Published January/Feburary 2013

Sunrise Ceremony

A rare look at a young girl’s four-day transition to womanhood
showcases tribal tradition in the White Mountains

BYTeresa Bitler
“Life is beautiful, but it was not meant to be easy,” the medicine man tells 13-year-old Tyra Gloshay, who is flanked by her godparents. The three of them stand at the back of the wikiup, a temporary hut Tyra fashioned out of oak tree branches just days before with the help of her grandmother. Her immediate family and friends line the structure’s interior, witnesses to one of the most important moments of her life — Tyra will become a woman this weekend.
 
As she listens, the medicine man continues. “Don’t gossip,” he counsels, elaborating on its evils. He follows this by advising her to be her own person, to not take life for granted, and to learn to speak the Apache language, if she doesn’t already. Then, he announces that it’s time for Tyra to dress in clothing that signifies she has taken on the role of Changing Woman. “If she is not dressed, this is just a picnic,” he says.
 
Even without the ceremonial dressing, this four-day rite of passage would hardly resemble a picnic. It has the look, feel, and scale of a wedding. The family arranges for a medicine man, provides multiple shared meals, schedules tribal musicians to perform, and often hires a photographer. And, like a wedding, it takes months, even a year, to plan. The Gloshays began preparing for Tyra’s Sunrise Ceremony in July 2011, nearly a year before I stood in the doorway of the wikiup on the White Mountain Apache tribal lands.
 
Planning for the Ceremony
To understand the Sunrise Ceremony, you have to go back to the Apache creation story, explains Vernalda Grant, tribal archaeologist for the neighboring San Carlos Apaches. When the creator flooded the Earth, he put Changing Woman, also known as White-Painted Woman, in an abalone shell to save her. She became the mother of all people and exemplifies the type of woman that the Apache people want their girls to become.
 
On a day soon after she has her first menstrual cycle, the girl takes a rock (often turquoise) and a feather to the house of a woman her family has selected to be godmother. The woman has the chance to decline or accept the offer. Grant, who has been a godmother the maximum number of four times, says when you agree to become godmother, the girls become a part of your family and receive a part of you during the ceremony. Families often select a godmother because she embodies the characteristics they want the girl to have.
 
As the ceremony approaches, work begins in earnest. The family purchases the food and materials to supply the encampment. Building materials are delivered, and mentors help the girl construct her wikiup, the outdoor kitchen, and other areas. Even though she has some guidance, building the camp is largely the girl’s duty. As much as the Sunrise Ceremony celebrates her becoming a woman, it also teaches her how to set up a camp, maintain it, and take on responsibility within the tribe.
 
How large and lavish the affair is depends on the family. Some elect to hold small ceremonies that include the godfather, godmother, and female members of the girl’s family. Other families, like the Gloshays, choose to open it to the tribe. (Jerry Gloshay Jr. is tribal Chairman Ronnie Lupe’s executive officer.) The event can stick to the prescribed four days, or it can run longer.
 
In Tyra’s case, the festivities began on Monday with a social dance. Tyra moved to her camp on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, she attended another social dance at her godparents’ house. Thursday and Friday also involved social dances.

View Highroads: White Mountain Apache in a larger map

Kinshba Ruins
Kinshba Ruins
Tyra prepares for the ceremony
Tyra prepares for the ceremony
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