Friday morning, June 30th, 2017 - A TEXAS tapper!

Thursday night brings the Tapping Fire. What a grand spectacle it is!

When I describe the Tapping Fire ceremony, I am inspired to give the same descriptions again and again. This is because the ceremony rarely varies from the received rituals. Thus, much of what I say here I have said before. I believe it is worth repeating for those who have not yet heard the story.

Thursday, we enjoyed a dinner of burgers and fries. As before, the salad bar was popular. After the meal, we joined in on a rousing chorus of "I've Been Working on the Railroad," proper tune and all!

After dinner, tribesmen headed off to wherever it is that tribesmen go on the night of tapping fire, to do whatever it is that they do. The rest of our troop returned to camp until it was time to gather in the Handicraft Corral to prepare for the long hike to Tapping Valley. Now, the valley is right below the corral but, the night of the Tapping Ceremony, the path to it is roundabout and punctuated by stops along the way where various details of the history of Camp Geiger and the Tribe of Mic-O-Say are presented to all the Scouts and Scouters attending the session. Picture several hundred Scouts and Scouters, walking silently, arms folded across their chests, single file through the hills and woods of Camp Geiger in the gathering dusk.

The key stop along this ritual procession is Story Fire, where some of the Tribe's 'history' is shared in order to impart a valuable lesson to all present, especially to those not-yet-known Scouts who will be tapped this night. This is a relatively small fire set in a level forest clearing in the wooded hills of Camp Geiger. Along with the speaker, a Medicine Man, complete with full plains War Bonnet, several tribesmen, likewise bedecked in their full tribal regalia, attend this part of the ceremony. This is to honor those in attendance. This year, three members of Troop 451 were among these tribesmen: Honorary Warriors Village Blade (Steve Kral), War Flight (David Gonzalez), and Spirit Paint (your correspondent). The fire was built, lit, and tended by Fire Builder Little Spirit Paint, also of Troop 451. Other Troop 451 Scouters with important roles to play were Medicine Men Big Iron Wheel (Richard Covington) and Big Spirit Mist (Gary Lueking). Sachems Guards Falcon (Jim Koonce) and Three Lakes (Mark DiCiaccio) were also busily engaged with the night's tribal activities.

In the center of Tapping Valley, stands the enormous Tapping Fire.
Once again, this year, the Tapping Fire was built by many of the Scouters from Troop 451. From a distance, it looks much like any other, ordinary, campfire but up close, one can see that it nears 13 or 14 feet in height! What one took for good-sized sticks are actually the size of telephone poles and larger.

Many families and visitors attend Tapping Fire to cheer-on their sons and spouses; This year's Texas contingent included Linda and Meghan Adams, Kari and John Breding, Jennifer and Emily Bussey, Dennis and Darlene Goodrich, Angie Kral, Bimal and Leela Kahdka and Wendy Traylar, Neetin's Aunt Linda, Aunt Saru Shakya, and his cousins Diaz and Dustin. Also present were Mehal Patel, Cynthia and Brad Richards, and Bonnie Samson. Others come from far and near just to enjoy the spectacle. As I mentioned, the Tribe knows how to put on a show.

The Scouts and Scouters approach the valley just around 9:00 PM. While they are still in the distance but in sight of the valley, the fire is ignited. This time of year, the summer sun is setting then and the fireflies come out in great abundance, especially along the wooded trails from Story Fire to Tapping Fire. Their surprisingly intense flashes of light make the vegetation look alive in the dimming light. They offer a nice counterpoint to the growing blaze at the center of the valley.


As the countryside grows darker, the valley grows lighter because the fire is growing bigger. The braves and warriors start to dance around the fire, accompanied by chanting and drums. The sight of the dancers, decked out in full dance garb (including the large, fancy feather bustles each boy makes), is dramatic indeed. The dancers circle the growing inferno, silhouetted as they pass in front and illuminated as they pass behind, all accompanied by the thrumming thump of the giant tom-tom and chanting in native tongues.

The campers approach, flanked by two long lines of members of the tribe bedecked in their Native American-style finery. While the simplest Brave's or Honorary Warrior’s costume is nevertheless quite elaborate, many costumes are far more impressive still. The Sachems are there in their Mandan headdresses or porcupine-quill 'roaches'. The Medicine Men wear their plains war bonnets, as do the chiefs and chieftains. Many costumes sport elaborate beadwork requiring hundreds of hours of painstaking detail and many include optional items to dress up their already-fancy garb, such as leather pouches or the breastplates composed of the long beads known as 'hair pipe'. The effect is truly stunning. Seeing so many adults thus dressed sends a clear signal to the expectant Scouts: this is a special occasion and tribesmen are willing to go to great lengths to make that clear.

The campers circle the fire, one deep, facing the flames. Among them are the young men who may be called to be candidates for membership. Once everyone is in place, two lines of torches appear on the precipitous slope of Cardiac Hill. At the head, between the torch bearers, is the Tapper. This prestigious role requires that a young man be able to run down that declivity brandishing a flaming torch, held high in his left hand, and a tomahawk, held high in his right. With a mighty war whoop, he charges down the steep slope and into Tapping Valley to enter the enormous circle of expectant Scouts and Scouters.

A crowd of nearly 500 campers makes a very large circle indeed and the tapper makes a complete circuit, both arms held high, before he begins to tap out candidates on his second pass.
When a boy is tapped, the Tapper stops in front of him and taps him once on the left side of his chest. This is a ritual tap and the word tap describes the action accurately. The candidate is then tapped on his right shoulder and sent to stand before the presiding Chief in front of the roaring fire. The Tapper may circle past a candidate several times before he decides to stop and tap him. This only increases the palpable suspense that potential candidates feel as they watch the tapper making his rounds.

A signal honor in the Tribe of Mic-O-Say is one's selection as "Tapper.' The tapper is the individual who actually performs to duty of tapping the candidates for admission to the Tribe as braves. Last night, our Tapper was none other than Ellis Covington (runner Little Iron Wheel to the tribe)!! Little Iron Wheel is only the 306th person in the 92-year history of the Tribe to serve in the auspicious role.

When Ellis' name was announced to the assembled tribe, the applause was thunderous and long-lasting. Such was the enthusiasm of his fellow tribesmen for this young man. After the applause at last died down, his father, Medicine Man Big Iron Wheel, came out to embrace his beaming boy. Clearly, Richard is a proud father, and rightly so. The Presiding Medicine Man remarked upon the intensity and length of this reception.

In honor of his selection as Tapper, members of Troop 451 formed the 'gauntlet' of torch bearers through which the tapper begins his downhill run to Tapping Fire and the assembled Scouts, Scouters, and families. Ben "Cookie" Bryant, Kaleb DiCiaccio, Brant Goodrich, Ayrton Harried, Ian Hollenshead, Chad Kral, Jack Tyson, and Wes Williams served in these coveted positions.

Neetin Khadka, who is an accomplished percussionist, and able Tom Tom Beater Andy Turner led their fellow tom-tom beaters on the big drum that provides the rhythms for the dance.

The Tapper continues making circuits of the ring of onlooking campers until every candidate has been tapped. Then the Chief, Chieftains, and Medicine Men give the candidates, now styled “Foxmen”, several charges before they are led off by the runners (senior Scouts in the Tribe) to experience their Mic-O-Say ordeal. The speaking parts demand elocution and a truly stentorian voice; no electronic amplification or lighting is used in the ceremony. All the light is from flames and all the sound is that of the human voice or the giant drum. When the chants are sung, several voices in unison fill the valley but when a lone Chief or Medicine Man addresses the crowd, it is that voice and that voice alone
that must be heard. It helps to be in a valley but, more crucially, it helps that the crowd is prepared to be silent and listen while the speakers are passing on their messages.

The candidates for brave Tapped from Troop 451 last night were Ryan Bussey, Will Harris, Matthew Richards, and Aidan Zentner. Our guests from Troop 109, Daniel and Jonathan Wallace, were also tapped. We are justly proud of all these young men!

The braves and warriors then gather around the fire to perform a dance of joy, celebrating the fine new candidates who may become new braves. The whooping and ululations are thrilling as they dance about, bathed in the orange firelight. The world then looks black and gold. One gets a sense of what it might have been like to belong to a tribe long ago.

A spectacular moment comes as the fire burns down a bit and the upper parts collapse onto the lower ones. This sends a dense column of sparks skyward, burning bright against the darkening sky. The brightly-glowing sparks rise upward until they seem to merge with the stars scattered across the heavens, making it seems as though the Tapping Fire is the source of them all.

Then it is time to call out the candidates for Honorary Warrior. These are Scouters who have served their units and Scouting. They are not ritually tapped (that honor is reserved for Scouts) but instead, the Chief calls them forward by name. They too are given explanations and charges before being led off. This year, Doug Madhak was tapped from Troop 451.

For the public, that is the end of the ceremony though for the Foxmen, their night is yet young.

Thursday was a marvelous day for the Tribe of Mic-O-Say and for Troop 451. Tonight is another long night for all Scouts and Scouters but particularly for tribesmen. Thus, the next post may be somewhat delayed.


Comments

  1. It was a huge honor to be tapped by the first ever Texas Tapper.

    ReplyDelete

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