The Ritual of the Shiwanna for the Sacred Rain by Elizabeth Fenley
Blue feathers fall from the sky, as they always do, warning of the first rain of the season. Each cycle of rain is longer than the one before. Some say the Shiwanna are angry.
The preparations are immediate, oft-practiced, and still bear the undertone of panic. The mothers are particularly frantic.
The elders have decided there are to be four sacrifices this cycle in hopes of appeasing the Cloud People.
Those four will be selected before the feathers cease to float to earth and sacrificed as the first drops of rain fall.
The beating of the ceremonial drum summons the villagers to The Circle. They stand silently, young and old, until the tightened hide ceases to vibrate.
Yzobera holds his hands above his head, the wide, beaded turquoise and lapis bracelets circling his wrists match the band of his headdress. Sapphire feathers waft by his hands, lingering in his headdress. “Blessed be the Mighty Shiwanna.”
“Blessed be the Merciful Shiwanna,” the villagers reply in unison.
“Blessed be the Holy People of the Clouds.”
“Blessed be the Bringers of the Sacred Rain.”
As the opening of the ceremony is completed, Kaveah steps forward to the center of the circle. Her azul flowing gown adorned with fallen feathers of the past pools around her feet in soft puddles of feathered gauze. “We, together, Honor the Shiwanna.”
“As one, we Honor the Shiwanna.”
“We of Anhiaro Praise the Cloud People.”
“We of Anhiaro Worship the Cloud People.”
Kaveah steps back, and Tynsi moves into her place. His face and bare chest are marked with patterns wrought in blood. His arms are banded in pure crimson-dyed animal hide, and his knee length loin cloth bears the stains ofn blood spilled in sacrifice, layered upon layer over the white cloth beneath.
“We implore the Divine Shiwanna to guide us.”
“We beg the Powerful Shiwanna to guide us.”
“We pray to the Deities of the Clouds for Wisdom.”
“We pray to the Deities of the Clouds for Strength.”
The ceremony of call and response is complete. It is time for Tynsi to select The Four of This Cycle.
The villagers join hands, clasped tightly in unison, fear, and dread.
Tynsi closes his brown eyes and lifts his weathered face to the skies; he stands motionless as the feathers caress his uplifted countenance, bringing him the Guidance of the Shiwanna.
The silence grows. The villagers cling more tightly to their families, their neighbors, their people, beginning to shake as some hold their breath in their tight hearts.
“Oldest daughter of Nayeli,” Tynsi announces, face still raised, eyes closed.
Nayeli cries out, drops to her knees, and keens as she wraps herself around the young girl who stood clinging to her leg throughout the ceremony. The girl looks confused, scared, and shocked by her mother’s sudden tears. “Shiwanna, taa shoodi, ndaga, shoodi taaa!” Shiwanna, please, no, please!
The girl’s father takes the child from his wife and leads her to stand beside Tynsi. He kisses her on the forehead three times. “Ayoo o ni.” Love. He returns to the circle to hold his Nayeli as she weeps.
“Myzl,” Tynsi proclaims.
Myzl, a young male warrior freezes, shock crossing his face momentarily before he remembers he is a fearless Anahario. He lifts his chin proudly as his confident strides take him to Tynsi’s side. “Arhehnee, Shiwanna.” Thank you, Shiwanna.
The villagers, startled, murmur as they turn their gazes to the village elder, oldest and most revered warrior and sage in Anahario, wifeless widower for decades with no surviving descendants. A slow smile stretches open to reveal aging teeth between gaps of empty flesh. Yzoberro raises his arms to the sky, casting his cloudy eyes skyward. “Tosh, Shiwanna, danihi akot e hajooba ndal a i.” Honored, Shiwanna, your blessed humble servant.
Silent tears from the villagers accompany his radiance as he moves, unstooped by age, to his place beside Myzl. The young warrior stands taller, stronger, fortunate dying beside a man so esteemed.
Ximoarra gasps hands moving to protect the baby growing inside her. “No, Tynsi, my child! My child!”
Villagers join her protest. Mothers-to-be are considered to be guarded from sacrifice, as it takes two lives.
Tynsi stands motionless, expressionless.
“Ximoarra,” he repeats.
She has no family there to hold her, comfort her. Ximoarra’s husband was cut down in battle during the last war party. This was to be their first child.
She clutches at the hands of those in the circle next to her, still pleading for her baby’s life, offering herself for the next cycle, once her baby is brought forth into the tribe.
“Tosh Shiwanna, bika iishyeed shi, taa shoodi! Bika iishyeed shi awee! Taa shoodi, Tosh Shiwanna! Shi awe! Bika iishyeed shi awee! Taa shoodi!” Honored Shiwanna, help me, please! Help my baby! Please, Honored Shiwanna! My baby! Help my baby! Please!
The man and woman holding her hands exchange looks of indecision over Ximoarra’s head.
Kaveah moves from her place among the elders, crossing the circle gracefully, a gently rippling river of quiet cloth and soft feathers. She places her hands on Ximoarra’s face, lightly brushing aside her tears while whispering calming words to her until she releases her neighbors’ hands. Kaveah twines her arm across Ximoarra’s waist, placing her hand on the baby within her skin. Together the join the Chosen, standing beside the baffled little girl who was the first of The Called. Kaveah stays with her, stands with her in maternal reassurance.
Tynsi opens his eyes, casting his gaze around the circle of villagers and The Chosen. Ximoarra is silent, streaks of tears now dried, a blank expression of shock replacing her previous hysteria; Kaveah holds fast to her and her baby with what the villagers know is her power as favored by the Shiwana.
“Ayoo Shiwanna, di Akote Baa Haah Tsask Eh.” Mighty Shiwanna, the Blessed Sacred Chosen.
“Ayoo Shiwanna, di Akote Baa Haah Tsask Eh,” repeated the villagers and the Chosen.
“Ayoo Shiwanna, danhih tsin ii aii nihi nayillniih nihi na n ah.” Mighty Shiwanna, we beg you accept our sacrifice.
“Ayoo Shiwanna, danhih tsin ii aii nihi nayillniih nihi na n ah.”
They stand, the circle of villagers, The Chosen, and the elders, waiting for the first drops of rain.