Apache Jii Festival

crown-dancers-2 The Apache Crown Dancers at the Apache Jii Festival in Globe, Arizona.

Globe is a mining town. Founded in 1875 after silver was discovered on the adjacent San Carlos Indian Reservation, it was home to the Old Dominion Copper mining company.  Old Dominion closed its doors in 1931, and mining operations moved to nearby Miami.

Globe’s economy is dependent on the local copper mines. The downtown boasts antiques stores and small eateries and pubs. We will get tot he pubs later…

Globe hosts the annual Apache Jii Festival.  Jii is “day” in the native tongue of the Western Apache.  The Western Apache consist of the White Mountain, San Carlos, Tonto, Yavapai and Fort Apache reservations. I might have missed one or two  in this list.  The San Carlos and White Mountain Apache are the tribes that are nearest.

Fetish by Joseph Begay, Navajo artist

There were close to a hundred tents for Native vendors, primarily Apache and Navajo. The Apache are known for their baskets and pottery. The Navajo are famous for their silver-work and jewelry. The food court boasted fry bread and Apache acorn soup.

In the central arena, the Crown Dancers performed. The Apache Crown Dance is a sacred ritual that was outlawed along with the Ghost Dance and other native rituals in the beginning of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the American Indian Religious Freedom act in the 1970’s that these dances were allowed to be performed and the tradition taught and handed down.

As best as I understand the ritual, the dance features five players – four in black with crowns made of wood slats. These are the Spirit Dancers, or gaan.  Apache believe that spirits inhabit certain mountains, the trees, rocks, water and wind. Many Apache believe they are related by blood to these spirit beings. The four dancers represent the four directions, or the four elements, and protect the Apache from disaster.

The fifth player is the clown – dressed in white and carrying a bull-roarer. Similar to the Norse Loki, the clown is a trickster, as well as protector. The clown led the original Apache into the light from under the mountains. The dark underground is considered good, and light is not necessarily good, in Apache legend. The light was filled with disease, and the trickster scares away the disease with the sound of the bull-roarer.

The Crown Dance is performed at night, and most white-eyes would never get the chance to see an actual dance, let alone photograph the sacred event.

We perused the tents after the Crown Dance, had our fill of fry bread.  I purchased a fetish by Navajo artist Joseph Begay. Fetishes are traditionally a Zuni artifact. Zuni fetishes can cost thousands of dollars. I have some Zuni fetishes by lesser known artists.  I was really taken by the craftsmanship of Joseph Begay.  The bear is a symbol of strength to many native tribes. To the Zuni, the bear is a symbol of health and luck.

Fetishes are carved by hand with primitive tools. The design is dictated by the shape of the stone. My fetish has two features that are not always included on a carving. One is the prayer bundle containing arrows secured by sinew.  The other is the inlaid heart line. Pretty amazing work considering this fetish is less and an inch and a half in length.


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