Looking to build a birch bark canoe? Who isn’t?

photo by VictoriaG.

photo by VictoriaG.

If I said it once, I said it a million times…. If left to my own devices 300 years ago, I would have easily starved to death and eventually froze to death if I actually did survive.  Who am I kidding, I have the tools constantly surrounding me and still wouldn’t think to slice bread.

To look back as see how people not only lived but thrived and created something from nothing blows me away! Take this small carved sculpture for instance.

One Man's Flute... photo by VictoriaG

One Man’s Flute… photo by VictoriaG

First, I wouldn’t have a sharp object to create it with – that goes without saying even though I actually said it…  I would be just banging rocks together in hopes it would take some sort of shape. But the Mayan and Aztec people (as did other cultures) carved this piece of clay into a shape (animal, diety, etc.) and made a musical instrument. Seriously? Overachiever!

It is called an Ocarina (some of the pieces on display date back over 4,000 years ago!), and it is a type of flute if you will. Depending on where, how many, and the shapes(s) of the hole(s) or slits, would determine the sound, which then would determine in what context it would played. Example: Some ocarinas were made for a parade-type atmosphere and gave the sharp shrill of what we would today call a police-whistle. Others were a soft, mid to low hoot, almost like wind blowing through wooden tubular wind chimes or a lonely call of a bird, simply relaxing you into a trance. We could have sat listening to him play for hours.

Photo by VictoriaG

Ocarinas – Photo by VictoriaG

ocarina

 

We watched a YouTube Video displayed at the Harvard Museum of History, the Latin American scholar José Cuellar played different ocarinas and explain their sounds and beauty. If you search for “breathing life into an ancient instrument” you will see it and others videos that he has made on the subject.

Before we move on, let me ask. Who the heck was on the archaeological dig that found these small clay pieces and decided it was a good idea to blow into them to see if it was a musical instrument? My first guess would have been a nifty little remembrance knick-knack for the one room home; musical instrument, not so much. But I digress.

Moving onto the Native American wing, we find more mind blowing creativity: building a canoe from white birch trees. We are not going to do the bare bones version of carving a canoe from one (hopefully) large tree trunk. These particular natives went full out and pieced them together, soaking and bending the ribs where needed. Again, remember I am barely surviving on the berries I have picked praying they won’t poison me and along comes some smarty-panties native throwing together a mini cruise ship to travel downstream. (sense some jealousy here?!)

how to build a canoe

Lastly, (only for this writing as I was not able to completely view the museum) we leave you with the ledger drawings of the Native Americans. Left not only on cave walls, teepees, and clothing, the Native Americans achieved something the Europeans did not; action drawings. They were even creative enough to show the ‘before and after’ in their photos in way to communicate the actual event. The one major historic lesson I learned from this section – Native Americans, at this juncture in time, had no written language; it was completely verbal (mind blown). No poetry, no stories to read in bed, no sending a letter to the next tribe asking for an extra cup of ground corn at their earliest convenience, nothing. Think how often you write (or these days, type) something down in order to remind yourself (a grocery list, on a calendar, who is picking up the kids and when…etc.) Our trip to the museum was two weeks ago and the simple statement of not having a written language sent me to dig deeper in my own tiny brain and try to understand that way of life. Let’s not get me started on their beautiful regard for life, their songs layered with notes hitting peaks and valleys, their simplicity and the value they gave everything and everyone around them….

Native American Ledger Art

Native American Ledger Art

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