The Story of the Ga’an
The ga’an (Western Apache) or gaa’he (Eastern Apache) are powerful mountain spirits friendly to the Apache people. The dancers represent mountain spirits during the ceremony and, as such, embody sacred beings. There are various myth stories surrounding the ga’an. One is that the ga’an were responsible for liberating the animal spirits locked in a cave where Crow had imprisoned them. The animal spirits could then roam free and provide food for the Apache.
Another is that an Apache boy fell into a cave where ga’an spirits resided. When the boy died, he became one of the ga’an. Other tribe members came looking for him, bringing his dog, who recognized him among the ga’an spirits. The boy eventually led the ga’an to his village, where the ga’an began a tradition of dancing to bless, heal, and protect the boy’s people.
The ga’an group always includes one messenger, who is sometimes referred to as a “clown.” The messenger really is a highly sacred being with a dual nature, both a frightening figure that scares evil spirits from the bodies of the sick and a comical teacher who facilitates healing through laughter. Unlike the other ga’an, who wear black or dark blue hoods and body paint, the messenger wears white.