Mohegan, Conn. — .It started with just the beating of a few drums and a small group of voices chanting a tribal song.
But the beat grew louder and the chanting stronger as more and more members of the Mohegan and many other American Indian tribes filed through the ceremonial arch into a large white tent for the Grand Entry of Saturday’s Wigwam Festival at Fort Shantok.
Dressed in traditional clothing, the hundreds of tribe members created a mosaic of color as they marched and danced around a fire at the center of the tent. The hundreds of spectators found it difficult not to move with the beat, as they stood around the procession of dancing tribal members.
“It’s beautiful,” said Jennifer Charnik of Gales Ferry. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A celebration of the green corn for the year, the annual festival dates back thousands of years, said Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, medicine woman for the Mohegan Tribe.
Typically a two-day festival, Zobel said this year’s celebration was slimmed to one day because of the sluggish economy.
“We want to make sure our festivals are keeping with the times,” Zobel said. “In better years we’d maybe be a little more lavish.”
Zobel said the festival typically draws about 10,000 people each day, but she was not sure whether the one-day festival would draw more or fewer people.
The main tent was filled with the sound of tribal drums throughout the day, as ceremonial and traditional dance competitions were held. Past the main tent, smells of native food wafted toward the craft and vendor area, where clothing, jewelry, blankets and other items were for sale.
Bruce “Gentlewind” Chapman, a member of the Mohegan Tribal Council, said the Grand Entry and the dancing competitions are his favorite parts of the festival.
“It brings all the tribes together and it gives the public an idea of what we’re all about — our heritage, our history,” Chapman said.
Many residents said they attended to observe the tradition and gain a glimpse of the tribal culture.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: Bruce "Gentlewing" Chapman, is not a member of the Tribal Council, the journalist must have misunderstood. I have received mixed reviews on the festival. Some people said it was better than most others said it wasn't. There was a lot of complaining about long lines waiting to get food from the food vendors. Did you have good time? What did you think?