How Sacred Tradition Can Serve as a Catalyst for Healing
Artist and illustrator Chiffon Lark shares the wisdom of The Ga'an from her N'dee Heritage
The Ga’an are the Sacred Mountain Spirits of the Apache people. Usen, or Creator, sent these sacred beings to teach the Apache people how to live in harmony. They are Ancient Messengers and Teachers of the Apache ways. There are 1,000 years of songs that the Ga’an blessed the Apache people with these teachings and are sung in increments of four. Four is a sacred number to the Apache people. It represents the four directions, the four seasons, the four sacred mountains, and the four sacred colors.
Chiffon breathes life into illustrations from memory of Ga'an ceremonies she has attended in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Apache Crown Dancers are channels of the Ga’an, meaning they allow the Sacred Mountain Spirits to embody them. Men are the only ones who are able to learn these ways fully and it can take up to 20 years. There are sacred prayers and blessings that must be done in a specific way by someone who walks a sacred path in this life.
The Ga'an Ceremony
The ga’an ceremony is performed to drum and song, usually at night. The groups always have five dancers: the messenger and four dancers representing the different cardinal directions (north, south, east and west). It begins with the messenger using a “bull roarer,” or whistle on the end of a string, to create an ethereal sound announcing the start of the dance. The bullroarer is used uniquely by the Western Apache; Mescalero Apaches and other Apache Tribes omit it. All dancers except the messenger carry wood or yucca spike “swords,” usually with symbols painted on them. The ga’an mask must be prepared by a shaman with great care, and the patterns, glyphs and colors on the crown all have symbolic significance. Different colors represent the cardinal directions and symbols may include totemic animals as well as constellations of stars, crosses, and circles. The bodies of the dancers are painted with symbols and patterns as well.
The messenger’s mask is usually smaller than the others and uses white cloth instead of black. The mirrors on the crown, a recent addition, flash as the ga’an dance, adding to the dazzling effect. The Apache, like many indigenous peoples, associate mirrors with spirituality. The small wooden slats that dangle from the mask create a clicking sound characteristic of the ga’an. The ceremony is performed at na’ih’es (girl’s adulthood initiation ritual), also known as the Sunrise Ceremony; to influence the weather; to heal the sick; and to purify the village of evil spirits and protect it for the future.
Understanding the Sacredness of the Ga'an
Chiffon has chosen to use a monochromatic palette in her illustrations of the Crown Dancers. She has followed the traditional ways of learning (which takes many years) in ceremonial art practices. Her mentors have advised her to use the Four Sacred Colors with careful consideration. The medicine of the Four Sacred Colors is powerful and can bring harm to those who misuse them.
Chiffon will continue to follow the path of traditional ceremonial art and only make available what is honorable to these teachings.
Four Original Ink Illustrations have been made available through a Creative Partnership with Aniwa, Buy Now or Join Waitlist
These Limited Edition Original Illustrations of the Apache Crown Dancers are available to bring you the loving care of the Apache People, N'dee, to your sacred space.
Watch this short video explaining the sacredness of Creation through the lense of the N'dee. Join Chiffon and other Indigenous Leaders in the ceremonial gathering in California 2024. Visit Aniwa Gathering for more information.
Learn More about the Ga'an with Virtual Presentation
Members of Apache Nation may attend FREE
Video and Portrait Images credited to Aniwa
All images of Chiffon Lark's Artwork are protected under US Copyright Laws