In 2005, Threads of Life’s held its first Archipelago Indigenous Weavers Festival. One hundred women weavers from across ten islands spent five days together in a village on the island of Lembata, sharing the challenges they faced continuing their traditions and developing shared solutions. We concluded the event with a ceremony led by elders of the village to cleanse us of any negative experiences or emotions that may hurt us or others after leaving.
This festival closing began with a huge feast for everyone after our last day of work together. This was followed by circle dancing and traditional chanting until dawn. While there were more than eleven different cultural groups participating in the festival, everyone recognized the essence of this process: creating strong positive connections upon leaving the space we had shared for the week.
I remember joining the dancing but did not stay until the morning. When I awoke, I was surprised to see that a good proportion of people were still arm-in-arm dancing in that same circle, and singing, albeit much hoarser.
The dancing stopped as the village elders came forward with a clay jar of water. Everyone formed a line and to each of us an elder chanted what can be interpreted as, “As you continue your journey homeward, please leave behind any negative or unhelpful experiences you have had here, and take with you the good that you have experienced here for the wellbeing of yourself and your community.” The water was then poured over each person’s head like a baptism for the spirit and a balm for the soul. Silence and ease could be sensed by everyone standing there, both as recipients and witnesses. We then all to our leave and began our journeys home.
Pung has always cautioned me to be aware of when I am leaving one space and moving into another, whether it be between villages, or through a forest, across a lake or river, or climbing a mountain. “Ask permission and do not carry any negative thoughts,” he has always urged me. “We need to respect those who guard and live in these spaces, both human and more-than-human, and complete our journey with a light heart.”
As we enter 2021, may all of us find the courage and wisdom to carry forward the positive experiences of 2020 and leave behind unhelpful thoughts and emotions that may burden our own wellbeing or that of our communities. May we move forward with respect and an open heart.