|In the heat and steam and with the suumesh songs sung, the Sweat House ceremony offers individuals an opportunity to give thanks for the various gifts bestowed from the Creator, the Amotqn, and to obtain spiritual cleansing, healing and "rebirth." Held throughout the year and for many families on a weekly basis, the rituals of the Sweat House take place in a blanket, canvas and/or rug-covered, doomed-structure of willow saplings some six to ten feet in diameter. The lodge might be built along a nearby creek or in someone’s backyard. The lodge itself is sometimes referred to as "Grandmother," while the rocks are called "Grandpas." After the rocks have been well heated and placed within the lodge, the participants enter in only their "birthday suits," without clothing. Typically men sweat separate from women.
After the door is closed the ritual begins with the singing of suumesh songs and the saying of prayers. The prayers are directed at the needs of those participating and especially of their families. The ceremony is structured into a cycle of four quarters, with water poured over the heated rocks during each quarter, and more songs and prayers offered. The heat generated in the sweat is very intense. Sweat cedar or a medicine root might be sprinkled over the rocks as well. The root might also be rubbed directly on the sweating skins of the participants. The smudging and rubbing acts to further "cleanse" the participants. After all the prayers are given, lasting as long as an hour, the participants might plunge themselves into a nearby creek or wash off from the water held in buckets.
As you emerge from the "womb" of the Grandmother, you are "reborn" and "rejuvenated," to "become stronger to help our people." To sweat is to renew one’s kinship with his or her family, and with the Amotqn. In addition to sweating on a regular basis, the Sweat House ceremony is held to help celebrate birthdays and, prior to the hunting season, to help assure success for the hunters. The suumesh songs sung during a sweat might also be used to "touch up" a backache, heal a sickness, or seek guidance during a "troublesome" situation. The Sweat House and the suumesh songs sung within the lodge are often used to help heal the "wounded people," those individuals who have lost their cultural identity as an "Indian" and might be struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse.
Because of the intensely spiritual and personal nature of the Sweat House, we have elected not to include photographic images of the Grandmother, nor audio clips of the songs heard in her lodge.
© Coeur d'Alene Tribe 2002
< previous |