The Colors Ran: Yellow
The Burden Basket.
At the time of the fall solstice, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), my Great Great Grandmother Howesha Mkwa ‘Cora’ would take down the burden basket that hung beside the mezuzah. The basket was one that she had made from vines she’d collected as a young woman. At this time of the year, the basket was filled with leaves, wilted flowers, and many little pieces of paper and bark that had been written upon. Everyone in the family had contributed to it’s filling over the year. Great Great Grandmother Howesha Mkwa ‘Cora’ would hand carry the basket out the front door where she would hand it to Great Grandmother Howesha Mkwa ‘Belle’ who would carry it around the house to the back yard where Great Grandfather ‘Charles’ had already built up the fire and the family were dancing. The dancing would stop when Great Grandmother ‘Belle’ reached the circle to join Grandmother Two Hawks ‘June’ and I.
The family gathered around the fire, then, leaving an area for Grandmother Two Hawks ‘June’ to walk. Grandmother Two Hawks ‘June’ would call me to her side, then. We would step into the circle the family created and walk one round in silence, often stopping for someone to add something to the basket. Then, Grandmother Two Hawks ‘June’ would begin to sing prayers in our language.
At seven points around the circle, she would stop and say a prayer to Creator God to forgive us for the past year’s shortcomings. At each point, also, she would reach into the basket and take out a handful of stuff, placing a few pieces in my little hands. Then,we would throw them into the fire and watch until they were consumed. Then, we would move on to the next point and repeat the process until the basket was empty. It would always be empty at the seventh point. How she did it so perfectly, I’ll never really know. Walking alongside my Grandmothers, I learned the traditions, hands-on. From her, and her Mother, and her mother, I learned the ways of healing, forgiveness, and walking the circle in peace.
After the prayers of Atonement were said; and the past was consumed by the fire, it was time to begin the new year with a Feast! The Fall Bread feast to be exact. Grandmother Two Hawks ‘June’ would hand over the empty burden basket to Great Grandmother Howesha Mkwa ‘Belle’ who would then carry it around the table to Great Great Grandmother Howesha Mkwa ‘Cora’. She would then rise, and call everyone to prayer…
‘We ask you God, our Creator, the maker of all that is, all that was, and all that will be…’ She began in our ancient language, lifting the empty basket as she prayed. ‘… to forgive us for our shortcomings, to guide our footsteps and to grant us wisdom for the next year’s journey. Watch over us as we journey into lands we have never seen, and into situations we have never known. Fill us with the fire of your love such that it may consume all that we are and keep our hearts pure before you. We ask you to take all of our burdens and free us to walk the journey you have set for us in peace and in the beauty of the bounty of your creation. We thank you and we live for your glory. Omayne and Aho!
Then, she would gently set the empty basket amid the small baskets already brimming with Corn, Beans, and Squash. As she did so, she commanded the festivities to begin…