Native Americans Still Gathering Acorns For Traditional Ceremony

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Members of the White Mountain Apache tribe can be seen all over Payson.

For the last two or three weeks now in various spots around town, groups ranging from entire families to just a couple of Native Americans from the White Mountain Apache tribe have been seen gathering something in the fields and open lots around Payson.

They have been collecting acorns to get the oak nuts inside them from the numerous oak trees in and around town.

"We are gathering these for many things, one of them is the Sunrise Ceremony which marks a girl's passage into womanhood," Nancy Bengazi, a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe said.

The Flower, or Sunrise Ceremony, is a traditional Apache ritual that dates back to the time when Apache legend says "The People," or the Apache tribe, emerged from the underworld to live on the surface.

It marks an adolescent girl's emergence from puberty to full-fledged womanhood, after which she is considered ready for courtship and marriage.

Bengazi said tribal members gather the nuts every year starting at the end of July to prepare for the ceremony marking the rites of womanhood which takes place in August.

Bengazi, who is 69 years old, said that while not as many young girls still participate in the ceremony, more and more young people in the tribe are showing a general interest in traditional ways and the history of their tribe.

"There are still many young people who are interested in traditional ways, not as many as used to, but I think that is starting to change," Bengazi said.

"Not as many speak the traditional language, but I think more and more are becoming more interested in learning it," Bengazi added.

She said gathering oak nuts, or acorns, helps the more mature members of the tribe connect with the younger ones.

"We gather them together," Bengazi said. "And then we take the nuts to prepare them for eating or whatever we want to use them for."

She said after the nuts have been gathered, they must be shelled and left out to dry for a couple of days.

After they have dried, they are seasoned and eaten like peanuts or they are ground into a powder and used as a base for mutton or just made into acorn soup.

The nuts have a somewhat bitter, peanut-like taste, but are quite tasty when seasoned and dried, Bengazi said.

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