Bulgarian Lyubomir Kyumyurdzhiev's passion with Native Americans had an unexpected ending - the Blackfeet made him a spiritual brother
When Lyubomir Kyumyurdzhiev entered the tepee of the Blackfeet, or Nitsitapiksi, to become the first Bulgarian accepted as their spiritual brother, they knew it was no coincidence. In fact, they don't think anything in the world is coincidence. Everything is cause and effect. The fact that we often don't realise the causes of a given event doesn't make it a random occurrence.
Kyumyurdzhiev's arrival among the Blackfeet was no exception. The 42-year-old Bulgarian linguist's last name comes from the Turkish word kömür, or coal. The Blackfeet received their tribal name because of their moccasins, which were blackened from walking across the burnt-out steppes as they searched for a new tribal homeland long ago. They eventually settled in a broad territory stretching from Northern Saskatchewan in Canada to the springs in Yellowstone in Montana. Today their descendants live on reservations on both sides of the border.
Like many Bulgarian children who grew up under Communism, Kyumyurdzhiev was fascinated by Native Americans. At that time books by Karl May, Mayne Reid and James Fenimore Cooper were ubiquitous coffee table fare and were even brought to life in East German films.
However, Kyumyurdzhiev's interest in Native Americans ran much deeper: "My heart ached at the thought that I was attracted to something that had disappeared and no longer existed. I asked myself: How do the descendants of those former chiefs and shamans live today?"
Kyumyurdzhiev got his answer from the article "Life among the Native Americans," published in Bulgaria's only digest magazine at the time, Paraleli. "It talked about a Swiss man named Adolf Gutohrlein. He studied the Blackfeet's everyday life, he became friends with the shaman Wolf Old Man, and became his student. They accepted him into the tribe under the name of Adolf Hungry Wolf and he rose within the tribal hierarchy thanks to his contributions. He is now 64 years old and is the keeper of a series of tribal relics. That gives him the privilege of being the Weather Dancer." When he realised that Native American traditions were alive and were even accessible to Europeans, Kyumyurdzhiev swore that he would find Adolf and ask him all his burning questions about Native American life.
In Communist Bulgaria, however, possibilities for contact with the outside world were limited.
"I began my search very naively. I contacted Paraleli and asked the journalists to put me in touch with Hungry Wolf. They very politely responded that they had translated the article from a Swiss publication. So I wrote there, too, but never received an answer."
Lyubomir Kyumyurdzhiev (right) with Adolf Hungry Wolf
The enthusiast refused to be discouraged, however. "I eventually began to correspond with many foreigners. I always asked them whether they happened to know him. Sixteen years later thanks to an American acquaintance I received a letter from Adolf inviting me to visit him."
In the meantime, Lyubomir hadn't been wasting his time. In 1990 he founded Eagle's Circle, the Bulgarian Association for Native American Studies. Now his activities have grown to include the creation of an active Internet site, www.eaglescircle.net, complete with an English-language version. There, fans of Native American culture can find information about the everyday life of tribes, exchange information in the lively forum and organise meetings. At such gatherings, participants dress like Native Americans and live in tepees. Sound strange? Maybe. But they are far from alone.
"European Indian organisations today have thousands of supporters and have existed since the beginning of the 20th Century," Kyumyurdzhiev explains. The Bulgarian organisation is one of the newest, trailed only by the Lithuanian group. The Germans are especially enthusiastic - at their gatherings you can see a camp made of hundreds of tepees. The Russians raise horses in order to understand the Native Americans' educational methods, and the Belgians have buffalo." Kyumyurdzhiev was not the only one to visit the Native Americans and be accepted by them. "One of the guys from our organisation recently returned from a five month stay with the Crow tribe. A Bulgarian girl who studied in the United States spent a year with the Lakota. She speaks their language very well and they accepted her as one of their own."
However, when Kyumyurdzhiev finally found Hungry Wolf, the Bulgarian's acceptance into the tribe hung by a thread. "Adolf was living with his family on a ranch in the Canadian part of the Rocky Mountains. He had to lead the Weather Dance - a ritual that outsiders are not allowed to participate in. For that reason he sent a friend to meet me at the airport, but his buddy mixed up the flight and arrived hours late. I was furious and made him take me to Hungry Wolf despite the ban." The ceremony that the Bulgarian barged into was something like a private party. Not even the whole tribe was present, only members of the Yellow Horn Clan, who had gathered to pray for the health of three seriously ill relatives. One of them was a child.
"Adolf didn't even say hello, but began to scold me. He said that I couldn't stay without the elders' permission. And since they surely wouldn't allow me to stay, he would give me food and a tent so I could wait out the next four days in the nearby hills." A short while later, however, Hungry Wolf returned with a look of sincere astonishment. The elders wanted to speak with the party-crasher. When he entered the tepee full of people in ritual dress, Kyumyurdzhiev managed to avoid committing cultural faux pas. "Good manners require that you sit only when a place is indicated for you and to never pass between the fire and those sitting around it."
An elderly couple sat in the middle of the group. Suddenly the woman embraced the Bulgarian and began to cry. "She had dreamed that a dance had to be performed to heal the sick. The being that had given her this advice also told her that the ritual would succeed only if an unexpected and uninvited foreigner from the other end of the earth arrived." The clan invited Kyumyurdzhiev to join the Weather Dance as if he were a member of the clan. "The child definitely recovered. I don't know about the others, who had cancer." The next day the Bulgarian was accepted into the Yellow Horn clan.
"For the next three months I lived with Adolf. Before I left he and the elder Yellow Horn performed a ritual and gave me a new name. They called me Pinapohsina, or Eastern Chief. At first it seemed a little too grandiose to me, but then I realised that wasn't the case. When I arrived, I came from the direction of the rising sun, a fact which is very important to them. And in their language 'chief ' means 'worthy' or 'someone you can count on'. So it turns out that literally my name means 'the one worthy of respect who came from the east'".
Although the new name may be a mouthful, it certainly is an improvement over "Coalman".