Matthew chose the following for the Grounded in Clay exhibit:
Looking south from O’gah’poh geh (Santa Fe), we see the back of Okuu Pin —Turtle Mountain—most commonly referred to as the Sandia Mountains. Okuu is resting, thinking, and carrying all life-forms on his back. Pueblo people are inherently connected to land and places. Our creation stories vividly articulate emergence from lakes and mountains. We are of the land. Nothing is separate; everything is connected, meaning that rocks, clouds, animals, and humans are all related. The notion of relations fundamentally defines how Pueblo people experience the world.
One of my earliest memories growing up at Ohkay Owingeh is of being woken by my father at the crack of dawn to get muddied up for the Turtle Dance, Okuu Shadeh. I was too young to comprehend everything that went into such traditions, but it was this gritty black clay mud—naposhu—that coated my body on that cold winter’s day.
Since the beginning of time, songs and traditions have served as reminders that we come from earth, from clay and all things related. We recognize that humans are just one of the many types of being that continue to practice songs and traditions. Against a backdrop of Pueblo rhythms, our Tewa words and verses for Okuu Shadeh are newly composed each year as an act of renewal. These songs are brought to life by creative composers known as the sawipingeh. Through the use of earth-based instruments such as gourd rattles and turtle shells, Okuu Shadeh continues to be a marker of time by bringing all relations to a centered place.
The Tewa word for “dance”—shadeh—literally means “to be in the act of getting up or waking up.” It is by dancing that one awakens and that participation is meaning. Shadeh honors the interactive role of humans with the natural world. It connects the human place to the movement in the sky, to the other simultaneous worlds below, and to the cardinal directions that embrace mountains, plants, and other animals.
Directions become essential to markers of ancestral sites that are very much alive, not long-forgotten ruins. Our ancestral sites and directions are called upon to join in cultural traditions. Potters who gather clay follow in the same footsteps by giving reverence to our ancestors so that clay can be used in a respectful manner.
Turtles have been around for millions of years, living on land and in both salt water and fresh water. Indigenous peoples around the world recognize the wisdom of these beings, as is documented in ancestral petroglyphs, weavings, and pottery designs.
Although it has an abstract, simple design, this polished black ceramic turtle is a reminder of who we are as Pueblo people, as Indigenous peoples, and of all those who have come before and who continue to provide life. Okuu Sedo, Old Man Turtle, is a visual reminder that grounds us in place.