My dad works at a place that does a lot of activities in our community. Many activities are in some way tied to Native American traditions because we live on a reservation. Sometimes, he remembers to tell me about them far enough ahead of time that I can go to them with Isaiah. Today was one of those times. My dad’s been telling me that there would be a hand game held at the park for a week or so now and came by the house on his way over to make sure I remembered. I’m glad he did because, as usual, I couldn’t remember what time it started!
I got Isaiah dressed and ready to go with a few minutes to spare. I put him in his mei tai and walked over there, even though I figured we’d be slightly early. I knew my dad and several people who work with him would be there getting set up anyway. When Isaiah saw that his Grandfather was at the park, his face lit up. We go to the park all the time, but there’s rarely someone he knows waiting for him.
In typical fashion (at least for our small town), the meal was served over half an hour late. I really should stop worrying so much about being on time! On time is actually early around here. Isaiah had fun observing all the people while we waited for the food. He seemed to be having an unusually shy day and stayed close to me the entire time.
After a while of Isaiah clinging to my leg with all his strength, I asked him if he’d like to go back in the mei tai. His answer was a very emphatic “uh-huh!” so I got it back out and put him in. It only takes a couple minutes for me to get him into the mei tai, but in that time, I had multiple offers of help. It seems most people are certain I’m going to drop him before I get it tied! Today, I made the mistake of trying to put him on while kneeling instead of standing. It’s much easier to adjust it properly while standing.
Isaiah and I had some good cuddles while he was sitting in the mei tai. Since he seemed somewhat tired, I put him on the front where he could cuddle better and I could give him kisses. He was so snuggly! He didn’t actually want to sleep, but he definitely needed to know his Mama was close.
When the food was finally served, I convinced Isaiah that he really should come out of the mei tai because it’s hard to eat with him on my chest and he couldn’t really eat in that position. He climbed out of my lap and decided to stand next to me to eat. They served a traditional hand game meal of corn soup and fry bread, as well as some fried chicken. Isaiah wouldn’t touch the soup. I thought it was actually pretty good. I’m pretty sure the meat was buffalo, not something you get to eat very often! (In case you’re wondering, buffalo is actually really good. It has a lot more flavor than beef.) I think Isaiah was mostly overwhelmed by the strong flavors. He did, however, quite like the fry bread. I hadn’t even heard of fry bread before moving onto a reservation (it hadn’t occurred to me to eat buffalo, either), but soon learned that it’s extremely common here. Many tribes enjoy fry bread and everyone has their own recipe. This batch was particularly good and Isaiah enjoyed every last bite of his piece.
After everyone had finally finished eating, it was time to start the hand game. Before the game could begin, a group of young men performed the Umoⁿhoⁿ flag song. I always think it’s so cool to get to hear the songs in the Umoⁿhoⁿ language! The flag song (and many others) are sung accompanied by a large drum, played by several singers.
The hand game itself is quite fascinating. I avoided playing because I don’t think I understood it well enough to be at all helpful to my partner. In the game, two stones (or other small objects) are hidden in one teams’ hands. The other team has to guess which hands the stones are in. The guessing team tells which position the believe the stones are in by holding a feather in one of four positions. If they guess right, they win and get to play against the next team. If they lose, the other team gets to go on and play the next team instead. To win, a team must win a certain number of times in a row.
I love getting to attend events like this! It’s fascinating to get to learn more about Umoⁿhoⁿ culture. Hand games are something that is passed down from one generation to the next. During the meal, one of the guys stood up to talk about the kids who are participating in one of their programs. Before he started, though, he explained that part of the tradition is that people take turns sharing stories during the meal. The Umoⁿhoⁿ tribe relies heavily on oral tradition and it’s times like this that their history and stories are passed down through the generations. It was so great to be a part of it for today.