Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Tribe Storyteller

By Ryan Traynor, Contributing Writer

 

Pony Boy sat around the campfire, the smoke tickling his nose and making his eyes water. The haze created from the embers created a mystical glow around the bright fire and lured the other Sioux boys into a quiet, somber state. Pony Boy looked forward to this time every evening, when one of the elders would the fire and share their history, customs, rituals and legends through a story. Every evening after the lesson, he would return to his tepee, nestle into his deerskin bed and dream of animals, the stars, or warriors.

Their tribe had no written word like he had heard about from his excursions to the foreigner’s camps. Their information was passed down, generation to generation, through stories that entertained and preserved their culture. Each time a story was told, it breathed life into the subject of the tale, helped them understand how to communicate with one another, gave meaning to the tribe’s history, and also taught life lessons about love, leadership, honor, and their connection to the earth and animals.

The beating of the drums began quietly in the background, creating a rhythm that sounded like a faraway buffalo approaching camp. As more drummers joined in, the meshing of the beats made his heart beat a little faster. The rhythms ebbed and flowed, creating a feeling of change. The hairs on the back of his neck raised in anticipation. His ears anticipated every strum and he found himself slowly rocking along with the rhythm.

A few feet behind the fire, the dancing began. First, the leader began by pulling his knee up with a hop and a step, and then he motioned with his arms upward. Five more elders joined in behind him. The Dance of the Spirits made the fire lick higher into the night air and crackle with the landing dust from the dancers’ movements. The feathers that hung from their hair made them appear to take flight with each step. He knew that the feathers were to call upon the eagles to help them see clearly.

A low musical tune began, coming from a long wooden flute that an elder had carved from a hardwood tree. It joined in with the drums and dancing, making the dancers’ movements sway to the variations like a reed in a fall storm.

The dancers parted three by three and one of the elders, face painted in black and white, appeared opposite the fire before them. He swayed to the music then began in a low melodic voice, “Tonight I will tell you the story of the raccoon and the crawfish.”

Every boy’s eyes were upon him, pulled into his words like an outgoing tide.

“Sharp and cunning is the raccoon, named Spotted Face,” he bellowed. His face became that of a raccoon. With every word and movement of the raccoon in the story, the elder wove a movement with his entire body into the story to emphasize the actions. The elder told the story about the raccoon and the crawfish, showing each Sioux boy that it is better to be cunning and patient, than greedy. Pony Boy knew that he could never forget the story, with the lavish dance and acting that hammered each point into their hearts.

When the story was over, he could see all the movements in the story, as if he had been there in person. He was moved by the actions of the raccoon, learning a valuable lesson that evening.

Heading back to his tepee, he scrunched his eyebrows together in a thoughtful look.

“Pony Boy,” the elder called. “Why do you return to your tepee with a look so sad?”

“I’m not sad, elder,” Pony Boy said. “I’m just wondering why we don’t write our stories down in books like the foreigners I saw in the valley.”

“We carry our stories in our heart,” he answered slowly. “Because we have to be able to pick up and travel quickly, we make everything easy to bring with us, even our tepees. We don’t have time to load many things, so we transfer our stories to your minds, and you carry them on to the next generation. They will live on forever, not just until the paper shrivels away.”

Pony Boy nodded and, satisfied, returned to his tepee.

All night long Pony Boy tossed and turned. He kept dreaming of waking up in the morning and not remembering any of his tribe’s stories. He recognized the amount of trust the elders had placed on the boys by sharing the stories.  It was a big responsibility to remember them many years from now for the future children. Unable to sleep, he slipped out from under his deerskin blanket and into the bright moonlight. He silently escaped down to the river to hear the water lap against the rocks in a calming melody. He sat on a large flat rock that overhung the water for what seemed like hours. Then, as if the wind had talked to him, he began picking up various rocks that his teachers had showed him could make marks on trails. With rocks in hand, he went over to the large boulder formation and began to draw. It started first with an eagle head and then moved onto images of the raccoon and crawfish. By daybreak, the light startled him back to reality. He stepped back and looked at the boulder. There before him was the story of the raccoon and the crawfish.

The silence was broken with the sound of a snapping twig. Startled back to reality, he slid in behind a bush to see who was coming. His view was obstructed. All he could see was a large shadow that had blocked the sunlight, so he stuck his head out a little further.

“Pony Boy, is that you?” a deep voice inquired.

Stepping out shyly, Pony boy looked up, directly into the eyes of the head elder that had presented the story last night.

“Yes,” he said quietly.

“Are these your drawings?” asked the elder, demanding an answer.

“Yes,” he answered even more quietly. He knew the tribe’s rule of leaving no trace so he kept his eyes down, afraid of the disapproving glare he knew was above.

“Look at this, Pony Boy,” the elder said with a wide sweep of his hand towards the drawings. “You have made the stories come alive with images for all to see!”

Only then did Pony Boy glance up into the eyes of the elder. There was a smile on his face and his mouth was open as if he was…he was…impressed!

“You have shared your lesson with Mother Earth and she will pass it on for us to other people. Continue your drawings, Pony Boy. Only now, I name you ‘Takoda’ meaning ‘Friend of Everyone’ because you have found a way to pass our stories on to everyone. I will announce it to the tribe.”

With that, he left briskly, causing the bushes to shake in his wake.

Pony Boy (now known as Takoda) looked at the boulder and smiled. The words that had made him feel so connected would keep their legacies alive. The wind had spoken to him last night and he hoped to speak to others with the words of his ancestors through his drawings for many years to come.