Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Courage of Aponi

By Maura Tangum, Age 12, Georgia

My predator stared viciously towards me from where he stood by a tree in the barren forest I had come to know so well from my childhood. He was big, rough, and hairy. He was standing on his hind legs now peering at me from behind his snout. His huge paw swatted at the flies that circled his head. He grunted and pawed the air. He was a grizzly bear, and as large as any one bear I had ever seen. I lived in the wild, Indians they called us, and I had seen many a bear in my fourteen years of living. But this was the fiercest and largest I had ever seen. “Go Bear,” I cried, “I am bigger and mightier than thou!” I beat my chest and kept a steady stance, just as they had told us to do in the village. The bear looked at me closely as if determining my power. He then dropped down on all fours and looked at me some more. “Go,” I cried, louder this time. And with one last look over its shoulder, the bear bounded off into the wooded foliage.

I picked up my woven basket and started to make my way back to the village. “Aponi!” I heard someone yell. “Aponi! Aponi!” the little voice echoed. I was Aponi. Aponi means “butterfly” in my people’s native language but I am far from being as graceful as one. When I was born my mother named me Aponi thinking I would be girly, graceful, and kindhearted. She was wrong. I am boyish, free-spirited and rugged. The beauty of the village.

“Aponi!” the little voice called again as its owner emerged from the bushes in front of me. It was my little brother, Mai. Mai means “coyote” in our language. Mai was six years old and already a man. He hunted with Father and the men and boys of the village and carved tools and weapons when he was not hunting.

“Aponi,” he said running up to me, “Mama wants you in the village quickly!” Mai’s dirty little hand grabbed my wrist as he tugged me forward. “Calm down Mai,” I laughed. “I’m positive it is only off something having to do with being a woman.” I rolled my eyes and sighed. Right after I had turned fourteen a month ago in January, Momma had only talked about my “Becoming a Woman” ceremony this spring. Practicing for the ceremony had been what my mother thought I should be doing all day, “instead of hunting or watching bears in the forest,” she had said.

“Come on Aponi,” said Mai. We came into the village with the familiar smell of roasting buffalo meat coming from the men’s teepee and the sounds of laughing children as they played in the courtyard. I followed Mai into the women’s teepee and saw my mother weaving in the corner. She looked up as she saw me entering, disapproval in her deep brown eyes. “Mama, there was a huge Grizzly in the forest and I -”

“Where have you been Aponi?” She asked as she cut me off. “It is your duty to the village to practice for your ceremony!”

“Mama, I am sorry,” I said as I looked shamefully at my bare feet.

“You,” she said, pointing her finger at me, “Go practice now!” I stumbled out of the tent trying to stop the hot, angry tears stinging my eyelids. I never got to do what I wanted. She never asked. She just always figured I wanted what she wanted. It was not fair.

I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my deerskin dress as I stepped inside the ceremonial teepee. It was the biggest of all the teepees in the village and the most beautiful. Stunning tapestries hung from the walls and bright colored paintings danced across the walls of the candlelit room. Stick figures drove spears into elk herds and women danced at a religious ceremony. My favorite picture though, was of the boy named Dezba, which meant “Goes to War” in the language of my people. The boy stood next to a great bear similar to the grizzly I had seen early that day. Bow and arrow in hand, the boy looked fierce and tough – ready to battle the beast of the hills and prove his excellence to the spirits of the hunt. I reached my hand out to touch the worn paint of the picture when –

“Aponi!” shouted a deep voice.

I snatched my hand away from the picture, startled by the voice. I turned around quickly, only to see Eyota, the village leader standing before me. Eyota means “great” in our language.

“Great One,” I said bowing down before Eyota. It was required in our village to show reverence to all elders and village leaders.

“I have been waiting, young one,” he said, his voice a little softer. “The village women are waiting for you.” He beckoned to the back of the teepee where two women stood. I bowed to him again and moved to the back of the room and greeted the women whose names were Gaho, meaning “mother” and Chenoa, meaning “dove”. The women instructed me on my ritual dance and greeting the elders beforehand. I was to jump over a pit of fire symbolizing my free spirit being burned. I would then agree to the ancient oath of womanhood, stating that I would work in the village till death. When my time came to leave, I thanked the women and left the teepee, remembering to bow down to Eyota before I left.

It rained the following week preventing me from hunting or running free in the woods, as I had wished to do during my last week of childhood. I spent most of the time practicing for my ceremony and sitting in solitude and thinking. No matter what though, my thoughts kept drifting back to the picture of the boy and the bear in the painting in the ceremonial teepee. How I so wanted to be like that boy – strong, brave, confident and most of all, free. I would never have the chance to be like him once I agreed to the oath of womanhood. I would never be able to do the things I love most. How could the village elders punish me so?

I cried myself to sleep that night, the sound of my sobs being carried all the way up into the heavens. I tried to imagine not being able to leave the village after tomorrow. I couldn’t even imagine though, it seemed so wrong.

I woke up the next morning, my cheeks stained with tears, a gloomy reminder of my last night of being only a mere girl. I put on my ceremonial dress made of heavy elk hide. Beads were sown in an intricate pattern across the waist, and fringe decorated the edges of the sleeves, bottom and neckline. I wore beautiful matching moccasins, and my long, dark hair was put in a braid that seemed to float down my back. I wore large turquoise earrings and a matching round necklace. I looked beautiful and very different from what the “real” me would wear. My outfit was a sad reminder of the new person I would become today.

I walked the short walk to the ceremonial teepee in utter silence. I was disappointed of my new change – angry almost – of what the village was making me become. Suddenly I couldn’t take it anymore. While Mamma and Papa talked with Aunt Luyu and Uncle Shada, I ran into the familiar woods that, with all of the practicing, I had seldom come to visit my last month of being a girl. I knelt down beside a tree, catching my breath, and started to cry.

Someone must have heard me, because before long, I heard the sounds of feet against the leafy forest floor. I quickly wiped my damp eyes, embarrassed of my behavior.

“Aponi,” said a deep, kind, voice. “Let me tell you something.” I looked up into the eyes of Eyota, the village leader. He sat down beside me and looked into the distance. “Life is a series of challenges. Just like when a pebble is tossed into a still pond and makes ripples, challenges are tossed into a person’s life to change the person,” he said. “Like the boy, Dezba, in the painting in my teepee, you must be brave and courageous and accept the fight that comes your way. Just as Dezba defeated the bear, you must defeat your fears of moving on, just as all the other women in the village have.”

I sniffed. “I understand Great One,” I said. “I know what I must do.” I got up and so did Eyota. He rested his strong hand on my shoulder. “Go and be brave young one,” he said. “May the spirits guide you.”

I bowed to him. “I will,” I said.

And with that, I set off back into the village where I entered the ceremonial teepee. I was greeted by my mother’s worried face asking me, “Where have you been?”

“I am fine and I am ready mother,” I said, feeling the most confident I felt my entire life.

“Let the ceremonies begin!” roared Eyota as he entered the teepee. The rhythmic sounds of the beating of bongo drums echoed throughout the room as did the melodic voices of the tribesmen chanting the oath of womanhood. Tuwa, one of the elders, stepped forward and lit the fire pit in the middle of the room. The crowd of family and villagers gathered in the room began to cheer and sing. I ran up to the pit and jumped over the fire, the flames licking at my heels. I did that twice until we stopped at the end of the saying of the oath.

“Aponi, she whose name means butterfly,” chanted the tribesmen. “Do you accept the oath of womanhood?” The crowd silenced.

I hesitated. This decision would affect the rest of my life. Hushed voices echoed throughout the room. I looked towards my mother, an anxious expression on her face. I looked towards Eyota. He nodded towards a wall by the entry of the building. I followed his gaze and saw the painting of the boy and the bear. I saw the integrity and courage in him. The bravery. He had to defeat the bear and move on. So did I. I looked back at Eyota. “Yes,” I said. “I accept the oath.”

The crowd cheered and my family came rushing down to me. My mother cried and I was embarrassed with hugs, and surrounded by the people I love. Eyota approached me. “Aponi, you did very well, just as I thought,” he said. “Thank you Great One,” I said as I bowed down to him, “I could not have done it without your help and the spirit’s guidance.” He nodded, patted my shoulder approvingly, and walked away to talk with a tribesman. I felt better than ever and remembering someone else who helped, I looked at the boy and the bear on the wall behind me. And if it is possible, I thought I saw the boy, Dezba, wink at me ever so slightly.