Ceremonial Dress

Willow, Otter and Loon have accompanied Lynx on a diplomatic mission to the Algonquians in Northern Ontario. The first meeting is an event worthy of ceremonial dress. Lynx does his best to make the three travel-worn friends into full fledged envoys.

Click through the gallery below to see the illustrations from Enemy Arrows by Will O’Hara

Excerpt from the book

Lynx was awakened by the laughing call of a loon drifting in the water close to the camp. He looked out to see the bird’s red eyes peering from its black head and knew immediately that the loon was calling them to prepare for the meeting with its people— the People of the Lakes. Out from under the canoe he rolled and walked slowly to the shore where he spoke to the loon, thanking it for bringing the dawn. The feathered black and white spirit called once again in reply, its haunting sound echoing across the still lake. When the loon turned its head to listen to the echoes the white band on the back of its neck reflected the orange light of the rising sun.

Lynx watched silently as the bird glided beside the shore. Sometimes it dipped its black head into the water to listen for fish. Then, as if being called by the spirits, it threw its head back and emitted a shrill, lingering cry. In a flash of black and white wing feathers amid a glistening spray of water, it rose up and raced across the surface of the lake, using its webbed feet as tiny snowshoes and its wing tips as paddles until it lifted into the brightening sky.

“Don’t be impatient,” said Lynx, as he watched the bird fade into the distance. “We’ll be with your people soon.”

Lynx unwrapped a bundle containing sacred decorations and then waded knee deep into the still lake facing the rising sun. Using a frayed twig and looking at his reflection in the still water, he spread pigment of red ochre mixed with bear grease over his face. He swirled the edges of the paint to form spirals and long pointed bear teeth, bending closer to the water as he drew the finest lines. His practiced hands worked with the skill of an experienced envoy who had prepared for many meetings with the People of the Lakes.

A small fleck of pigment fell from the twig into the water, causing a shimmering ring of red oil to spread across the surface in all directions like a brush fire, obscuring his reflection.

He stood up straight, waded through the water away from the oil and continued to prepare himself for the ceremony with different pigments—bright greens from copper, vivid yellows from lichens, rich browns from black walnuts and deep blacks from charred wood. He decorated himself all the way down to his knees, peering into the water as he worked.

By the time he had finished the sun had risen above the trees. He took one last look at his reflection and waded to shore to wake his companions. It was time to get them ready for the meeting, too.

He leaned over the sleeping boys and gave their shoulders a gentle shake. Willow was sleeping too soundly to awaken, but Loon opened his eyes to see a brilliantly coloured mysterious figure looming over him. His eyes widened and he gasped at the sight of this strange vision.

“Lynx!” he cried, sitting up and looking frantically around the site for his friend. “Help me, Lynx!”

His shrieks woke Willow from his deep sleep. When Willow saw the strange figure beside him he tried to scramble away on his hands and knees, but Lynx grabbed an ankle and held it tight.

“Wait,” said Lynx in a soothing voice. “I’m right here. It’s me you see.”

Once the panic had left them, Willow and Loon stood up and checked him to make sure he was really Lynx.

“I can see who you are now,” said Willow, with a weak laugh, admiring Lynx’s colourful decorations. “But you frightened us.

How did you get like that without waking us up?”

“Come and I’ll show you,” Lynx answered.

Before long Willow and Loon were sitting by the fire eating smoked whitefish, watching as Lynx knelt down and unrolled another precious bundle of ornaments. They had prepared for other ceremonies from an early age and knew the meaning of each colour and shape that would be painted on their bodies, as well as the symbolic trinkets they would wear.

“You dishevelled muskrats are going to be transformed into eagles,” said Lynx. “You’re the representatives of our great people now and you must arrive at the gathering place in splendour.” He surveyed Willow and Loon from head to toe with a frown on his face.

“This will take some time,” he said, as he unwrapped a bark container and handed them each a small ball of bear grease. He gave Loon a thin comb carved from a deer antler.

“First, rub this through your hair until it shines like a beaver’s coat. Then comb it straight. After that, we can paint you to look like the brave hunter you are.”

He turned toward the ornaments and began to chant about the animals that had given their bones, teeth and feathers for the grandeur and teachings of his people. As he sang, he sprinkled dried tobacco leaves on the fire and fanned the smoke over his collection. Then he rose and danced solemnly in a circle around the flames—and around Willow and Loon, busy combing the grease through their hair.

Once his dance was over, Lynx helped his young friends paint their faces and decorate their bodies in shapes and colours indicating their status as young warriors and envoys. He covered their foreheads with red and black lines and their arms and chests with green and yellow. When Lynx finally stood back to admire his work, the frown had left his face.

As the paint congealed he added the final touches, giving Willow and Loon necklaces of white shells and beaver teeth.

“These are from Old Chief,” Lynx said. “When the People of the Lakes see them, they’ll know you are his representatives.” He added copper earrings decorated with shells and a bear-tooth necklace. “They’ll know you’ve killed a bear,” he said proudly. Then he gave them each a pair of ankle bracelets adorned with shells. “And these will show that you can run as fast as the wind.”

Next, Lynx unwrapped several sacred eagle feathers and attached one in the hair of each of his companions before putting three in his own hair. At last, he looked at his friends with a smile. Willow’s long slender arms and legs and his natural poise were accentuated by the vivid colours and the ornaments he wore. His narrow face looked longer than usual because of the vertical lines of red and black on his cheeks, and the yellow paint on his prominent nose. The single feather in his hair gave him the bearing of a towering tree.

Yellow and blue circles painted around Loon’s arms and the green lines across his chest brought out the toughness of his smaller physique and emphasized his solid chest, while bright colours on his face made his teeth shine like a full moon.

“Good,” said Lynx with a broad smile. “Very good. Now you are eagles!”