Grantee: Ral Takook Christman
Native Citizenship: Kumeyaay Nation
Location: Viejas Reservation, California
Award: 2020 Mentor Artist Fellowship
Discipline: Traditional Arts
For the Kumeyaay people, Bird Songs, or Ashaa Takook, are an essential form of transmitting philosophical, cultural and spiritual values and teachings to the community. They are a form of story-telling and oration, and as the name implies, are sung in ceremonies, rituals, and social gatherings. In addition to reciting oration, Ashaa Takook requires a knowledge of several artistic and cultural practices, including traditional dancing, regalia-making and Halmal, or gourd rattle, fashioning. Generations past once fluently knew all the songs, uses, and their meanings. Ral Takook Christman is a life-long Bird Singer, and one of few remaining in the Kumeyaay community, which puts this traditional ancestral knowledge at risk of being lost. Having the special opportunity to learn from his father at a young age, Christman has dedicated his life’s work to teaching, demonstrating, mentoring, and sharing his knowledge of the ancient artistic practice of Ashaa Takook to ensure it remains alive and is revitalized within his cultural community.
Since ancient times, Asha Takook has been passed on through an intensive, full-time mentor and apprentice learning structure. However, due to the effects of colonization, Asha Takook has been threatened and very little knowledge is known outside of the few master practitioners within the community. Furthermore, it requires a deep comprehension of language, protocols, and artistic techniques, and it is challenging to balance daily life with a full commitment to learning and sharing this practice. Christman understands these challenges and the urgency in passing on his knowledge, and has developed youth programs and traveled throughout the Southwestern United States to ensure that the next generation is exposed to, appreciates, and carries on the Asha Takook.
For the 2020 Mentor Artist Fellowship, Christman will guide his apprentice, Jeffrey French (Lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel), through an intensive series of teachings that will foster their growth into a mentor, educator and an Ashaa Takook practitioner of the Kumeyaay Nation. At the conclusion of the fellowship, French will be able to recite orations, create regalia, construct Halmal, synthesize protocols, and perpetuate the transmission of Bird Song knowledge to their community.
Amongst my people, I am the only one who was trained in the traditional way of Ashaa Takook, and I am able to continue that ancient art.
– Ral Takook Christman