I'm partial to the under-seven crowd. I admit it. They were as decked out as their adult counterparts in skins and feathers, brightly colored streamers, and in response to the rhythmic drumming, they bounced. Bounce bounce bounce. Feathers springing, streamers flying, feet sproinging. Bounce bounce bounce.
Hardly as intimidating as the brown-skinned, war-painted fellows who preceded them, but every bit as intent, enthusiastic, and fiercely grimacing. Bounce bounce bounce. Tiny bouncers. Nieces and nephews of all of us. Warriors in the making. Under three feet tall. Strong. Steady. Determined. Bounce bounce bounce.
Seriously, what's not to love?
They were the last to enter the sacred circle in the opening ceremony. Before them came hundreds of warriors. First the Chief of the Lumbee Tribe and another dignitary carrying traditional staffs, then the Native American Veterans, carrying various flags, including the U.S. flag and a POW-MIA flag. Followed by Native American royalty in beautiful dress regalia and impressive headdresses, and then the warriors and dancers from scores of tribes. Over 400 participants filled the circle, surrounded by the heart-thumping drums and distinctive chanting of nearly a dozen singing circles, making this the largest Powwow in the eastern U.S.
I couldn't decide what I liked better--the fancy dancers with the streamers and bouncy feathers, the highly decorated big-bad-warriors with the bone breastplates, huge feather headdresses, face paint and holycrapyou'reterrifying demeanors, or the beautiful (BEEYOOTEEFUL) young warriors with their bare skin, light-tan leathers, tattoos and face paint.
Oh yeah, there were women too--beautiful dresses of many types--the jingles, the suede, the cotton, the shiny, and the staid. All with lovely headdresses, beadwork or animal skins and feathers.
The big-bad-warriors stood seven feet tall (at least) with their headdresses and many had painted their faces beyond recognition, adding to their mystique and the sense that they were killing machines. Well, until one of them smiled broadly and cooed at a tiny baby whose mother had asked for a photo.
The young men (did I mention how beautiful they were??) stopped to pose for our camera, face paint and posture not hiding their polite deference one bit.
I also watched the crowd--locals of Lumberton as well as travelers--piled into the bleachers. I wished to join the participants in spite of the relentless sun and (actually relatively mild for NC) heat. Behind me, a young man--about 13, I'm guessing--with magenta streaks in his short hair flirted with a young girl. I had seen them throughout the day walking among the crowd, and by afternoon they sat next to each other, heads bent together in a deep discussion (what do you think of the new Katy Perry song?), blind to everything around them, their fingers interlaced in innocent romance.
We walked around, met Native American artists, musicians, and practitioners, admired wares, made small purchases, enjoyed recognizing people from prior powwows. I was able to touch base briefly with an old friend who lives in Lumberton. Is it possible we met 23 years ago? He's still handsome and turning heads while we chatted, and it was the true spirit of powwow that we got to reconnect after nearly two years since our last face-to-face.
The dance competitions were amazing, and I learned many new things and left armed with research questions to learn more. When I got separated from Bill, who got closer to take photos, I watched two grandmothers chatting him up. Later he told me that they were commenting on the lack of undergarments among the beautiful young warriors.
My favorite moment, though, was the flash of movement I caught in the opening ceremonies--a staff turned sideways, and a nearby bone weapon turned on its side as well--a flash of tanned skin as two warriors fistbumped a greeting after too long apart, their faces broken into happy grins.