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Friday Feature: All the Colors of the Light

Elk Good Water Sacred White Buffalo Hand Drum

The color of the light on this morning is white: flurries seemingly out of nowhere, dark gray skies filtering a glow neither gold nor silver, but an elemental fire the color of molten snow.

Not much has changed in the hours since. The snow is only flurries, of course, and only intermittent, but they come in waves, interspersed here and there by moments of visible sun. For a day in which wind only was forecast, any precipitation at all is a welcome surprise. In the form of the white stuff, which will sit upon the surface of the land for a while before soaking into the soil? It’s a gift.

And it reminds me of the lesson we were all taught, at least my generation, in grade school, that “lesson” that turned out to be exactly wrong: the color of the light.

We were told that the sum of all colors is black; the absence of color is white. Of course, when we tried to mix our watercolors of poster paints to turn the rainbow black, all we got was a dirty brown. We never could figure out a way to subtract colors from the paints and see what was left. We had to take the “lesson” as more metaphorical than actual, even if we didn’t know the terms then.

Fast-forward to college-level science, and we learn that color is a product of light, and that the full light spectrum, combined, creates the color white; black is its [metaphorical] absence, so to speak. We see individual colors as a result of changes in the light itself. And so the rainbow becomes an agent of differentiation, of movement and change; the sunbow, one not merely of uniformity but of unity.

This notion of unity reminds me of some particularly beautiful symbolism found among the indigenous wisdom and traditions of our various peoples. For this month, this space is dedicated to the art of the Native drum, which is itself both symbol and instrument of unity: The drum is the heartbeat of the Earth, of the People, the pulsing center of celebration and ceremony. But this drum bears symbolism of other sorts, some of which evokes the Four Directions and life’s sacred hoop — through the shape and spirit of the Sacred White Buffalo. From its description in the Other Artists:  Drums gallery here on the site:

This hand drum is handcrafted by master drum-maker Elk Good Water of Taos Pueblo.  Measuring roughly 14.5″ across, the hide is stretched over a wooden frame; traditional wood and leather beater included.  Hand-painted artwork, of four Sacred White Buffalo placed at the Four Directions, by his wife, Dolly Concha (Zuni Pueblo).

$375 + shipping, handling, and insurance

I’ve written here before, at some length, about the symbolism of this great rare spirit. For today’s purposes, suffice to say that it’s informal adoption as a pan-Native symbol of indigenous sovereignty and unity of purpose brings it within today’s motifs of color and light. It, too, is a symbol of illumination: of a return to the old path and the forging of a new one, one lit by the power of the ancestors and the spirits.

Buffalo is a being of strength and substance, of courage and power and longevity. The genetic variant that is the white buffalo, however, is a rarity that embodies the origin stories, the lifeways, the hopes and dreams and visions of specific Native peoples. Its meaning is so powerful that the story echoes in the hearts of the rest of our peoples, too: not just a hope and a dream, but a vision of a world that can be again, one of sovereignty and unity beneath the light of an indigenous sun.

A sun like today’s, perhaps, that shines in all the colors of the light, united.

~ Aji







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