The Caney ceremony of Equinox is a celebration of beginnings and endings. There is Spring Equinox and Fall Equinox. Spring Equinox is the Birth time of the yearly cycle when The Cosmic Matriarch Ata Bey gives birth to the solar cycle. At this time, when the length of the day is equal to the length of the night Ata Bey demonstrates her generosity in offering us the gift of her son Yoka Hu in the form of the Spring Sun and the gentle rains of that time of the year. Fall Equinox is the season of conclusion, when Lord Yoka-Hu ends his yearly life cycle and dies in the maelstrom of wind and torrential rain that is the time of Hu-Rakan.
It is the time of sacrifice when the plant spirits give up their lives at harvest time that we may live. It is the time when we look forward to the celebration of the ancestors in November’s Day of the Dead.
The Equinox Ceremony is primarily a woman’s ritual. Whenever possible it should be led by a female beike, and a woman chosen from the participants to represent the presence of Ata Bey among the people should play a very prominent role.
A woman is chosen from the participants of a Caney ceremony to represent Ata-Bey and crowned with the headdress of the Cosmic Matriarch.
The ceremony begins with all the participants male and female in a large circle to perform the tobacco ritual. After the smoking ceremony is performed the men and the women separate. The men remain at the main ceremonial site and the women withdraw to another place to perform the women’s ritual.
The women’s ritual begins with all the women sitting together in a circle including the woman who is playing the role of Ata Bey. A container is passed around the circle clock-wise along with a pair of scissors. Each woman clips off a tiny bit of her hair or fingernail and places it in the container. Then the container is passed to the beike and she adds tabonuko incense or copal and sacred herbs. The whole mixture is burned ceremonially. This represents the sacrifice that Ata-Bey offers every year at harvest time when her son dies in the form of the harvested plants to feed the people.
After the sacrifice is burned thoroughly the ashes are mixed with a bit of oil to create a kind of black paste and used as paint face paint. This container of black face paint is passed around the circle along with another container holding red or orange face paint made of annatte seeds (achiote) or (bija). The combination of red and black face paint are used by each individual woman to create her own personal spirit design on her face.
When all the women have painted their faces the woman who plays the role of Ata-Bey stands and is led to the middle of the circle where she sits.
A rig is prepared beforehand and attached to the ceiling or the branch of a tree. This rig should be a wide loop or ring of some kind that can allow a fairly wide rope to be run through it. The most important aspect of this part of the ceremony is the creation of a long snake-like structure made out of ropes. This is achieved by hanging one end of the rope through the loop rigging and allowing the other end to trail down in a big handful of strands that will then be taken individually by the women participants.
Each woman takes the end of one of the ropes. The end of each rope is coiled around a stick to create a large rope bundle which the woman holds in her hand. Then all the participants form a large circle around the woman that has been chosen to represent Ata-Bey. The beike takes the other end of the rope assemblage and pulls gently against the pull of the participants to keep all the ropes taut. At this point the Boa constrictor dance chant begins and the participants begin to dance around the Ata-Bey woman.
As the body of the rope serpent is created by the weaving motion of the women’s dance the beike gradually pulls in her end of the rope through the loop that hangs above he celebrants. At the same time the large ball of wound-up rope in the hands of each celebrant grows gradually smaller as the dance progresses
The participants dance in two different directions. The direction that each woman is going to dance is decided at the beginning. Just before the beginning of the dance they are given the opportunity to state their position in the circle by calling out the words “I can make” and “I can un-make” alternatively. One woman is chosen to be the first and she says “I can make”, expressing Ata-Bey’s power to create. The next woman calls out “I can un-make”, expressing Mother Nature’s formidable transformative power to change the face of the Earth. The next woman then calls out “I can make” and the next calls out “I can unmake” and so on until every woman knows whether she is a maker or an un-maker. When the dance begins the “makers” dance in a clock-wise direction and the “un-makers” dance in a counter-clockwise direction weaving in and out of each other.
As the weaving motion of the women’s dance creates the thick rope body of the ceremonial boa constrictor snake, the point at which all the ropes come together gradually descends dangerously close to the top of Ata-Bey’s head.
So the beike calls a halt to the dance and begins to pull on her end of the rope snake through the loop. As she pulls all the women allow her some slack by letting some length of rope to go forth from their individual rope coils. This causes the point where the ropes come together to rise away from the top of Ata-Bey’s head.
The dance can begin again as the women continue their weaving motion to further the length of the rope snake. When the point where the ropes come together again reaches down too close to Ata Bey’s head the beike again stops the dance and again the ropes are pulled through the loop. This process continues until most of the length of the ropes have been woven into the body of the snake.
Once the whole length of the snake has been created it is brought down from its loop and spread out. One end of it is tied to the belt of Ata-Bey and the women line themselves all along the length of it in a single file holding on to it with their hands.
Once the participants have lined themselves up all along the length of the rope serpent The woman that plays the role of Ata-Bey is blindfolded to symbolize our helplessness as humans in the presence of the power and force of Nature. Each woman is handed a small container filled with achiote face-paint to hold in her hand as she dances.
Behind the row of participants holding on the the rope snake there should be four women, each one representing one of the four directions and each one holding a basket filled with the particular food associated with her direction within our Caney tradition. These are the FOOD MOTHERS. and they represent The South with it’s green squash, the West with its black beans, the North with its white cassava loaves, and the East with its yellow grains of maize-corn.
At this point the Boa Constrictor dance chant begins and the long row of women begin to dance forth from the place where they were for their women’s ritual and toward the main ceremonial center where the men await them. Resplendent in their face-paint and lined up all along the length of the rope snake they wind their way toward the men’s group led by the blindfolded Ata-Bey who is guided by two of the participants and by the beike. The beike should dance alongside the leader chanting and playing her drum or rattle all the way to the men’s group. The men should at this point form themselves into a circle facing out.
When the women reach the men’s hoop, they circle around them in a line all along the rope snake. Once they have encircled the men’s hoop the rope snake is gathered up by the beike and the man designated to represent Yoka Hu takes the blindfold from Ata Bey’s eyes. The women each stands face to face with one or more men. The women then paint sacred designs on the faces of the men thereby bringing the blessing of the women’s ceremony to the male participants. If there are more men than women some of the women paint more than one man’s face. If there are more women than men then some men will allow themselves to have their faces painted by more than one woman.
When all the men’s faces are painted the women and the men form one big circle and begin to dance together.
After dancing together for a while the dance is stopped by the beike. During Fall Equinox the ceremony ends here. During Spring Equinox at this point in the ceremony the woman that plays the role of Ata Bey is called to the center of the circle. A man is chosen to play the role of Yoka Hu and he is also asked to come to the center of the circle. At this point the beike brings into the center of the circle the ceremonial Koa hoop (stone collar). This sacred object that is formed like an oval-shaped uterus has a three-pointed cemi tied to it in the form of Yoka Hu in his dormant manifestation. That cemi was attached to the stone collar in the Winter at Solstice-time to represent the return of the Dead Yoka Hu back to the womb of his mother where he could be re conceived and brought back to life. Now after months of gestation in close proximity to the sacred life-giving womb, he is ready to be born again.
The beike hands the Koa-hoop to the woman that is playing the role of Ata Bey. as she holds the Koa-hoop the man that plays the role of Yoka Hu cuts or unties the cords that bind the three-pointed cemi to the Koa hoop. He takes the three-pointed image that represents the dead or dormant Yoka Hu and hands it to the beike. The beike then gives him an image of Yoka Hu that represents him as a living vigorous entity. The man that represents Yoka HU then passes the new image through the middle of the hoop as if it was being born from inside it and declarers Yoka Hu “born” everybody cheers and the dancing begins again as they take the sacred images away. This concludes the ceremony.