by Luci Tapahonso
Yes, those days are over;
our childhoods were immersed in ílíígo hané –
Diné stories and songs that were conveyed with delight, reverence,
or sometimes tears. Hané is always bound with comfort.
When the grown-ups began talking, we paused our loud play and tussling
and squeezed in at the table or settled on the floor nearby.
Our visceral need and appreciation for stories took over
as we absorbed the rhythm, pauses, rises, and falls in the adults’ voices.
Something in how they talked urged us to remember, not to forget.
We also knew the exact tone, that slight dip in tenor when we had to leave the room.
It is said that a child’s ears and mind are vulnerable.
They would say, “Nihi ‘áłchíni niłhil a’yóo da’íłí –
we hold our children in much respect.”
Decades later, we share the same stories with our children and grandchildren
this time mixed with English. We sing the same songs.
The children have learned to listen and to ascertain
whether they could ask questions. In time they, too, grasped the intent,
the underlying resolve in the pauses, smiles, dips and echoes of saad –
the wisdom of the old words, long prayers, and timeless songs.
The adults who surrounded us in childhood are gone now –Iná kaí.
They have left on their journey, but their hané and songs remain.
The prayers, laughter, and songs that guided them into sá
– old age – remain with us.
Áa bił dáhwiłilį ‘ńtęé. It was their saad -verbal properties –
a form of soft goods that kept them steady.
Saad strengthens our minds and bodies
like a sis łigáaí, the silver belt that encircles
one’s waist to keep our posture upright.
They would say, “The Holy Ones will see us coming
at a distance, adorned with stories and jewelry,
and they will murmur, “‘Ashi néé, shi awee, my beloved little ones.’”
Thus, we honor them by wearing the jewelry they created
and we revere the world they put into place for us:
the mountains, rivers, sky, plants, stars, birds and animals.
‘Éí ‘ałdó’ íłįigo naalyéhé at’e – they, too, have great value.
Like our elders, our hope is that the young ones become Diné bił da’ílíngi –
persons of virtue – the young man who helps when a stranger’s car stalls,
the one who offers the exact words of comfort when needed,
gives a soft hug or holds your hand in silence.
The one who cooks for the grief-stricken
when the hours become a blur and exhaustion hovers at the doorways
and the scents of stew, just-baked bread and coffee linger.
Or the person turns an ordinary day into a jovial gathering
complete with íłįigo hané and ch’iyáán łikaní–
good stories and tasty dishes. The house fills with
outbursts of delight when more relatives arrive.
We trust that the young ones will offer a bed to relatives
who would otherwise sleep curled against cement buildings
or panhandle on street corners – distraught and thin –
beset by chemical cravings our ancestors could not fathom.
They are kin who have veered from their íłįigo hané;
For them, the stories are echoes that can’t be named
like the resonating childhood voices that visit them on the coldest nights.
They pawned the family’s hard goods, the íłįigo naalyéhé,
the valuables that were carried about as hané,
the saad at the spiral center of the taut basket
that was created to weave the past into our present and future.
Still, we are grateful for the women who still wear long skirts
and turquoise jewelry as if each day is sacred,
They say, “Shí íłįigo naalyéhé bił naasó naashá do –
I will go forth into the day clothed in my shields.”
They were bestowed with hard goods
at their first laugh dinner. Their parents, too,
always wore a bracelet, earrings or a bolo tie.
They remember the times of crisis when
everyone held each other and prayed
while clasping soft pouches of corn pollen.
Now they carry their childhood offerings
throughout the day as overhead,
the sun’s many-colored horses gallop across the sky.
Ilíígo: An item or idea that is literally and/or figuratively of great value. It is also used to describe a person who is well-respected, someone who is dignified.
Naalyéhé: An item that one carries about which has significant cultural import; something that is cherished and has heft.
Hané: stories that are told and retold over generations.
Saad: Songs, prayers and stories that comprise traditional knowledge and wisdom.
Sá: Old age; an elder who has acquired valuable knowledge throughout his or her long life.
Soft goods: Refers to items that are pliable such as fabric and blankets as well as intangible gifts such as stories, words of encouragement and teachings. Hard goods refer to material items such as jewelry, firewood and tools.
Sis łigaaí: A handmade belt made of silver (łigaaí means white) and turquoise stones; commonly known as a concha belt.
Diné: A Navajo man (singular) or the Navajo people
Chi’yáán łikaní: Tasty dishes; memorable meals.