Summertime Jamboree

The Arizona State Museum ushers in the season with a multicultural celebration.

Considering the heat, it might be a mild surprise to realize summer doesn't even begin until next week. But the Arizona State Museum will help Tucsonans celebrate the hottest season's arrival on Saturday with the free festival Marking the Solstice: A Multicultural Celebration.

This is the fourth annual such event, says Lisa Falk, the director of education for the museum, which is located on the University of Arizona campus. But Saturday's festivities will mark the first time that it will include multi-cultural presentations and performances.

"We wanted to have a celebration of summer, first off. And then we wanted to make it multi-cultural, to look at different traditions and stories relating to the solstice," Falk says.

The summer solstice, in case you've forgotten those courses from high school, marks the first day of summer and the point in the Earth's annual travel around the sun that El Sol is the furthest north of the equator. And we--in the northern hemisphere, that is--are therefore closest to the sun. Hence, more heat.

Celebrations of the summer solstice at the museum in the past have concentrated on mostly American Indian traditions, since they are indigenous with our region.

The festival "corresponds with what we are doing at the museum, in that we are trying to do more multi-cultural programming and more programs directed at families," Falk says.

And most cultures--even if they have little else in common--share observances of the summer solstice, especially those for whom it marks the beginning of the agricultural planting season, she says.

"Every culture has stories about he moon and the sun and harvesting and planting. Those are universal elements in their stories and song-related folklore. How they mark it or celebrate it is going to show how different they are."

Among the demonstrations of solstice traditions at the event will be performances of: African dance, drumming and storytelling by the Barbea Williams Performing Company; Jewish stories and Yiddish songs by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon; Abenaki Indian stories by Gerard Tsonakwa; and Mexican-American corridos and ballads of the Southwest by Ted Ramirez and the Santa Cruz River Band. Ramirez, by the way, is Tucson's official troubadour, as decreed by Mayor Bob Walkup.

In addition, educator Stella Tucker, a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe, will offer a presentation of the summer harvest of the fruit of the saguaro cactus and the traditions that surround it. The egg-shaped fruit that perch atop Saguaros can be made into a sweet syrup and wine.

Tucker learned to harvest saguaro fruit as a child, from her grandmother. For the past 15 years, she has been in charge of the Saguaro National Monument's saguaro harvesting program.

"The saguaro harvest is a traditional summer ceremony for the Tohono O'odham. She's going to be talking about them and demonstrating the picking," Falk says.

If the proceedings so far seem a little too focused on entertainment and food, "we'll have a lot of scientific stuff."

The Flandrau Science Center, neighbors on the UA campus, will send over three astronomers and some telescopes for viewing of the day and night sky--the event is scheduled to bridge sunset.

"And Rich Lange, an archaeologist with the ASM, will speak about how different cultures have tracked the sun and built various structures to follow it," Falk says. The event will also incorporate aspects of the museum's Paths of Life exhibit.

Hands-on children's activities also will play a part in marking the Solstice. Kids will be able to make their own gourd rattles, fans and photographic sun prints to take home. American Indian stick games will offer younger ones the chance to get a little playtime in.

The event will start inside at 5 p.m. and work its way outside at 6. People are encouraged to bring a picnic and lawn chairs. Tents will provide much-needed shade from the day's guest of the honor, the sun.