Sunday, October 17, 2010



The Mountain God dancers appear in sets
of four, each set with one or more Libaye clowns.
The Mountain Gods are beautifully and richly
garbed: ocher colored buckskin kilts encrusted
with jingling tin cones; tricolor waist sashes
decorated with powerful symbols; red arm
streamers to which are attached powerful
eagle feathers; elegant headdresses extending
up to four feet above their heads and piercing
the night darkness; finely wrought and decorated
moccasins often with family or tribal designs;
waists encircled by thick belts and sashes to
which large, sonorous bells are attached so that
cones and bells produce a lovely rhythmic sound
in accompaniment to the singing and drumming
providing their dancing music. Their upper bodies
are painted nightly with symbols evoking Creation,
a different symbol for each of the four nights
they dance.
And then there is Libaye, dressed in shreds of
Levi's cut off thigh high or perhaps merely
diapered with old flannel. There are no soft
moccasins for his feet; rather, he wears worn-out
tennis shoes or clumsy, heavy, high-topped work
shoes. His headdress is a paper sack or a mask
with the long ears of a donkey. The Mountain Gods'
dancing produces music - his dancing only makes
cacophony. His body has no beautiful painting;
either he looks as if he were rolled in ashes and
dust or he has English words painted on his torso.
'Think of him as contrary,' Bernard told me.
But it is difficult to think of him at all, for the
mind wanders far from clowns and humor to
the very edges of the organized and ordered world.
Ashes, for ghosts, are conjured by his name and
coloring. The orders of existence are challenged
by his dancing presence. While the Mountain Gods
dance in difficult, exaggerated poses, he stumbles
along, more often than not out of step and out
of line. Where they are order and properness,
he is un-order and inappropriateness. Yet his
inversions are the reverse giving meaning and
depth to the obverse - he is essential to the
full understanding of the Mountain Gods
Libaye is said to be the most powerful,
although appearing as the least impressive.
When a portion of a costume has been danced
off by one of the Mountain God dancers, there
is an elaborate ritual that is performed before
the Mountain God dancer picks it up again -
unless the clown picks it up immediately.
The power of dancing and blessing is power
that must be respected by Mountain God
dancers and spectators alike but is power
that does not challenge Libaye. Since he is
pure power personified, Libaye can touch
other powerful objects, such as dropped
costume items containing a portion of the
medicine power of the maker, without having
to invoke ritual to de-fuse the power in the
objects before he touches them. He attends
to the most basic of human needs, as he
carries water to the thirsty Mountain God
dancers. Water is at once the basis for life
and an important symbol of creation, for
Father Sky, it will be remembered,
impregnated Mother Earth with water and
light to produce the Twin Warrior Gods,
Child of Water and Killer of Enemies.
As both water carrier and personified Power,
Libaye is messenger of the Gods and
messenger to the Gods; similarly he
carries verbal messages to and from the
Mountain Gods. Libaye's very being calls
into memory the order of the other, separate
and parallel, world; he, as chiasm, both
opens access to The Real World and stands
guard at the access to the spacetime of
that reality. Only Power can contain such
power. And again the strangeness of a
mere boy doing more than a man's work
brings contrariness to the foreground.
By being a boy in the midst of men and
by having more power than all the men
combined, Libaye presents a situation
that is the reverse of normal. When he
dances, he is not a boy dancing; rather
he is the personification of Clown, the
original godly figure who was so powerful
that he called himself into existence.
A portion of his backwardness, his
contrariness, lies in his being simultaneously
being a human boy and a Powerful Being
from The Real World. He is dressed
with disregard for the usual canons of
beauty, modesty, and good taste;
simultaneously he is dressed properly -
for a clown. He is a discordant, noisy
figure and he is the sound of Power.
He is both funny-strange and somewhat
scary with his unholy combination of
human and animal characteristics;
and he is also awesome.
First on the land and last in line,
he becomes metaphorically first and
last in everything, an ambiguity that
only Power can comprehend.
Mescalero Apache Cosmovision,
by Claire R. Farrer

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