Heyoka Lakota Nation 19 5/8 X 19 1/2, Palladium Print, September 1998, Edition of 40
The Heyoka is a sacred fool, a clown with a great deal of power. The "contrary", the person who does everything backwards. They are yin and yang, sorrow and laughter, good and bad all rolled into one. They are one of the most important of the Medicine People in the Lakota Nation. Usually Heyokas’ are men but some women have Heyoka inside them and therefore must become a Heyoka.
The Heyoka’s power comes from the Great Winged Ones, which the whites call Thunderbirds. They have control over the weather and certain sicknesses. They are "Thunder dreamers" and once you have a dream of thunder or lighting you become one of these contraries- whether you want to or not.
The Heyoka has strange and enormous powers even though they make everyone laugh with their backwards behavior. There is a great reverence and fear of the Heyokas as their contrary behavior is intimidating to most people and you never know what they are going to do next.
The Heyoka’s power is usually used for good but because they are Heyoka one never knows.
Chapter 13 - Sacred Fools and Clowns Clowns Names for clowns are heyoka, chifone, koshare, “banana ripener,” kwirana, and “blue jay”. There are both humorous and serious clowns. Serious clowns of the medicine society maintaining the continuity of fertility, rain, crops, health, and the various orders of Creation. They are the guardians of the ritual, ready with yucca plant lashes to catch a child and throw him in the river.
Whenever the clowns enter the stage of drama in a ritual and wherever they are found in the oral histories, stories, or songs, the clowns have something in common. Scared clowns from different tribes can recognize another scared clown without word passing between them, they would be able to know who the other one was; what he represented and what he was placed on earth to do.
Early histories of oral tradition introduce the concept and the techniques of clowning. When clowns appear in the creation stories they play important roles during the emergence of “The People” into the present. Sacred clowns have a special relationship to the sun, almost like sons. Particularly in the southwest there is often more than one clown society. Example: Pueblos divide clowns into summer and winter clowns.
Clowns have several different aspects. Clowns are sometimes guides to the individuals whose dreams and visions take them to the World of Souls or the Land of the Dead. Clowns have a widespread association to water places such as mist, drizzle, rain, clouds, storms, steams, thunder and lightening. Clowns are mediators for rain. Sacred Clowns: Their Relationship To Scared Knowledge One of the unique features of Native American sacred ways is the important place of humor, and laughter in this aspect of “The People’s” lives.
Sacred clowns portray and symbolize aspects of the sacred in a special way, a way in which their teachings get through to us without even “thinking about” them. Clowns in their actions don’t seem to care about “concepts. They are not concerned about definitions but at the same time they define the concepts at the root of tribal cosmologies, the guidelines for moral and ethical behaviors, and the theories of balance and imbalance.
Clowns are the only ones who can “ask why” of dangerous subjects or “ask why” of those people who are specialist in advanced sacred knowledge. They ask in their backwards language, through their satire, and their fooling around. They ask the questions others would like to say they say the things others are afraid to speak Jokes, puns, and satire are forms of humor that are important teaching tools. By reading between the lines the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about or cause them to look at some things in a different aspect.
Clowns have an important role in terms of portraying and symbolizing concepts. Clowns portray the boundaries and the limits of the world by going beyond them, acting in a non-ordinary way while doing so, and in this way contrast they own contrary behavior with the orderly ritual directions and scared worlds.
Clowns dramatize the powerful relationships. They show the dark side, the light side, they show us life is hard, and that life can be made easier. Sacred clowns integrate modern-day elements into aboriginal rituals keeping their dramas effective from year to year. Most obvious characteristic of sacred clowns is that they are full of contradictions. They have a mixture of innocence and wisdom, and they speak like “wise-priests”.
Acoma Medicine Society- The Chaianyi, are some of the most powerful members of the tribe. Koshare- one of the groups of clowns, were to know no sadness and to know no pain even if they were hurt. The Koshare was described as “different from the other people because he knows something about himself”. The sacred clowns make people aware of their pain and sorrow but they also relieve them from the thought of it. The Sioux clowns derive their power and wisdom from an experience of shame. The power originates from the experience of an individual vision or dream from the experience of shame.
Heyoka is another name for a clown. Thought of as being upside-down, backward-forward, and says things like yes when he actually means no (for humor). They teach backwards through nonsense, jokes and threats. The Heyoka perform The Cleansing Ceremony as follows: They kill a dog and put it in a boiling kettle, then they dance, sing and act around the kettle. The climax of the ceremony is when the Heyokas dance and take out the dog meat with their bare arms. Then they give it to the poor and the sick, which then cures them of the sicknesses that they have, a good medicine. The Heyoka are not scalded because of a herb- Tapejuta. They chew it and smear it on their arms; therefore the boiling water won't hurt them. Other activities performed by the clowns include the Zuni clowns imitation of Satataca, The Bow Priest, in his Night Chant Prayer. They make obscene remarks in the place of original lines, this symbolizes the importance of language and all that it allows us to do. Additionally, some clowns even pose as Blue Jays and “Crazy Dancers.”
Generally, most clowns participate in backwards talk, jokes, satire, lots of fooling around, contrary behavior, the singing of shameful events in their lives, and asking and begging for food. The MAIN GOAL is to teach by bad example and cause imbalance at the ceremonies. The clowns have many roles and functions. First and possibly foremost is to prepare the people for disaster (this shows that collaboration is needed by everyone to maintain a life that is frequently challenged by catastrophes.) Also, many clowns are considered to be healers. Some may even feed medicine to the sick out of their own mouths.
Yet another role is to show preventive medicine to the people, and this may include good eating and health tips. At the end of a ceremonies, everyone, adults and children alike, should understand the concept of balance. Additionally, those who need to must “share their shame.” And finally, other concepts to be understood should be; personal responsibility is at the heart of social order and survival and sacred power. This is all concluded in the finale of the ceremony when there is a cleansing act performed on the clowns.
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