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wRite: Time Ball 

"When Hemos Johnson (hereditary Hahwannis chief of Kingcome) was an old man visiting his daughter at Comox she took him to Elk Falls, a place he had heard much about but had never seen. He stood where he could behold the raging torrent in all its splendour, gazing in silent wonder at the majestic sight and when he came away he announced, "It gave me a new song."

It had all come to him there, the words and music straight from the Master of all harmony - a song that would always be his alone."

- Mildred Valley Thornton

Potlatch People: Indian Lives and Legends of British Columbia

In the past much of the Yakama tribe's history was passed down from generation to generation by the women of the tribe using an oral tradition known as the time ball. New brides used hemp twine to record their life history starting with courtship. They tied different knots into the twine for days and weeks and added special beads for significant events. They then rolled the twine into a ball known as the "ititamat," which means "counting the days" or "counting calendar." The ball of twine grew in size as time passed and as events occurred...

When the women were very old, they could use the knots and beads of their time balls to recall not only what happened in their lives but when the events occurred...When a woman died, her "ititamat" or time ball was buried with her.

- Bonnie M. Fountain

Using the Yakama Native American Time Ball Oral History Tradition to Tell the 1965 Selma-Montgomery Voting Rights March

My friend and I had finished his book a few days ago. It was not my book - nor even ours. The book belongs to him and the eagle Hanble Okinyan. It came to them from the Master of pain, loss, fear and loyalty. It is a song that has never been sung before.

My work was done there. My eyes and fingers were tired. I liked the feeling. It was the weariness of hard labor faithfully done. I was ready to go home.

That last morning I began to pack up my charms and amulets: the postcard of the Tuvaan shaman and her words: Keep your line and don't be afraid.; my friend's photo of Hanble taking a joyous bath in her pool; the little raven drum I bought at Raven's Corner in the village of Neah Bay; a new stone from a beach at Puget Sound.

There was little left to do. I wrote my friend:

We did what were brought together to do - for now. The Yakama women keep track of their lives with a time ball. They spin fiber and tie a bead into the thread at each important moment of their lives.

Our work will require more than a few beads, beads made of weather and mineral. One is azure for the sky outside my window now; one is moonstone for the sky outside my window yesterday; one is garnet for the blood the talon leaves; one the green stone the Northern people use in their art. One bead is mist from a Cascade waterfall. Another tastes of salt from the waves below the point at kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx. One bead is shell, one is cedar, one is the gray of my eyes, one the blue of yours as we go gaze to gaze - to more easily follow the threads a wounded eagle weaves. The brightest bead is made from laughter.

When we look back on these four weeks, we will hold a length of braided cedar bark in our hands. We will let the beads tell us the story. It will be a story that is ours alone and for all who read it.

It is a story that belongs only to the future.

The future has come. My work with my friend was a stop-over on the way to here, to this town in which I write and teach. He and I talk every day. He tells me there is a new book beginning to form in his spirit. I tie another bead into the Time Ball.

The next 6-week cycle of wRite, our writing circle, will begin February 15 at 6:30 at Dudley's Bookstore. For information: and/or 541-350-1322.


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