influenced by American Indian culture, leading all the way to the tribe that Ahoskie, N.C., got its original name, Ahotskey. So I thought it was cool that a photo project might also offer insight on some of my own roots.

As I stepped through the entry of the powwow with the hot sun beaming down upon me, I was promptly treated to a dancing demonstration in the sacred circle. I could feel the ground being rhythmically thumped by everything from the moccasins of the elders on down to the Reeboks of the few young warriors in attendance.

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I started to soak in the spirit of the day, snapping photo after photo. I continued to shoot through the men’s dance, the women’s dance and the candy dance, in which children were lead into the sacred circle to pick up candy whenever the music stopped. All of the dances were led by addictive drumbeats.

Of course, no event is complete for a robust fellow like myself, unless I sample the food. But I have a strict rule not to overeat, or eat at all, when I’m shooting photos. So I did what I like to call waft-tasting. The smell of burgers, hot dogs and barbecue, mixed with the undeniable aromas of buffalo meat and fry bread were almost enough to fill my belly. (Though not entirely, I did have one hot dog.)

By days’ end, my shirt was drenched with sweat, my camera card was filled with colorful images, and my horizons were broadened. And whether the facts about my heritage are true or not — as many of those truths have long since been buried with my dear grandmother and mother — I had a great time with the Nansemonds and those in attendance at the powwow.

What I was treated to was a peaceful and spirited reunion — the sights, sounds and smells of which will not be soon forgotten.

It was nice to see and photograph people connecting, or reconnecting, with something at their core. It was a rare and spiritual experience, filled with fun, tradition and food. And those are things on which I think every one, not just the American Indian, lives, loves, and survives.