I wrote this short story to reflect on something that happened in the news recently. It is about money, bravery, history and harmony.
It’s about Native Americans and their way of life before and after the colonisers came to America. The point of my story is that the native Americans lived a far richer life without money to control them and what money has done to destroy their culture. The Europeans came to this land to become wealthy and now look, America is unrecognisable as the peaceful, wild, harmonious land it once was.
I don’t understand everything about this complex subject, in fact I know very little. My intention is not to offend or blame anyone, only to share something, a thought that I had, in the way I feel comfortable, writing and fictionalising.
I really hope you enjoy….
We Are Strong
The night was drawing in as the family sat in their warm, cosy wooden cabin amongst the trees. Looking out of the window, you’d see towering pine trees and snowy banks and a little way off, the glow of light from other cabins dotted around. A modern Native American community. The grandmother sat, cross-legged on the floor, a toddler on her lap. The children danced and messed around, playing and laughing. The mums and dads, aunties and uncles, watched on smiling as they capered about the wooden floor covered in rugs and mats. Everyone was talking and whispering. No tension, no strain, everyone relaxed in each others company.
Knock after knock sounded on the door and soon the cabin was squeezed full with beaming, happy faces. There was much cheek kissing, hugging and handshaking. The kids weaved in and out of the adult’s legs, asking questions and jumping up and down in excitement.
The grandmother beckoned to her two sons to help her up and they obeyed immediately. Then everyone turned to listen and all eyes were on her kind and spirited, but old and worn face. Her eyes glittered as she spoke.
“My people, we have fought for our rights and we have won. The government will be paying us for the injustices they have done to us. We took the matter into our own hands, we were fed up of being put down and put down again. We took the government to court and it worked. We are strong. In his campaign to be president, Obama pledged to pay us for ‘mismanaging our natural resources and other tribal assets’ and he has lived up to his promise. Thank you all for helping.” All the faces smiled harder and tears rolled down cheeks.
“This is amazing.” The old woman continued, wobbling a little. “But I want to tell you all a story. A story about when money didn’t matter. A story about what money leads to. ”
And she began to tell them this tale.
Ayita: She Who Dances First.
Ayita gazed out to the East, South and West. The morning sun shone on her bronze skin and her hair, the colour of a blackbirds feather. Smoke rose in silvery wisps from all the villages in the land and they all came together in a thick cloud that hung over the forest. But Ayita was above it, on the cliff top, and she stared down at the tangles of smoke that merged together, like all the villages that formed her grandfather’s kingdom. She was proud to be a part of this earth.
Looking behind her to the north, she could see her village, spread out in a sunlit clearing surrounded by woodland. She turned then and ran down the slope, swifter than a deer and nimbler too. As she reached the river she followed its curves and bends through the trees until she came out of the shadows. She danced around the wigwams, picking up a giggling infant as she went. Its mother laughed softly and went back to her work. Ayita plucked a vegetable from a basket and handed it to the baby. She called a thank you over her shoulder. On the river bank, Ayita held the baby, dipping its toes in the water and smiling as it gurgled and chuckled. Then, resting it on her hip, she raced over to a cooking fire and sat the baby on the lap of a lady, who enclosed the little one in a warm hug and waved as Ayita dashed off.
“Thank you, Auntie!” Ayita called and she slowed her pace as she approached the medicine maker’s tent. She drew aside the wigwam flap and went in, coughing at the smell of such strong herbs. His face was wrinkled and creased and pouches of baggy skin hung from his cheeks and chin. His ears were pierced with bones and he wore a generous amount of ocean blue and blood-red body paint. He sat with his legs crossed and eyes closed.
A man lay on a wooden bed frame behind him, covered with skins to keep him comfortable and warm. He appeared to be asleep. Ayita sat down quietly beside the sick man and gently took his hand and held it. The medicine maker opened his eyes and smiled at her, silently thanking her. Ayita knelt on the floor and thought about how amazing her home was. How everyone loved and respected everyone and how everyone loved and respected nature. How everyone lived in harmony with one and other and how they were all unified. One big family, all brothers and sisters, parents and cousins. How they all swirled together like the smoke cloud that watches down on them all from above the treetops.
After a while she laid the man’s hand carefully on his chest and crept out. As soon as she was back in the sun she skipped away to the fields. She ran amongst the ripe corn, hiding from the sun. Picking up a spare basket she began to harvest, singing softly and harmonising with the other girls and boys.
As the rain fell they jumped up and down in delight and hugged each other close. Then they went weaving through the tall, yellow stems, holding hands and making their singing louder.
Suddenly they all froze, some on the floor in the mud, some doubled over in laughter, others in the midst of still picking. Loud bangs had sounded in the distance and they weren’t thunder. Ayita gasped as more rung out, echoing around the forest, closer than before. Confused and frightened, all the children ran, dropping their baskets and spilling them into the muddy puddles on the ground. Their bare feet scrambled in a panic to escape these strange noises.
As they reached the village they found everyone clustered around the central fire. All the children headed for their Mothers, who held them close and looked around, fearfully. The men talked in low voices and Ayita snuck towards them. She was shocked at what she saw. A strange man stood in the middle of them all. He was one of her people, but he looked as though he had been injured in battle. This confused Ayita as her Grandfather’s kingdom was peaceful.
“He could have been attacked by a bear.” she guessed. But she knew she was wrong when she heard the man mimicking the bangs they had heard earlier. The men of the tribe looked worried and Ayita felt sick at the blood pouring out of tiny holes in the man’s body.
She could bear it no longer and she ran, back up to the cliff top. It was dark and she looked out at the land again. She could see the fires of all the villages, burning strong and bright. It comforted her. These fires were like a map, a map of her world. The map was ancient, it never changed. They were like a reflection of the constellations in the great starry sky above.
But then she spotted something, far away in the distance, just to the left of one of the villages was another, new fire. A disturbance in her perfect world, she knew something wasn’t right. Ayita felt very lost.
The next morning she could see no smoke from that place, but instead it seemed to have moved, and moved closer. Now the smoke rose like a ghost in Ayita’s mind. And what’s more, many of the further smoke plumes were gone, extinguished. And those fires had constantly burnt for thousands of years. Something was incredibly wrong.
Days went by and nights and Ayita spent her time on the cliff top, watching as her world fell apart. The people in the village were preparing for battle against this unknown enemy. There was no more laughter, peace, harmony, harvest. Everyone was scared and silent, even her grandfather, who sat at the wigwam entrance with his hunting knife every night, whilst his family lay in restless sleep.
One night the fire burnt at the foot of the cliff and it was the only one. A single light in the blackness. Ayita knew that whatever this was it was deadly and it was coming for them tomorrow. Ayita also knew it must be men for she could hear the faint shouts and more of those dreadful bangs in the silent forest. It was as if Mother Earth was holding her breath. Waiting for the morning.
At dawn Ayita’s village’s smoke rose thicker and fuller than ever as a defiant sign to the enemy that they were not afraid. They were a village on their own. No longer unified with the other tribes of the land. They had all fallen and only they remained to fight the fight.
Ayita was in her usual place, though she knew she was in danger, but this was her home and she was going to defend it. She wanted to be on the frontline. The men were up almost as early as she was and they stood at the bottom of the cliff, pointing and shouting up at the top. Ayita hid herself in the trees, pressing herself into the leaves, they brushed against her face and legs.
She waited and waited and waited and still the men all seemed to be in no hurry. They wandered around at the bottom. She could see that they wore strange clothes, that covered their chests, heads, legs and even stranger, feet. She saw sticks slung over their shoulders and every now and then they raised them up, aimed them and shot, letting off one of those hideous noises that Ayita’s people had become so used to.
When the first man finally appeared over the edge, Ayita gasped and shrank back into the foliage. He pulled himself to his feet and wiped his brow. He had hair the colour of the ripe corn and his skin was pale as the moon. His face was filled with greed and malice and you could read his intentions in his face.
“Why are you here?” murmured Ayita “Why do you come with such ambitions that you would kill to reach them? What are they, I would like to know?” And whilst she was speaking to herself, her heart was filling with passion and anger. Without thinking, she leapt to the ground and stood before the shocked man, her face ablaze.
“How dare you come here and destroy everything? This is our home, our land and it has been for so long. Our ancestors lived this way and we continue to do so. We harm no one, living at peace with nature. We steal nothing, share everything. What brings you here to change that?” Ayita cried, her face full of determination. The man stared at her and began to speak slowly in another language. Even if she couldn’t understand the words, Ayita felt the aggression in his voice. She heard screams and spun around. The man’s friends must have gone another way. Now they had torched the village and the wigwams were burning, like beacons signalling the end.
Ayita and her people died that day, but Ayita did not die in vain. In a way, she died for her life, the way of life of that her, and our, ancestors had lived for ever.
But now Ayita dances over the land, her light feet brushing the deserts and forests, rivers and mountains and she sings this song:
“Now,” the old woman continued. ” What is going to happen to us in the future? Will our age-old way of life disappear? Will you preserve it?” She looked at the adults, searching each of their faces for an answer. “Will you?” she smiled down at the children who were gazing up at her with wonder and respect. “I hope so.” She sighed. “We have already lost so much knowledge over time. So many drastic changes have befallen us, can we keep that remaining part alive?” They all thought for a while, contemplating their futures, their lives. Then the grandmother looked up from the floor and raised her hands upwards. “Opa, Quanah, Taini, Halona, get the food! We are all hungry! Dena, where is that corn to roast? Jacy, have you lit the bonfire outside? Come people, lets eat! Let’s celebrate!”