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Slickhorn Kiva   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano

Witness in Time
Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

The First People believed all living creatures and inanimate objects like mountains, rivers, and rocks possessed spirits. Of course, they were correct. I know. I was born eight hundred years ago inside an alcove on a high cliff when the First People settled in these canyons. Modern archaeologists call me a kiva. The First People called me by a different name, but you wouldn’t understand it even if I tell you. They sculpted out my body from the bedrock, then covered me with timbers, leaving open a square mouth for entering my body. When I was fully formed, they held a big ceremony. The Old Chief lit a fire inside my body, and I came alive. I still bear a navel called sipapu that connects with the spiritual world where they came from.

For many seasons, I hosted numerous ceremonies. There were feasts after good harvests and successful hunts, celebrations of newborns, ceremonies for young men coming of age, and somber occasions of elders passing. All and all, those were the good years. Of course, anyone who lives for a very long time knows, nothing lasts forever. As the population grew, the canyons could no longer support the people. The final straw was a drought that lasted for decades. Crops failed and game animals disappeared. Fights broke out among neighbors, then escalated into widespread violence. That greatly offended the spiritual beings in these canyons. Family after family, clan after clan were driven away, leaving behind empty dwellings they had worked so hard to build. The next several hundred years were rather boring. The most exciting things that ever happened were packrats turning my body into their homes. In those long winter nights, I dreamt of songs and dances of my people around a warm fire.

Then came the Spanish. I never met them personally; rumors were that they were just passing through looking for a place called Cibola full of shiny yellow stuff. They were out of their minds, I never heard of such a place. After the Spanish came the cowboys. Most didn’t border us much. There was one cowboy though, he was different. This dude came here with a bunch of people with horses and shovels and dug up dead bodies of my people to ship to museums. He even carved ‘R. WETHERILL’ petroglyphs on the rocks everywhere he went.

I have seen many happenings good and bad over the centuries. The best thing that ever happened was when a black man became the chief. This Black Chief was wise; he declared these canyons a sacred monument to protect spiritual beings like me from desecration. To my disbelief, the next chief removed most of the monument from protection. This chief had no respect for the land and had never visited these canyons, which was understandable, I heard he had some sort of problem with his foot that made walking difficult. Alas, his action greatly offended the spirits in these canyons. He was quickly replaced by another wise chief who restored protection of this land. As my people learned long ago, it is not wise to make spiritual beings angry.

I have guarded this place for centuries and have seen all sorts of people climbing down that ladder. It amused me that most of them had no idea I was watching;  though one time, a woman with black hair came down and just sat here quietly. After a long while, she took out a camera from her bag - and to my surprise - asked for my permission to take a photograph of the ladder. Then she thanked me again before leaving.  She knew.

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Guardian   Pastel on paper   Akiko Hirano