Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Navajo Code Talkers and Weavers

Our local museum - the Kennedy Art Museum, attached to the University - offered a homeschool field trip yesterday, the first of its kind, I think.  Yay!! They offered a tour of two of their current exhibits and several activities.

The first exhibit was made up of black and white portraits of the Navajo code talkers, after their secret involvement in helping win WWII was disclosed.  The photos were taken in the 1980's by Kenji Kowano, a Japanese photographer who visited Washington D.C. and wondered where the memorial commemorating the role of the Native Americans in the war was.  He created this archive as that memorial.

After looking at the exhibit, we tried matching words that the Navajo already had in their language that they used to substitute with objects they had no words for - for instance, "2 stars" for Major General, "eagle" for transport plane, "potato" for grenade.

"Tortoise" for tank.

We also tried our hand at decoding some messages, using a translation of the Navajo below and a combination of codes - some using simple words like eagle and 2-stars, and others forming words using the first letter of each word.

In their main hall were hung about 25 of the museum's collection of 700 Navajo weavings.  We searched them for specific symbols and talked about what they might mean.  Some of the weavings were done in natural wool or natural dyes, while others were woven using wool dyed in Germantown, PA, with bright colors.

In what I thought was the coolest activity offered, the kids made a human weaving, using long bolts of cloth.

The person who was the "weaver" would call out "Over!" and those holding the warp would lower their cloth; on "Under!" they would raise it high, while the weaver climbed over and under, carrying their pink cloth.  It was such a great, simple, full-body demonstration of weaving.

Then upstairs to see more weaving samplers and to hear about the process of turning sheep's wool into a weaving.  Many of the kids present have sheep, and spin and craft with their wool, but there were a couple of new things for them to learn - below she is holding a box of samples of plants that are used to dye wool in the SW, and she also had a box of dried cochineal, which are beetles long used for their red or pink dye color.  She also told us that Starbucks was recently chided for using cochineal to color their strawberry frappucinos, but I thought that was so much better than red dye 40!! I guess if I were vegan I might have other feelings about it, but I thought it was pretty ingenious...

And lastly, the kids made simple weavings.  Nothing we haven't done before, but they were all quite happy to sit and process and fiddle with their beautiful ribbons.  For the time we had left, and the wide variety of ages in our group, it was a fine activity to end the day with.

1 comment:

merry said...

I love this posting and keep coming back to it.How wonderful this piece of history was shared with these kids in such an interactive way. Wished the U had offered more of these opportunities - hope they have more in the future.