To Witness the Public Ceremonies of the Night

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(a found poem, from the works of Washington Matthews)

It has lasted eight days before
the four singers,
after long and tedious instruction by the shaman,
come out
to sing this song.

Five hundred people are, perhaps, assembled
to witness the public ceremonies
of the night;

some have come
from the most distant parts
of the wide
Navajo
territory; all are prepared
to hold their vigil until dawn.

A score or more of critics are in the audience
who know the song by heart and are
alert to discover errors.
It is a long song,
and consists almost exclusively of
meaningless
or archaic
vocables
which convey no idea to
the mind of the singer. Yet not
one
syllable
may be forgotten
ormisplaced.
Ifthe slightest error is made,
it is at once proclaimed by the assembled critics,

the fruitless ceremony comes to an end, and

the five hundred disappointed spectators
disperse.
But
fortunatelythey are not as particular with all their songs
as they are
with this.


Words: the text is an excerpt from Washington Matthews, Songs of Sequence of the Navajos, Journal of American Folk-Lore vol. VII no. 26, July-Sept. 1894, pp. 185-186. The article, which is in the public domain in the United States, is available through the Internet Archive.
Image: the image is a collage of two photographs that Edward S. Curtis took in 1904: Haschelti and Tonenili, Tobadzischini, Nayenezgani. These photographs are in the public domain in the United States.

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