As usual, you learn the most when you are out and about talking to people, and more importantly listening.Listening is much more precise than hearing. When you are not part of the conversation and sit back, you can sometimes learn a ton of really good information. I had a chance to listen to Matt talk to some folks about drums, pow wow protocol (and there sure is a ton of that), traditions, songs, elders, respect, tribes, and tradition.
I am all about doing things the right way, and at pow wows and ancestor honoring days, it is all about tradition, and protocol. There are sometimes gatherings (like Native American Days),that teach some things, but really do not follow protocol. There is good and bad in that. The good is that people get to experience another culture, the bad is that they really don't learn the whole truth and end up being misled, even though it is not on purpose.
When you approach and talk to a traditional person, you will learn the ways . More than maybe you wanted to. I remember when I was much younger, a relative said they would go to a local reservation to learn things from the people living there. Another family member said" Are you kidding, those are the most non-traditional people out there!" Just because a group, or a person lives on a reservation, doesn't make them traditional, and certainly doesn't make them knowledgeable. They may not even speak the language, know the stories, or the real reason behind things.
I remember a person telling me a story about Crazy Horse, and what a Native told them about Crazy Horse's name. It was all untrue. Just being native and living on a reservation doesn't make a person wise, nor a resource of good information. After all, do you know American history cold? All the facts and figures? Most people do not, no matter where they live.
It is sometimes hard to search out the people who have all the authentic information. Then they need to trust you and know that you have a good heart. They may test you, or make you wait before sharing information with you, but they are always willing to share. You can't walk up to a Native American and say "teach me how to make a pipe". They won't tell you, will misinform you, or tell you to "get lost". All valid things to do. You have to EARN that knowledge, just as in any tradition. They may say, "OK, but you need to apprentice with me for three years", when you are totally dedicated, you will say "COOL!", when you aren't, you will walk away.
I learned so much about drums yesterday, in a short period of time, it is amazing. I didn't like some of what I heard, but I know it to be totally true. Matt loves the drum and songs, and found out so much great information.
People sometimes come and ask to learn a song, it isn't that easy. Learning ceremonial songs, or prayer songs, comes with a lot of dedication, but it also comes with the teacher knowing they can trust you to honor the song, treat it with respect, and know when to use it and when not to. These songs are prayers, and have power and purpose behind them. You need to show you are are worthy of the song. Most don't even have a clue how to ask to learn one in the proper manner. Not knowing how to ask, means you are not ready to learn the song, or anything else for that matter.Even if you don't know how to ask, just learning how to ask in the right way is another lesson. A good one, as you can use it in any circumstance when you need to ask about something.
Then there are social songs, and these may be taught or given more easily to you, but still, I know I wouldn't teach a song with the energetic value equal to "Row , row row your boat" to some people. They would misuse even that.
The key to learning anything traditionally Native American (and this goes for other cultures as well), is to first show you are respectful and dedicated. Then to show you will honor that same tradition, in other words, in the ways of songs, you will not teach ceremonial songs to just anyone. You then have to use it in a humble way, not to say, "I know this song, it is a sacred song"...and sing it to show off. Songs have a time and purpose to them, and should be used at the right time and for the right purpose.
These folks we talked to yesterday knew that Matt and I know all of that, so they were free with their information and help.This only comes with seeing people again and again at pow wows and building trust through being respectful at these events, and showing that you know the proper way of doing things. People notice when you do things incorrectly and are not so free with sharing things, except maybe correcting your first mistake.
There are some very traditional folks out there and when you make a misstep, they will tell you. The answer should simply be "thank you, I will make sure that I do not do that again". I am so painstakingly careful, I probably don't have as much fun as I should have, but I learn a lot, earn trust, share much, and find people willing to teach me.
I can't say I learned everything there is to know about drums, drumming and songs yesterday, my education had already began, and I am sure has far to go. However I did learn much, and learned where to learn even more, and that is all part of the journey. Not the rush to the song, or whatever it is you are trying to learn, but the journey there. The journey is full of learning, and will always make you a better person.
Learn the right way, even if it is the long way, as it usually is.
Do the right things for the right reasons.
(C)2011 Dr. RM Reiter Wolf. May not be used, copied or reproduced without prior written permission.