Turn off your cell phone, laptop, radio, television, or whatever high tech equipment you have.….it’s time to listen and learn about life, the traditional Navajo way.…through Navajo oral stories that are told in the Navajo language. And it is a Navajo cultural tradition that must continue.
According to Navajo Medicineman and Storyteller James Peshlakai, December is the month of heavy wind, and the air is heavy with the mating aroma of animals. Peshlakai says this is also when Father Sky dresses up Mother Earth in a beautiful dress of white snow.
The winter season on the Navajo Nation is a very joyous and enlightening time of the year. It is a precious time for Navajo elders to share their cultural wisdom through oral stories with the young who not only find it educational, but sometimes humorous and entertaining.
Many Navajo elders describe their harsh upbringing and hardships as a teaching tool to prepare the youth for the future. One such teaching requires the youth to roll in the snow, which is a form of discipline to help build a strong mind and body.
Winter is when Navajo elders teach the young about the origin of the Navajo or Dine’ (the people). It is also a time to learn traditional Navajo values, norms about behavior, and ethics and morals. Navajo elders explain how nature’s foods, plants, herbs, mountains, animals, and all creation must be respected because it was put upon Mother Earth to help the Navajo people survive. Today, these cultural teachings are carried on through sacred Navajo songs, prayers, and ceremonies.
Since the beginning of time, oral stories have been a part of Navajo culture. Storytelling is especially prevalent during the cold months when all the insects, reptiles and animals are in hibernation. Moreover, only certain stories, cultural activities, and ceremonies are held specifically during the winter season.
For instance, the Navajo shoe game is an event that is only held during the winter, which involves many different songs that were given to the Dine centuries ago by various animals and birds. In fact, Navajo elders explain that the very first shoe game was played by animals and birds. Today, the Navajo shoe game continues - various communities sponsor this unique event at a community facility, school, or chapter house.
One aspect of Navajo creation pertains to laughter. In fact, there is a small ceremonial ritual that is held when a baby first laughs. Moreover, many Navajo stories incorporate teasing and humor, which are used as teaching tools.
Another winter cultural activity may be a string game, which is associated with a Deity called Spider Woman. Navajo oral stories say that Spider Woman taught the Navajo people how to weave. It is said that the string game teaches patience and helps to increase memory skill.
Lastly, various communities on the Navajo Nation who sponsor storytelling for the public at large, may also include other events that feature Navajo authors, poets, musicians, and demonstration skills by Navajo artists.