“The Singing in the Night Mural”
By Joanne Tawfilis
The sound of the drumming and singing continues in my head. I imagine the last of the vendors packing their unsold treasures and thinking of the customer that almost bought…
And then focusing their thoughts forward to the next “Pow Wow”. For many of them, “Pow Wows” are a year round circuit and become ordinary and mundane. To many of them, there is hardly a difference between them. But to me, Schemitzun is almost like one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I still find it difficult to believe that the American public and especially, local and regional towns haven’t figured out that this event is one of our country’s greatest cultural celebrations. The “Schemitzun” goes beyond anything anyone could attempt to write about—it’s a happening and one has to be there to feel the vibrancy, the heartthrob, the soul and passion of this gathering.
My husband Fouad and I even flew from Europe to attend the “Schemitzun” before I moved back to the states, because I had heard so much about it. We fell in love with every aspect of it—especially the children. This is one event when parents and families, elders, and aunties and uncles encourage their children, descendents of the original inhabitants of this land to remember their past, to be one among all and all among one—to show that they are related somehow.
This year, as last year, I worked behind the scenes with the children who participate in the “Schemitzun” and come to see it. We spend every available moment painting murals, filling paper palettes with colors, squeezing bottles and tubes, adding water to plastic cups, washing brushes, and mopping up spilled paint water. We help them maneuver their position onto the canvas, show them how to use the magic markers, sharpen pencils, and watch their eyes light up when the syrupy paint fills in the image they have created. It doesn’t matter if they are two years old or twenty years old, the concentration is the same. For a few moments they escape from everything that surrounds them and paint what they see, feel, smell, think about, yearn for, and dream of. These moments are theirs alone. With the music in the background and the colors that surround them, they find themselves among God’s greatest gifts—each other. Slowly, they begin talking to one another. Slowly and shyly at first for some, but always, the connection that they too are there on this canvas, barefoot and eager to put their thoughts onto this big wonderful piece of canvas.
This year, I met two special young people. One was Dylan and his brother (and Dad) from New York. Dylan was with us the whole weekend and I grew to like him so much. He painted with his heart and talked about storms and tornadoes and explosions and how the earth was all messed up. He was 8 years old with a long beautiful dark brown braid and before the weekend was over, he was covered with enough paint to be a mural in and of himself. But he dutifully came back again and again, always wanting to help and draw and paint. On Saturday night (the third of four nights) the murals were too wet to roll up and I decided to leave them lying flat so they would dry during the night. I asked Dylan if he would be so kind as to keep an eye on them for me he consented. Before I left though, he took me by the hand to show me where his father was and assured me that he had wonderful jackets and other things. And I promised I would return before the end of the weekend and buy something from his Dad. And so, we painted together a bit more and I left for the night, exhausted. When I returned the next morning, there was Dylan, dutifully waiting for me to return and as he told me, “guarding the murals”. He apologized for not staying with them the entire night, but he said he had to go to sleep where they were camping and had to leave them, but he had checked on them often and first thing in the morning, he had come to make sure they were still there. During our conversations, I learned a lot about Dylan and that is why I decided we would name that mural for Dylan, “Singing in the Night” which is his Indian Name. Before I left, I searched for Dylan but couldn’t find him to say goodbye. As tired and worn down, aching and covered with paint as I was, I got in my car and almost drove away.
Something stopped me. I stopped the car and parked along side of the dirt road. I couldn’t drive away without keeping my word to Dylan and went off in search of his Dad’s booth, among the hundreds that were there. I became frantic when I reached a spot where I thought they had been and which had been vacated. And then off in the distance and further down the row of vendors, I could see the layout and colors of something familiar…it was Dylan’s father’s booth. As I approached, I was sad to see that Dylan wasn’t there and explained to his Dad and his helper how much it meant to me to have Dylan helping us, and how I had made a promise and wanted to say goodbye. But Dylan was nowhere to be seen and we could only assume he was in the ceremonial tent enjoying the final festivities as he should.
Yes. I did buy two pairs of earrings. One pair is for me to keep and to remember Dylan and the other to give away to someone special and with that will carry on with the spirit and the joy of “Schemitzun”. As for Dylan, I will think of him often. I know I will still hear his voice and see his smile, and feel his gentle heart and sensitive spirit for a long time to come. Dylan is special and one of the young Native American’s that has received specials gifts passed to him through his ancestors, and now immortalized on the “Singing in the Night” mural.