Toraja funeral casket with StarMaiden Symbol (Celebes, Indonesia)
Following is an excerpt from ‘Surcadia’. It is a fictitious letter written to the hero in the novel but everything in it is true and as it happened to me and was told to me. It explains how I first was drawn into the Native path and how I came to know my first ‘Star Maiden’ story.
The novel takes place in the present in a world imagined as if a certain young black senator had been assassinated and never became president. Instead the forces on the extreme right take over and people everywhere are being imprisoned and harassed for their non-Christian beliefs. Here, the hero’s father writes her from a prison deep within the Black Hills…
Forgive my penmanship and my poor stationery. The somewhat gruesome ink is only because I have the pleasure of receiving insulin three times a day and I am able to retrieve a little blood each time to make ink to fill my pen made also made with a syringe. I hope you are well and happy and I hope that this comes to you at an opportune time. I must tell you before anything else that I am writing this from a prison somewhere unknown and that, if I am alive, I will have been here for several years.
It is possible that I am dead as they have no desire to give me a trial or release me. Some of my cellmates are from G’tmo and have been held for at least five years with no charges or trial. Most have been executed. If this is my fate, I have left instructions to send this to you along with a certain important package. If you get this you must hide it well or even burn it. The package is why I am being held and ‘questioned’ every day.
I cannot expect you to read this without saying and knowing that this letter should be about how much I love you, miss you and how sorry I am for leaving you yet again. When you were five it was because of a broken heart; now it seems to be because of a broken dream. There is always a reason and never an excuse. Please forgive me.
It should be about all of that but please know that my explanation and plea to you is filled with love and hope but even more so for your future and our cause. I was arrested several weeks before the passage of the ‘One Nation Act’ and have been held here without explanation, charges or trial. I cannot risk explanations that might implicate our friends or me or let them know who we are but I am sure you and Googie can figure it out.
The address on the box will tell you what to do if you decide not to do this and if it is money that you really need then I would understand if you sold the coral box. It is a handmade coral box originally made as a sort of spiritual time capsule. It was buried under a small tree that was planted in a point on the map named after your dog.
Buddhist Monks buried it there along with the first tree. The somewhat unbelievable date was 1491 and it can be dated and proved by opening the resin ball hidden in the base under the seal and dating it along with checking the DNA of the area trees where it was hidden. There are none like them anywhere in this country.
The coral and the dragons were supposed to ward off bad witches and the Muslim Junk Fleet captain also scratched his name in the bottom along with a curse. Not only am I suggesting that the Chinese discovered America but something and some place even more important. I cannot tell you where or why but it is imperative that you find it and that you discover why I am being held here.
Before you were born I was a union president and organizer. One day a fellow organizer from a sister union asked me to accompany him down to Kalamazoo. We lived in Michigan. Thinking it was some union thing; I went with him.
Just before we got to Kazoo we inexplicably turned west, went off-road and were soon in the woods. We drove down a long two track and soon we were driving on long unrutted grass. I asked Roger where we were going and he just smiled his inscrutable Ojibwe Indian smile and handed me a cigarette.
We approached a clearing where a long pine bough and bent sapling building had been erected and there were probably a hundred people gathered around and a giant fire was roaring near a smaller building just like the first but much smaller. So small that it seemed too small to stand in.
It was. The effect was of a giant mother and baby bear sleeping by a fire.
We got out as a half-dozen men approached us who appeared to be Native. Even the blued eyed ones had that look, attitude and posture that I would soon recognize united the Anishnabe people of the area. Ojibwe, Pottawatami and Odawa were of different stock but united by two things; their religion and that look. You couldn’t tell if they were going to laugh with or kill you.
I began to learn this and more that day as the oldest man came forward and introduced himself as George. Everyone called him GrandPa and he seemed to be in charge. He must have been eighty but he seemed much younger than even the young black haired men that surrounded him. He seemed unusually happy and quite ‘scrutable’ if that is a word and, if that look and attitude defined that, than he must have invented it.
He held out his arm and took my forearm, pulling my whole body to his. He was quite strong and I felt as if he were talking directly in my ear.
“B’jou an’ Miigwetch – Thank you for coming. I have been waiting for you. Come to the longhouse so that we can talk. Have you brought some shorts? It gets awful hot in there.” He gestured to the little round building by the roaring fire.
Roger looked rather sheepish at GrandPa and then he looked at me. “GrandPa, er… I didn’t tell him that part…” GrandPa stopped. We all stopped. He grinned again, “Or any part.”
GrandPa laughed. “Roger Dodger.” He laughed again. “How you gonna lead your union army if you’re a chicken shit warrior?”
“It’s not an army GrandPa. I keep telling you.”
“ And I keep telling you that’s why you’re losing the war.”
GrandPa looked at me. “My apologies for my nephew. That is not our way. He’ll drive you back if you don’t want to be here but I asked him to invite you to sweat with us.”
I was taken aback. I wasn’t very religious and I told him so. Quite the opposite. No offense to his gods.
He laughed his grunting laugh again. “None taken. Don’t have to believe to sweat. Not like baptism. More like bein’ born in'it? Its just natural ‘cept they want us to wear shorts now. Ain’t no women sweatin’ tonight so we could go nuders like the old folk… hmmm... Guess not. What
are you? About a thirty four, thirty six?”
I don’t remember actually agreeing to sweat. I just seemed to be swept into the longhouse and was putting on cutoff jeans before I knew it. I was watching Grandpa quietly direct the fire-keepers as the sun was setting and the fire was crackling towers of sparks into the new night and I realized that I was staying for reasons that were not just politeness. As they put the last wood on the white hot round rocks, we lined up to go in.
I went in last and was sitting by the little door as Grandpa pulled the flap down and it got incredibly dark. The rocks that had just been piled in by using deer antlers as tongs glowed an eerie red and the place smelled of cedar, sage and the burnt hair smell of the antlers used to move the hot rocks.
I was not a religious or even a spiritual man then but I felt oddly and totally at home there sitting in the dark steamy lodge. GrandPa sang in a loud clear voice and then he prayed for each man in the lodge as if they had given him a list or as if he knew each of them intimately. Then he prayed for me as if I had also given my list and then he prayed for the great ‘union’ army.
He opened the flap and asked for more rocks and then, when the flaps were closed again and the water had been poured on the hissing rocks, he spoke again.
“This is a special day. Our brother Theo is here. My nephew Roger brung him and I’ve been waiting over forty years to tell this story. Back in ’44 I was stationed in Guam during the Big One and I got a three day pass to go down to Australia or Bali for a leave. We got pinned down by pirates off an island called Celebes.
These were Bugis pirates. These were the guys the sailors used to call the boogeymen. That’s where that word came from and they didn’t give a rats ass about the war or what side we were on. They wanted our boat, gas and rations and then they stranded us on a volcano island.
Spent six month there and that’s where an old medicine man from down there told me this story. I told him about how we Anishnabs came from the StarMaiden and he told me this story. Said I would find one of his people one day and the story would carry him home just as sure as my story would take me back home.
He said the seven sisters came down from the stars every so often to bathe in the waters of a lake at the top of the volcano, which was on the very island we were on. One day they came down and, they didn’t know it, but a great prince had been exiled there by his father so that his younger brother could be the king.
The prince saw the women fly down from the stars holding open their sarongs like wings just like our butterfly shawls only prettier. They flew down, folded their sarongs and bathed nuders in the water. They didn’t have water where they were from.
The prince spied as they bathed and as he did he fell in love with the youngest one. He was afraid they would leave so he came up with a plan. He would steal their sarongs and then they couldn’t fly away.
When they came out of the water they looked for their sarongs. That’s their skirts. The sisters laughed when they saw his footprints were they had left their sarongs. They followed the footprints and they surrounded him and surprised him as he hid sitting on their sarongs. They demanded their
sarongs and he apologized saying he just wanted to meet them, especially the youngest one.
He gave each of them their sarongs and he begged them to stay telling them his sad story. They told him they had to leave as they were only allowed to be there for thirteen moons altogether and they had to save their time.
By now it was obvious that the youngest had also fallen in love and she begged her sisters to give up their moons so that she could stay at least thirteen moons. The sisters all loved the youngest one and they agreed but warned her that eventually she would have to leave and come home and could never come back.
She didn’t care and they fell in love and soon they had a son. Too soon after that it was the thirteenth moon and she had to leave both the prince and her son.
On the day she was to go back she kneeled on the place where they had met and drew a picture in the sand that looks like our starwater lily:
She told her prince that if he could decode the symbol that he could find her. If not, then her son would get a new symbol and so on when each new king died and when the last king died without an heir all of the symbols would come together and in that generation all would go home to the seventh sister.
Generations and kings went by and soon the Whiteman came and took away the prince’s religion. For, you see, the natives, like us, had been given the pipe. They had been using it to bring together and decode the symbols and now those ways had been forgotten, forsaken or killed.
One day many ships arrived and the people were forced to fill it with all of the treasures of the island. You see the Whiteman had had a war between themselves for fifty years in a far off land called New Amsterdam. They signed a peace treaty and they agreed that the English would own
New Amsterdam and they renamed it New York. In exchange, the Dutch would get Celebes and they would fill twenty some boats with all of the spices and trees and coconuts of the islands and two-thousand slaves and they would turn New York into a tropical paradise.
The plan failed. The seeds and trees refused to grow in the cold Manhattan Island the Dutch had purchased for a few trinkets and the slaves never made it ashore. Seems they all decided to go to the next life rather than live in New York.
The one thing that did not fail was the plan of a medicine man that had filled the boat with strong twists of sacred black tobacco in hopes that they would be recognized and the way of the pipe would return so the symbols could be decoded. The English and the Dutch loathed the burnt tasting new tobacco and traded it to the French who brought it west where it came just in time for White Buffalo Calf woman who had just brought the sacred Pipe to our ‘friends’ the Lakota. It is this tobacco that they smoked and, in the words of their prophecies, they will return to their StarMaiden when the twentieth pipe-holder is named. In our tradition we will go home when we remember the way of the lodge and our seventh fire prophecy says that a new people will be born but the old people will have fallen asleep.
I tell this story for you because you will carry the pipe back to your people; you will put the symbols together. I tell this because you will bring this story to our former enemies, the Lakota and they will give you their pipe as well. They will tell you their story and you will see we are all one.
You will be Anishnabe and Mide because your ancestor saved my life. I will now save yours. I do this not for you but for your daughter and my daughter for they are the new ones and we have truly fallen asleep. Awanestika!
And with this, my first sweat lodge was over. I was an agnostic radical political artist with two small babies and a mortgage and I didn’t have time for this weird stuff. Within five years, I was living in the Black Hills of South Dakota and you were born. I was taught and given the pipes of both the Anishnabe in Michigan, the Lakota out West, Eastern Cherokee and a few out west I won’t name. I wish I could tell you that story and maybe your mother has, though I doubt it.
The Lakota named you Deep Blue Water Cloud Woman because you were born by the big rock that had the mysterious picture of the whale. They said you would touch the ocean and look into mirror of the deep blue water and remember yourself.
The twentieth pipe holder may be named by the time you receive this, the last king of Toraja was born without an heir in 1979 and the ‘new people’ are the ones like you are who started popping up after the Summer of Love. The old people have fallen asleep but not all and they left behind enough clues to take you there.
I cannot tell you I love you enough or how sorry I am. All I offer you is the same danger that put me here and may have killed me. If this is not your destiny, then forgive a crazy old man and sell the box, change your name and hide. If I am not wrong and this is your destiny than this is the best I can offer for you and our planet. I hope it is enough.
I love you to infinity and beyond –Dad”
Over the years I have collected many more StarMaiden stories and, I believe, a pattern emerges. They all say that we will return someday to the Pleiades. That there are symbols to be deciphered. That the world will reach some sort of turning point (again) and that it will be the children who are our hope.
Like our Ghost Dance discussion, I dont really think that we will be heading back to the Pleiades soon but to a state that that image represents. Like the Garden of Eden or the Buffaloes return it is a metaphor for peace and abundance. In most cultires, the appearnce of the Seven Sisters always signaled the beginning of Spring or a new era.
Like Spring, I hope to see it soon...