Day of the Dead at the National Museum of the American Indian
They were celebrating the Day of the Dead. Not a celebration I’m familiar with, but an interesting one nevertheless.
We’ve been here a few times before, but each time was through its main entrance facing the National Mall. Going through one of the back entrances, I saw a part of the museum I never saw before. There’s not much to miss; I just didn’t realize there was a full-blown cafeteria. But that’s not what interested me. I wouldn’t have ventured to this part of the museum and found a small set up for a virtual reality trip.
The VR, umm, trip (show? presentation? experience?) was the viewer — Najwa did it; I passed for the sake of time — as a Monarch butterfly. The butterfly, as it relates to the Day of the Dead, has a deep meaning. The local people have long believed the monarchs are the returning spirits of their deceased relatives, mysteriously arriving at the same time each year, coinciding with the Day of the Dead. Aztec tradition holds that the souls of the departed will return as hummingbirds and butterflies, and the link between myth and the monarchs’ annual return spans centuries.
And how better to appreciate its connection than to become a butterfly yourself?
First, Najwa had to close her eyes while the earbuds and VR goggles were put on. Once the lady turned out the show, she tapped Najwa’s shoulder, letting her know she could open her eyes. The lady explained that some people experience motion sickness at first, especially the kids, and sure enough, once Najwa opened her eyes, you could see her wobble in the chair. As if she was going to fall out the chair, orienting herself, though she knew she was sitting in a chair.
She gained her senses relatively quickly, and then she starting looking around. From my perspective, all I saw was my daughter wearing a huge set of goggles, looking around as if she was seeing things. She looked left, right, up, down, then, to my amusement, she looked behind her as if something was there. Obviously, with whatever was in the VR goggles, she saw something, but I was just amazed at how fast technology seems to be introducing itself to this younger generation.
Whatever. We moved on.
As we entered the main area of the museum, as with every festival, there’s a table set up for arts & craft. And without fail, Najwa is lured, starts grabbing paper, markers or crayons, and gets to creating whatever’s in her mind.
The arts & craft project was to create a mask for celebrating the Day of the Dead. Najwa chose the one that looked like a butterfly mashed with a skull. It was weird, for me at least, to see all these kids running around with colorful butterfly-skulls; then again, it’s Halloween weekend so it’s fitting.
The “main event” was the Day of the Dead dance. I didn’t quite catch what it was called, but something to do with a leopard, another symbolic animal, though I didn’t catch why either. It was getting crowded and since several kids were wearing a mask, for a moment I couldn’t figure out which one was mine. That and Najwa wasn’t really interested so I didn’t get to catch the whole thing.
One of the cooler items on display, something Najwa may appreciate when she gets older, was a Aymara Totora-Reed Boat. It’s literally a boat, made with reeds tied or weaved together with twice. At first glance, there’s no way this thing floats in water. It looks like it has little gaps throughout the entire length of the boat. Apparently, it floats, and has been for generations.
Eventually, to Najwa’s relief, we made it to the top floor where there’s a kid’s area. Another must have if you want parents to bring their kids to a museum.
Being that the Day of the Dead was being celebrated, in one of the rooms kids could make a marigold.
We spent a few hours at the museum. I make it a point to visit at least one of the exhibits, and they have some big exhibits. One of my favorite parts of these trips, ironically, is when Najwa and I grab a bite to eat, sit there in the cafeteria, and just talk about nothing at all. I usually use that time to explain at least one thing that she might understand able something we saw, but explaining the Day of the Dead was a challenge. Especially when she asked me, “why would someone want to be dead?”
Anyway, it was fun. I might make this an annual event.