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Freeman, host of a six-part documentary series airing on the National Geographic Channel, visited the Navajo Nation to ask poignant questions about God.
“Over the past few months, I’ve traveled to nearly 20 cities in seven different countries on a personal journey to find answers to the big mysteries of faith,” Freeman said in a statement. The series premiered April 3, and new episodes air every Sunday. Maysun was featured for about eight minutes during the April 17 episode, titled “Who is God?”
The 50-minute segment also included footage from Egypt and Israel, where Freeman explores monotheism, and to India, where Hindus worship millions of gods. And on the Navajo Nation, he observes the Kinaaldá, during which girls communicate with Changing Woman, one of the Navajo Holy People.
The Kinaaldá is a sacred ceremony that includes several rituals designed to ensure a girl grows into a strong and kind woman. Over the course of four days, the girl bathes, ties her hair back, runs toward the east and bakes a corn cake in an earthen pit. A medicine man performs songs that invite Changing Woman to help the girl enter womanhood. When the ceremony is complete, the girl is introduced to the deities as a woman and invited to take her place in the world.
“I think what Morgan Freeman was looking for was the way we as Navajos experience God’s different types of conversation,” said Michele Peterson, Maysun’s mother. “The songs we sing are saying the girl is coming out as a woman. Because of those songs, we are surrounded by our deities.”
Only small portions of the actual ceremony can be filmed, said Tom Chatto, a Navajo medicine man who performed Maysun’s Kinaaldá. Chatto also acted as a consultant for the film crew, determining which details of the ceremony could be shared on television.
In fact, most of the ceremony that aired on National Geographic was a reenactment, Chatto said.
“The real one, you can film parts of it,” he said. “But for the TV show, we just reenacted it. We just showed the parts that are OK for the world to see.” Even in the reenactment, there were places Freeman wasn’t allowed. Near the end of the ceremony, Peterson pulls a blanket over the door of her hogan. Freeman is left outside.
“The most important thing was to do what was appropriate,” Peterson said. “We made sure we were very respectful, and that meant closing the hogan with a blanket or telling the cameras they had to stop filming.” Freeman did witness some of the songs, the morning runs and the ceremonial cutting of the corn cake. In the segment, Freeman takes a big chunk of the cake and holds it up to his mouth.