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Honor, Born of the Earth


Rain was promised for this day, but the clouds dance insolently around us, encircling us on all sides yet never deigning to move in overhead. The air is oppressive, the sun tauntingly bright; the earth itself is hot enough to burn the skin. Even the animals seem enervated, unwilling to do much that requires movement or thought.

This day has been difficult in many ways; every task gets derailed, nothing of substance gets done. Monday looms, and with it, the sudden frenzy of activity that accompanies the start of the workweek, and I am already far behind.

On days such as this, all that remains is prayer.

Even my prayers this morning were truncated, a product of too much to do and too few hours and resources. Overwhelm the mind sufficiently, and memory and focus are the first to go.

I did, however, remember the tobacco.

It’s an offering we make daily: to the directions, to the spirits, to the Creator, to powers greater than ourselves. The outside world, particularly that portion of it that derides anything that hints at the spiritual, dismisses it at best as supplication, more likely as appeasement. I suppose there’s a lens through which it may be seen that way, but to us, it’s something different: a combination of thanksgiving braided with honor and respect.

All three are noticeable for their absence in the dominant culture. Oh, I know; every generation says that about those that follow, but younger people are not, particularly, who I mean — indeed, I’m not really referring to any sort of decline in their presence. The dominant culture never felt it necessary to respect us and our ways, much less honor them; thanksgiving was reserved for a white colonial deity who they assumed gave them our lands, our resources, our identities, our very selves by divine right, with a little help from massacre and mayhem. It’s not merely a different way of looking at geopolitics; it’s a whole other way of engaging with the world. And in our world, the earth itself is the locus of our engagement, with it and with life in general.

And so the earth births a plant that, like so much else, has been corrupted by colonial forces, one that in our way is used not for addiction, but for healing. It comes in many forms, not all of which are the same as that prized by white society for its commercial value and its habituating properties. For our peoples, the value lies in its meaning, whether it takes the form of Nicotiana or the mixtures of willow and bearberry and other medicinal plants that have become known, by way of my language, as giiniigiiniig (or kinnickinnick). Growing new and green or harvested and dried to a rusty orange-brown, it’s a series of plants that, far from being recreational, instead carry the symbolic weight of prayer and ceremony, politics and community; of geopolitical strategy and conflict resolution, of the power of Medicine and the gift of healing.

It is these aspects of the plants we call tobacco that find expression in today’s featured work. From its description in the relevant section of the Bracelets Gallery here on the site:

Tobacco Coil Bracelet

The spirit of generosity compels us to offer a gift when we seek a favor; it shows respect. It’s customary, when seeking the blessing of the spirits or the assistance of our fellow man or woman, especially an elder, to offer a small gift in the form of tobacco. It shows respect and gratitude, and assures the recipient that his or her assistance is not taken for granted. in our cultures, indigenous tobacco is its own plant, or mix of plants, and Wings summons their spirits with this coil bracelet in the colors of the plants themselves. Dark green fluorite nuggets, as deep in hue as raw emeralds, trace the center of the spiral; to either side, crystalline nuggets of bright lime green peridot, the color of the new plant, stretch outward; and at either end, the strand terminates in tiny green turquoise chips. Each segment of gems is separated by a short length of brilliant amber that glows like the lit bowl of a ceremonial pipe. Beads are strung on memory wire, which expands and contracts to fit nearly and size wrist. Jointly designed by Wings and Aji.

Memory wire; green fluorite; peridot; green turquoise; amber
$325 + shipping, handling, and insurance

It is the last remaining work in The Generosity Collection, a part of Wings’s signature series of coil bracelets. It is perhaps named in such a way that many outsiders find problematic; “tobacco” has become a label for an all-purpose societal bogeyman, one that goes uninterrogated to discover the ways in which the label might not apply only to commercial attempts to nurture generations of addicts. Part of it arises out of what is lost in the colonization of traditional indigenous languages; we are left with labels that neither speak to identity nor enhance understanding.

In our own languages, though, we need no explanations, no aids to comprehension. Identity and purpose are immanent. Whatever its other varieties and names, it is a sacred plant, a gift of the earth granted us for specific uses. And on difficult days, when all we have our prayers and smoke, tobacco allows us to make an offering to the spirits even when all other resources are denied us.

Tobacco is honor, born of the earth.

~ Aji





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error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.