The Colorado Rai community are organising this year's Rai-Kirat Sakewa Sili festival in Boulder's courthouse lawn on 8 May. Hundreds of people, including Rai-Kirats from all over the United States, are expected to attend.
The traditional ceremonies honor the ancestors, reaffirm the people's connection with nature and the spirits of the land and water, pray for continued fertility, and give thanks. "There are so many beautiful things about our Rai-Kirat tradition," says Vim Rai, "we want our friends from other cultures to know who we are. In the spirit of peace and friendship."
Tibetans, Sherpas, Newars, other Nepali groups, and even South Indian dancers who live in Colorado's Rocky Mountains will also join in the celebration with performances in their own cultural traditions.
This year's Sakewa promises a truly delightful experience, featuring as its highlight a performance of the traditional Rai-Kirat Sakewa Sili, a joyful line dance led by a sili mangpa (dance leader) in which everyone is invited to join. Sakewa Sili is a prayer in motion. Using simple, expressive movements, the dancers act out the Rai-Kirat legend of how their gods gave them the wisdom to transform themselves from hunter-gatherers to farmers and plant the first rice. Dancers weave around a lingam symbolizing fertility, evoking the clearing of the forest, digging of the soil, planting, transplanting, and harvesting. Flying motions represent spring birds flying north, ushering in the planting season and giving the festival its name: Ubhauli.
Traditional cultural artifacts such as khurbas (sickles), dhyangros (long-handled two-sided drums), dokos (baskets), and binayos (bamboo mouth harps) used in the Himalayan villages of the old Rai-Kirat tribes will be on display, a bazaar will feature Himalayan goods, and a food booth will offer Nepali dishes such as dhalbhat tarkari, chicken curry, and iced chiya. Proceeds from food sales will be used to offset costs of producing the event.
Vim Rai let me tag along on a trek to Dangmaya in the Arun Valley in 1990 where I met Rai shamans. One night, watching my shaman guru perform a version of the Sakewa Sili dance, I suddenly "got it". Through the dance, I could feel the safety and belonging of the Rai-Kirat's connection with the ever-renewing rice crop, the forest, and the cycles of nature that nourish them. So different from western culture where we live on petroleum resources with the uneasy knowledge that it can't last. The Rai-Kirats have much to teach us.
Ellen winner studied Rai-Kirat shamanism at Mohan Rai's Shamanistic Studies and Research Centre and is the author of World Shaman, and Thoughts in the Mind of God