Yellow Moon, stood in the arena and eyed the sacred tree. It’s colorful paintings and images of the buffalo and other trinkets attested to a pending ceremony. Warriors, dressed as the wooly beasts that sustained the tribes, gathered for a final buffalo dance to herald the piercing of children’s ears. Yellow Moon wasn’t sure of the reason, but considered it some sort of initiation into the tribe.
While dancing and piercings took place, a runner was sent to summon the Sun Dancers from their lodges where they fasted and meditated.
Very few of the children even muttered a sound as holes were put into each ear lobe. Taught from birth that silence could save their lives, their bravery was a testimony of their mother’s patience and love. Would she be a good mother?
Yellow Moon turned to the girl next to her. “Are you as happy as I am that women are excused from having to perform the Sun Dance?”
“Why is that?” The young woman asked.
“Are you Lakota?” Inquisitiveness cocked Yellow Moon’s head.
“I am Falling Snow of the Dakota.”
“Oh. Then you also follow Sioux belief that childbirth is even more painful than the levels experienced during the Sun Dance. That is the reason we are excused.” She looked back to the dancers and than back to Falling Snow. “I have seen many births in the women’s hut. Have you?”
The young woman shook her head, her gaze focused on the line of children. “There is my brother.” She pointed out a boy who appeared to be around ten summers, then waved and smiled.
“He looks very brave. I hope I can be when my time comes to give birth. Although I want many children, I do not look forward to squatting over a trough in the ground while grasping a pole to help me expel my baby.”
Falling Snow’s nose crinkled. “I have heard the cries of many families who have lost a beloved wife and mother to birthing a child. The thought scares me.” The girl’s throat wobbled with a hard swallow of remembrance.
“I too, have heard those cries, and watched firsthand during my monthly time, while mothers and babies were called home by the Great Spirit. We can only pray we are one of the lucky ones when our time comes to be called Ina.”
Falling Snow nodded. “Do you have a husband?”
“I have been promised to Thunder Eyes of the Santee. He will dance today.”
The piercings ended and their conversation cut short when the Sun Dancers entered the arena. Their painted bodies displayed the expected myriad of colors and symbols, and they followed two holy men to a bed of sage beneath the tree. Those to be skewered lay upon the aromatic herbs while those who chose only to dance or have minor pain inflicted stood to the side. Her gaze roamed the faces of those standing, looking for someone who resembled Thunder Eyes. No one came close to looking as handsome.
She shifted her gaze to Thunder Eyes, who lay unflinching, while staring in thought and concentration. Pride swelled Yellow Moon’s heart. Was this what Ina felt at hearing her daughter’s name called?
Yellow Moon turned away and picked up a sage wreath with two spiked feathers attached. She purposely averted her gaze when the holy man knelt to make incisions in her intended’s chest. She looked back in time to see an awl drawn through the cuts, a wooden peg inserted through the gaping skin to which a rawhide rope, symbolizing an umbilical cord was attached. She gnashed her teeth for his pain. Tethered to the tree, Thunder Eyes was to dance while staring at the sun until his skin tore free. How, she wondered, could childbirth hurt more?
With blood trickling down his chest, but his face still stoic and emotionless, Thunder Eyes was helped to his feet. Yellow Moon, as instructed previously, stepped forward and placed the sage wreath upon his head. “You are so brave,” she whispered.
He gave no indication he’d heard, and adjusted his head adornment.
As the dance began, the sound of bone whistles filled the air. Thunder Eyes, and the others connected to the Cottonwood approached the tree four times, and with each forward movement, touched the wood with their palms. Yellow Moon joined the tribal prayers chanted by all to send strength and valor to the tree so those traits passed through to the participants with each contact they made.
The dance seemed endless. Only Thunder Eyes remained upright. Other’s had torn away their flesh and fallen to the ground, still others had passed out from pain. Those who chose to make less of a sacrifice danced to the side, their movements barely noticed by the crowd as most eyes focused on the skewers that tugged at Thunder Eyes’ chest. His face remained impassionate and his mood, focused.
His body slanted away from the tree while blood seeped from his wounds, and the rawhide pulling his flesh into peaks made Yellow Moon wince. His face to the sky, Thunder Eyes’ eagle-bone whistle sounded with each move he made. Was blowing the instrument his way of dealing with the pain?
The sun had moved to the other side of the sky when he finally fell to his knees in exhaustion. He quickly struggled to his feet and continued his dance, but only for a short time before the sound of tearing skin replaced his constant whistle. Fresh red ran from his wounds, but the pleased look on his face denied any pain. The Sun Dance was over, and Yellow Moon gazed with admiration and respect at her soon-to-be husband before he disappeared into the throngs of people who rushed forward to reward and congratulate him and the others.
Published by Books We Love and available on Amazon.