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4th annual Hilo Inter-Tribal Powwow features intertribal Bird Singers

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HILO, Hawaii – The 4th annual Hilo Inter-Tribal Powwow will take place May 23 – 25 at Wailoa River Park in Hilo. This free, family-oriented event starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

On Monday, there will be a Veterans’ Honoring Ceremony and the colors will be retired at 4 p.m. Grand Entry is at 10 a.m. all three days. Everyone is invited to experience the sights, sounds, flavors and spirit of Native America through music, dance, storytelling, food, arts and crafts. This is a drug and alcohol free event.

This year the powwow offers audiences a rare opportunity to see and hear Intertribal Bird Singers from Southern California. Bird songs are ancient gifts from the Creator to the indigenous peoples of Southern California, Arizona and Mexico. The Creator sent these allegorical songs to teach the people how to walk in the world in a good way, so the people would behave like “true human beings” and be respectful of all life, including other humans, animals, plants, trees, rocks and waters. While the songs often relate creation stories, the diverse tribes who sing these songs, such as the Cahuilla, Mojave, Tohono O’odham (Papago), Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Kumeyyay have different creation stories – even though they all sing bird songs.

The Kumeyyay of Southern California believe the Creator first gave the songs to a jealous and greedy bird who, instead of sharing them as the Creator instructed, tried to keep for himself the power of the songs to heal and influence the natural world. Disappointed, the Creator took away this bird’s colorful plumage and beautiful voice. The bird became what is known today as the California Crow who can only squawk and is one dark color. The Creator then gave the songs to a humble, unassuming and very beautiful bird, called ashaw tu cuk by the Kumeyyay, who shared the songs with the people.

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Bird songs and bird song dances are rhythmically simple. Rather than the drum, they are accompanied by gourd or turtle shell rattles filled with palm seeds. The rattles may be painted with images holding special significance for the singer, such as the singer’s clan. It is an honor to be a bird singer and elders watch to see who among the younger generation may be suited to keep the songs and learn the ancient stories.

The songs are comprised of an allegorical cycle of approximately 300 pieces. They instruct the people in ancient traditions, values and life ways. These songs survived the tyranny of Spanish missionaries who tried to annihilate Native communities. The songs perpetuated indigenous cultures through music and dance, rather than written word. To sing the entire body of songs might take all night or longer, however, the songs are also sung in social settings and just for fun. When sung socially, the songs may last from two to 10 minutes. There’s often dancing when the songs are sung for entertainment. Audiences in Hilo will be able to experience this ancient tradition in a contemporary way.

Other special guests include the Wapato Indian Club, a youth group from the State of Washington, hip hop artist Brian Frejo from Oklahoma, the Wildhorse Drum and Dancers from Southern California, and Troy “Good Medicine” De Roche, Blackfeet flute player. The head staff includes: Head Man Dancer Joe Hacker, Rosebud Lakota; Head Woman Dancer Shelly Hill, Mohawk; Master of Ceremonies John Dawson, Apache, and Chip Begay, Diné; and Arena Directors Dan McDaniel, Choctaw and Tom Rowland, Oglala. The Host Drum is 808NDNZ, an intertribal drum from Oahu.

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