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Radio Free Mudheads

Dawn is just breaking on the eastern side of the plaza, over the roofs of the rock and mud houses. The dancers enter, their approach is like the familiar sound of the foot steps of a favorite family member coming home at the end of the day. My entire being is filled with the primordial rhythm, while the individual instruments each beat their own tempo on the inside of my skull. I let myself go into the meditative void of the music, while the vision of the dancers is almost a blur.

Scarlet Macaw tail feathers from the Central American jungles made into a headpiece. A desert turtle shell with dangling deer hooves tied to the back of one calf…leather band of bells on the opposite ankle. A gourd rattle in one hand, filled with tiny stones from an ant hill …a symbolic branch of evergreen in the other. Mud smeared on skin is nature’s original sunscreen. Embroidered kilts with woven sashes, casement masks representing ancient helpers. This is the form of the katsina.

The first dance abruptly ends. As the dancers leave the plaza, I come back to the moment. I am invited inside to eat. The table is full…a big pot of hominy and mutton stew, oven bread, piki, roasted corn, traditional pudding, fresh green chili. As I eat, I look out the window and can see that the mudheads have come out onto the plaza and have begun their distracting antics.

It has been hot and dry on the mesa and in the fields. There hasn’t been much rain at all this summer. The corn and squash are growing, but seem real stunted, so the mudheads are especially earnest in their work

There are many ladies visiting from the various villages, watching the dances from lawn chairs around the plaza and on the roof tops. Some are recording the songs on their cassette decks for future listening during the long winter months, when the katsinas would be gone from the villages, back to their ancestral home in the San Francisco mountains.

Although the tape recording of dances is a fairly commonplace occurrence, it often seems a distraction (and a grim reminder of our times) to the otherwise natural and timeless harmony and peace I feel. The music that fills me is virtually the same music heard by those before me, all of us participants… one hundred, five hundred, even a thousand years ago, in this same plaza, in this same ceremonial mode. Even then… wishing, hoping, praying for sustenance, in the form of rain to grow our corn.

My attention is suddenly pulled back to the plaza by a running mudhead. He has gone up to an elderly lady and snatched her tape recorder. He is taunting her and keeping it away from her, while she plays along with the joke. She is reaching and grabbing for it. He is holding it over his head as though he might smash it…the crowd is laughing, loving the antics.

This activity has gotten the other mudhead’s attention. They come running over to check out the commotion, and begin to pretend to pull other tape recorders from other women, who vigorously defend their property, still laughing and joking. This goes on for some time, the crowd enthralled, secretly relieved that they are not the butt of the mudhead’s jokes.

There is a commotion near the corner of the plaza, and several women jump up and retreat back toward the houses, away from the mudheads. At about the same time I hear a crash and look up in time to see that a mudhead has smashed one of the radios. This is an extraordinary sight to me! I have always assumed that there were limits to the capacity of mudhead work.

I have seen many scenarios where the mudheads used visitors for their antics. I remember once seeing a dog have his ear cut off, a joke that went too far. But, I have never seen destruction of property. The scene of elderly women jumping up and trying to get their tape decks out of view only seems to add fuel to the already emotional scene.

At the same time, the mudhead’s message is becoming clear: too much preoccupation to recording music for future listening was keeping the women from really being into the present. To push their idea even further, the mudheads are now reaching into the crowd for every electronic device they could find. Soon there is a pile of 15 to 20 machines in the center of the plaza, maybe more, their owners beginning to show their anger.

One by one, each machine in turn is smashed to the ground by a mudhead, until there is only a pile of metal rubble. Emotions are running high, almost palpable. The mood of these women defending their possessions is not pretty.

In the distance I can hear the clacking of deer hooves against turtle shells, bells lightly slapping against ankles, the pebbles shifting against the inside of gourds, the swishing of kilts and sashes against bodies. Their approach is like the familiar sound of the foot steps of a favorite family member coming home at the end of the day.

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