Springtime Ceremony

Riverside Kalpulli Tlozoteotl Aztec Dancer Esau Zaragoza blows in the the conch shell during the Wishtoyo Chumash Village annual spring equinox ceremony.

The Wishtoyo Chumash Village in Malibu hosted a four-day spring equinox ceremony, with private and public events, on March 17-20. Wishtoyo Foundation Executive Director Mati Waiya and Cultural Resources and Education Director Luhui Isha answered questions about the ceremony for The Malibu Times.

Explain the definition of spring equinox.

Waiya: Spring equinox is a time of renewal — the time of the hawk and the sun. The east is the spring. It is the color yellow for the rise of the sun and the birth of new life.

The hawk and the deer represent the spring season. The hawk is the deer’s helper. Chumash legend has it that the hawk returned the missing sun on its red-tipped tail, and the black stripe reminds the people to thank the sun at sunrise each morning for another day of life.

The deer symbolizes life. Every part of a deer is consumed: its hide, its meat, its bones and antlers, its hooves — nothing is lost or wasted. There are stories, songs and dances for the spring.

Describe the spring equinox celebration at the Wishtoyo Chumash Village.

Isha: Spring equinox at Wishtoyo Chumash Village was a four-day ceremony.

March 17 [included] waking up of the fire, opening ceremony, meditation and fire circle. March 18 [featured a] water and rebirthing ceremony. March 19, [there was] the opening ceremony with Chumash Elder Red Star and a two-day yoga retreat with Shiva Rea.

March 20 [was the] Community Spring Equinox Celebration, [which included a native plant lecture and work on the land at the village with native plant specialist Nicholas “Hummingbird” Hernandez and Kokopelli Spirit Journey — a series of events and hikes from the Pacific Ocean, commencing at Wishtoyo Chumash Village to the Colorado River.]

As a part of the commencement ceremony for the Kokopelli Spirit Journey, we felt it was important to invite the YAOTLAMACHILISTLE (Danza Azteca) because the area of Blythe, Calif., is the ancestral birthplace of the Chichimeca/Azteca peoples.

Was this the first time the Aztec dancers joined the celebration?

Isha: We have had practitioners and cultural keepers come to the village for ceremony, cultural exchange, practice and just to visit. This is a part of Wishtoyo’s mission to global wellness. Wishtoyo Chumash Village is committed to holding the sacred fire for Chumash ceremony and tending that fire for our families and local, tribal and international communities.

What are your thoughts on this year’s spring equinox celebration?

Isha: The four days of the spring equinox ceremony were humbling and inspiring. To see so many people from every walk of life, religion and heritage come together to honor the new season and offer their prayers, hopes and dreams for the betterment of the earth through words, ceremonial dance, traditional songs or just in silence — it was as if we were all a part of the cosmos, like a big wheel or gear turning slowly, mindfully and collectively in the universe.

How are you continuing the Chumash culture and traditions at the village?

Waiya: This is our practice. It’s a way of life. We continue by understanding that our culture is alive and evolving every day. Though we learn from the past, our culture is not stagnant and stuck in the past. We are living now and working toward leaving something sustainable for seven generations into the future … We are responsible for educating the larger community by sharing our ancestral culture through ceremony, education, cultural preservation and protection.

What do you hope visitors will experience?

Isha: A safe, peaceful place and engaging experience with many cultural and environmental opportunities to learn from and take part in, becoming the best caretakers of ourselves and our natural environment as we can, together as a human family.

The City of Malibu is celebrating its 25th anniversary. What are your thoughts on the changes you see in Malibu and what do you hope to see for the future?

Isha:  Malibu carries a Chumash name, originally Humaliwo, meaning where the waves sound loudly, and is located on Chumash ancestral land, yet it does little to educate, protect, support or promote Chumash culture.

The Chumash Culture is a maritime culture. However, if you look at the walls of city hall, the mural that exists there does little to showcase the history of the first peoples of the place that it now calls home. One powwow each year isn’t sufficient respect or acknowledgement of the profoundly significant 15,000-year history of the Chumash peoples, especially in the face of Malibu’s 25-year anniversary.

There are so many good people who live here and that are truly connected to this place that they now call home. We have to take care of it together and that means doing a better job in acknowledging the very rich Chumash heritage as a priority through community outreach, education and opportunities to protect and preserve Chumash culture and heritage.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

For information about programs and events at Wishtoyo Chumash Village, visit wishtoyo.org.