As an invited guest of the family, Jan Butchofsky was asked to witness the Coming of Age Ceremony of two maidens during two separate celebrations and was honored to bear witness with my camera to these sacred and very private preparations and ceremonies.
The Mescalero Apache people, descendants of the great warrior Geronimo, have a strong ceremonial tradition to initiate girls into womanhood. Considered one of the most sacred celebrations of the Mescalero, the four-day rite of passage for the maiden reflects the tribe’s way of life involving complete community commitment. Preparation for the Coming of Age Ceremony begins at least a year in advance with every detail meticulously carried out. Pollen from water plants is gathered for blessings, teepee poles are cut and canvas is sewn.
The maiden's dress is a very important part of the celebration, often made of deer hides harvested especially for the occasion. Dancers are arranged, most notably the dancers of the Mountain Gods, and a Medicine Man and Medicine Woman are selected. Cattle are raised and butchered so that elaborate feasts of traditional food can be served to all the guests every day of the ceremony.
The four-day maiden ceremony reflects the four days needed to create the world and the maiden embodies the virtues of the White Painted Woman, who gave the Apache’s their virtues, pleasant aspects of life and longevity. Many rituals and blessings are performed during the celebration, culminating in all-night dance, drumming and singing with the maiden and her attendants in the Ceremonial Tipi. At dawn, transformed, the maiden runs towards her future and the hopes of her community.