Wampum / by ABMann

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Wampum.

My parents divorced in 1993 when I was 12. Well, 11 but it was in the summer and I was born in July. My mother sort of came alive that summer and spent most of it rediscovering her spirituality and took me along with her. We spent weekends at drum circles, Qi Gong meditation groups, and one rather ill-conceived “past live revelation” in which I learned a spent a past life flying the Red Baron’s triplane - not as Der rote Baron sich oder just some dude who owned the plane.

Of the myriad new-wave spiritual journeys we tried, the animistic view of the Plains natives struck a cord with us both. We read tons and participated in numerous revival events in southern Illinois and Arizona when she moved out there the following August.

When I was 14, I was scheduled to visit my mother in August for a nifty event. She had a friend in his last year of commitment to the Sundance - he was a Cherokee from the Black Hills (named Mario after his Italian heritage [of all weird things in the world)]. We were to be his support crew. During the dance, you are disallowed from eating and can drink only water after sunset. We were there to bring him water, drum each night in our camp for him, and generally observe him to make sure he didn’t die.

He danced for 4 days. We were there for 12 setting up, breaking down and general prep. Obviously I’m glossing over things but I think the specifics are better explained elsewhere. But we met a number of his family and friends and generally had a revelatory experience. At the end of it, I was gifted with the wampum necklace that I still wear.

Fitting. Wampum beads were used as a storytelling device. Early European settlers mistook the import if wampum pieces - strings of beads, belts, bands and such - as currency as tribes exchanged them at important moments in their history. That I received my at a time that so stringy influenced my life is fitting.

I’ve been thinking about wampum because of reading Gun Machine wherein wampum figured prominently - it’s a good read. And I’ve been thinking about tattoos. I got my bear paw tattoo because if the spiritual symbolism it provides - introspection (it’s been working) - and have had like seventy million ideas about the next tattoo. More animal paws, pixel art, armor, chemical diagrams and and and…

And then it clicked: Wampum. I could sort of put everything together in a stylized wampum tattoo, diagram my life in a wampum tattoo that would slowly work up my arm like a gauntlet.

I got a little giddy when I had the idea. I’ve been playing around with patterns and coloring and how to incorporate my existing bear paw.

But it feels right.

And anyone who has gotten a tattoo understands what I mean.

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