Monday, March 3, 2014

BIRTH OF MEKKAR

According to the native practice of relating stories through oral tradition, his grandmamma told the boy, along with some his friends, the story of his entrance into the world. She believed in the honored tradition of passing on these sagas in this manner. Plus, Mekkar’s grandmama loved the attention of anyone who would listen to her speak. Having an audience made her feel respected or at least she believed that it did. That is how her grandson perceived it.

Mekkar leaned over to his best friend sitting there and whispered, “If any baby pictures of me are displayed to my friends, then I am out of here as soon as possible. I do not need to see my bare bottom, neither do my friends.”

The birth of Mekkar: Now the story begins...

There was darkness along the horizon, except for the thick blanket of snow that provided the only light. The quietness was ever present throughout the area. All one could hear were the sounds of hooves and boots penetrating the white powder. Fortunately, for the first time in days no blizzard had come to pass to affect the journey. It was decided that this was a good time to set up camp.

Camp set-up began amongst the clicking sounds of boots and hooves in frenzied activity. Adults, as well as children maneuvered materials, food, and animals into position. Tepee poles were raised, first the curved ones for the inner base. Next, the straight ones were placed to rise above the base. After that specifically cut layers of reindeer skins were wrapped around the tepee frame.

In its finished form an opening was formed at the top of the tepee. This was to provide an outlet for the smoke created from the fire inside. A tepee was set up for each family. Some could “house” up to 10 people. A heavier structure ordinarily made of small logs or large formed wood pieces, along with other materials, would be used for the sauna tent. Camp was usually set up in an area where there had been one before, similar to times long past. A previously constructed, permanent structure built into the side of a hill might also be nearby. Many times those shelters could be quickly modified and used for the relaxing hot room instead.

The camp itself was normally arranged in a type of semicircle with a centralized common area, but the layout could be altered according to the surroundings. Normally, there are only a couple of options for establishing a camp site, either a circular placement or a relatively straight line. The settlement formation was chosen after thoughtful analysis by the tribe's leaders and based on historical tradition. Final selection is determined by various features of the surrounding landscape.

Some of these chosen locations and places include access to readily available water and food sources, ground levelness, and mobility ease for continued transport. Basically, how easy is it to get to and later on back out on the trek? It was a very efficient process that took place and the whole camp setup was usually completed in only a couple of hours. This stop was just a short rest for the trekkers to replenish themselves as they were behind schedule. The trek leaders felt it was a good way to get back on the path as soon as possible to catch up according to their original plan. When mid-evening appeared the group gathered everything, packed it all up quickly and began to set off again through the darkness of night.

Early the next morning the group was still on the move. The movement of gear and animals, as well as, muted voices of a few individuals were the only sounds in the darkness. Soon, it was overcome by the now labored breathing and noise stemming from one source, one young woman. That woman was Sirga, six months pregnant with child. Unexpectedly, it was evident that she was about to deliver her child right there. It wasn’t going to wait for the full span of time as planned. Plus, there were still many miles to reach the nearest modern hospital facility. There was the realization that this risky premature birth would take place in an unscheduled manner and according to the old way.

Forward movement of all in the group, as well as the animals stopped and was now in hesitation mode with the tents still packed up. It seemed that the whole tribe was going to take a brief rest after all whether they liked it or not. Most other activity for the most part ceased altogether. Specifically, the children were not as loud and animated within their game movement as normal. Many adults, especially the older ones, were standing or sitting around discussing the current state of affairs over cups of fresh hot coffee or other drinks. There was anticipation in the air. At the same time, some commotion was stirring, as a few individuals hastily scrambled to gather some needed items for the event to commence!

After a small mound of snow was gathered and evened out, it was covered with some of the finest tanned reindeer skins that were usually made for trade or for sale. The smoothed-out area was quickly constructed and setup. The young Sirga was placed by a couple of the attendants on the makeshift snow bed, since none of the tents had been set up yet. She was told to lie down and encouraged to relax, as much as possible. While others in the tribe attempted to make her as comfortable as they could.

Even though the birthing was very premature and the child quite small, there was still suffering experienced by Sirga. This was noticed by some of the other women who had previously given birth themselves. They could relate to the situation by listening and understood the difficulties of a woman going through her first such milestone.

The event had taken longer than expected. Finally, the newborn child had arrived and took his first breath, while the sun was still approaching along the horizon. The background consisted of a light snow fall, surrounded by a couple of reindeer, and a few important members of the tribe. Those individuals that were present for the event included the shaman, the chief's wife, the husband, and some additional midwives.

Sirga was now considered a real woman since she had now ascended into motherhood. She was very exhausted, proud, and even seemed to radiate. Henrik, the father of the child, suggested that Sirga looked even younger at that particular moment than her age would indicate. However, even before this event many people incorrectly guessed Sirga's age because she had always looked much younger than she really was.

Many in the tribe described Sirga as a beautiful young woman. She possessed a medium round face with high cheekbones, deep set light bluish-gray eyes, dark brown hair, and a warm smile that transported others in her presence. In addition, she exhibited smooth, flush skin with not a wrinkle in sight. On top of that, Sirga possessed a tall, medium to slender figure. However, it was not considered to be one fashioned for motherhood or so it was thought. Those features, mainly owing to family genetics dictated why the young woman appeared much more youthful than her true age. This would always be the case throughout her whole life.

The new parents then and there conferred upon the little one the name of Mekkar that was alluded to the previous October. A cultural custom was every day of the year has a few specific common names assigned to that particular day. In this instance the name was chosen on that specific day before the birth took place. Some parents also choose one of those names for their newborn that are listed among the choices on the specific day of the calendar the child is actually born. The practice is a borrowed one from the dominant culture that enveloped the whole area.

But, the name Mekkar was only a small part of the boy's full name. His name encompassed many names handed down through the family lineage. One part of the little child's namesake was taken after the person who helped in the delivery; that occurred on the tundra in the Arctic mist. It was the tribe's medicine man, spiritual leader and shaman all rolled into one person, Aslak Mekkar. Thereafter, the child would always just be referred to as Mekkar from then on to make it easier for everyone to identify him.

In typical native fashion, only a few hours after the birthing process, Sirga gathered herself, as well as, her personal items. She and Mekkar continued on the trek with the rest of the tribe, animals, and belongings.

A few days later, the story of this event was retold during the sauna tent storytelling session. It was ironic that no one could pinpoint the exact spot where the birthing event took place, just the general area. Now, this might have been solved if the whole tribe backtracked along the same route just taken. That is, by following the footprints and other indicators they left behind. Yet, this action was not going to happen due to lack of extra time and other physical constraints. Nevertheless, it was predetermined that there was a schedule to keep and the trek to their destination couldn't be interrupted. The tribe didn't want to overburden the resources provided by the land in that specific location. So, sustained movement at this time was necessary for the continued existence of this Arctic tribe on the journey.

Anyhow, the skins that were laid out for the birthing episode were left behind in that spot. Either the hides were forgotten in the rush of activity or left behind because of the blood and placenta matter remaining on them. The usual practice was to bury the furs in the snow or store them in a hard to access place, but there was little time for that. By the time dusk arrived scavenger wolves had approached the now deserted location. As the animals noticed the birth contents on the skins they began to feast on the blood matter. After the lead male wolf had devoured some of the left behind remnants, he started to have convulsions and howled uncontrollably. The wolf pack shouts emanating from the spot could be heard from a great distance throughout the valley.

By the time the journey had reached a sizeable city that had modern practitioners of medicine, the newborn child Mekkar had lapsed into a coma. It was learned that Mekkar was much too small, due to being so premature. The doctors wondered how the young one could endure a continued non traditional existence. His mama brushed aside these cautions and boldly replied that Mekkar would be a fighter and a survivor. She flatly stated that Mekkar would not lose this battle for his life. Not now, not here.

Mekkar had to be taken further away where increased medical attention could be given to him. Arrangements for transport to a city in this region were made. However, it was not a large metropolis but a town with a few thousand inhabitants. For this territory in the middle of the Arctic that is considered a big town. Trouble was, the city put his group on a modified route that ventured the tribe far off the regular path. So Mekkar’s mama and papa had to stay with the little one as the tribe went on without them.

Well, Mekkar did awake from his stillness and the future showed that Sirga was right after all. She couldn't have been more accurate in proving the doctors predictions wrong. It was determined that the baby would be separated out at this point. That is, until his growth could be accelerated enough for him to catch up with other babies in the normal stages of infant development.

He surprisingly surpassed other children throughout his early years and eventually grew in stature. This occurred despite many who continued to predict that Mekkar wouldn't survive very long in the harsh Arctic environment. A few of these forecasters had the nerve to persist in speaking this way to Sirga too, but she would hear none of it.