News: Dancing to remember Native American History
Story by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Lapi
MARINE CORPS BASE, Hawaii - Service members and civilians of Marine Corps Base Hawaii embraced Native American culture and history during a Native American observance and hoop dance at the Anderson Hall Dining Facility, Nov. 21.
The celebration recognized their many contributions, specifically during World War II. After eating lunch, attendees listened to a presentation and watched a native dance.
Kimmer Bighorse, a Navajo from Arizona, gave a presentation on her tribe’s history and pivotal role during WWII as Navajo Code Talkers.
“Communication was key because the Japanese were spying on us,” Bighorse said. “The Navajo language has many different, complex sounds that can easily change a word’s meaning. A missionary living on a Navajo reservation realized the language could be beneficial, so he suggested it to top commanders in 1942, and from then on, we had a code.”
Bighorse explained that the code, spoken by approximately 400 men, was unbreakable and instrumental in Marine Corps actions. The Navajo Code is the only unbroken code in the history of war.
After discussing the history, Bighorse and one of her dance students, Iosepa Lyman, played a doll dressed in a military uniform that recited the code and the code’s translation.
“Since the British were our allies, the Navajo word for British meant ‘between water,’” Bighorse said. “The words resembled the military terms they represented, like the native word for turtle translated to tank.”
After translating some Navajo code words, Bighorse described the sacred meaning of the hoop dance.
“The hoop dance is a dance for healing,” Bighorse said. “The circle represents life and brings us together. When warriors would return from war, everyone would gather in a pow wow, the shape of a circle.”
Bighorse spoke the Navajo words for “thank you for your attention” before singing as Lyman performed his hoop dance. After the 7-year-old danced, Bighorse displayed her skills as she intertwined the brightly colored hoops and her body to form shapes, like an eagle and snake.
Lance Cpl. Brandi Rojas, an administrative clerk with Installation Personnel Administrative Center and full-blooded Native American, said she heard about the observance from her staff sergeant and wanted to attend.
“My family is from three tribes, Muscogee, Creek and Pawnee,” Rojas said. “I have participated in Native American dances before, and coming to this event makes me miss home and being around other Native Americans, since there aren’t that many in the Marine Corps. But it makes me feel good to see and know that we are recognized.”
Bighorse said anyone interested in learning more about the Code Talkers or Navajo people can contact the Navajo Code Talkers Association at http://www.navajocodetalkers.org.