NIHANIO REALY? NIJANIO
Joe and Davis cruised down the interstate. They were one hundred and fifty-five miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico–just twenty more and they would be at the NAVAJO, Indian Reservation where Davis had grown up on. Davis decided to sell the car to a group of Mexicans whom would drive it over the border. He figured they should be compensated for their adventure. Though Joe felt physically great, the tribulation of the last two months had taken a toll on his mind and he could not remove the nagging thoughts that cropped up once more: had the last experiences become just another group of stories… reduced to just memories? What were the actual results? Did it contain a hidden meaning? Had it become just a thought? What of God… and then Ginny, Aggie, and Diane crossed his mind–they sometime did when ever God came into the picture–relieving the pain!
Davis, whom was driving with a case of absent-mindedness, habit, or a combination of both, said something which caused Joe to–absent mindedly himself!–look over at him: a figure, mouth moving in slow motion, relief plastered to it’s face like a Greek actor’s serene mask of play, rambling on about this or that… Bang! Like an exploding bomb it hit him: to Davis, whom had experienced more than the mental anguish–a word he was thoroughly familiar with–of the experience, the entire experience had become more than real! Joe was sure his entire life had been changed by the treatment he had received…. after all, he hardly could recall as many events as Joe could. Joe knew from his own trials and tribulations that an accumulation of events brought on a sort of dulling of senses–an ability to “numb thought!” Had Davis attained that void level? He doubted it.
“Hey, Davis, where you going to go?” Joe asked in his haste to end his thoughts…
“What’s in Michigan?”
“My mother. She left the reservation ten years ago. After I stop and see my father, I’m gonna find her. You see…..”
Joe sat stiffly in his seat as Davis rambled away about some Tribal Elder or something. Once again, Joe was not listening, in fact, his mind was on his own family. He missed his own mother, Angela, Carmine, and even his little brother Eddy–whom he hardly new! And, the sharp pain of his father, dead yet alive in the deep recesses of his memory, in that file marked Accident:personal, in that abyss, with no future, no present, no hope, cried for release… He refused to open the door–he did not desire to recall those vivid pictures and begin a new cycle all over again. The Shorty thing had put that life to rest….at least he thought it that way! He decided he would telephone his mother after they arrived at the reservation. ‘Boy would she be surprised at how I have handled myself. She would be proud!’
No signs announced the Reservation, just a simple red clay road revealing a group of buildings resembling shacks; built of a variety of materials, they were massed together and naturally “landscaped” with sage brush, twiggy looking bushes, and a heap of dust.
Joe became excited as Davis drove down the road towards the buildings… ‘REAL INDIANS!’ He was going to visit with ‘REAL LIVE INDIANS!’ Memories of his first trip and the stories which wafted across the table of that truck stop with so much pomp and circumstance cried out: “Andrew Jackson! Naked Ladies! Long standing bridges with out columns! Alligators! And yes, INDIANS!…”
Joe was surprised when no Indians came riding out upon painted ponies with bow and arrow to confront and challenge their red chariot. For a kid from NY, whom only saw Indians in John Wayne movies and history books, it was a let down to see that Indians were nothing more than a memory of motion pictures…
Joe was initially confused when a group of “ordinary looking people”, dressed in hand me downs and cast-offs, began murmuring and pointing excitably as they surrounded the car.
“What happened to your people, the Indians? These people are Mexican, aren’t they?” He asked Davis.
Joe was embarrassed, he began to say something in apology, “I was jus…”
Before Joe could finish his statement, the group, whom seemed to recognize Davis, drew closer and formed a curious half circle around the drivers side of the car. It was then that Joe began to distinguish their prominent features: high cheekbones; black hair–some with long braids; reddish brown skin coloration; dark, piercing eyes–which seemed to contain an immense store of sorrow and intrigue. Joe was suddenly face to face with his vision, but something was missing? It lacked “color”…. Yes, that’s what it was: A once colorful vision whose definition had become a black and white barrage of texture and thought due to it’s poverty of life. Once more, in black and white, in have and have not, Joe was reminded of a fact of life which he had been continually exposed to thus far: Poor had no color; Poor had no qualification for race, religion, nor creed! It’s lethal injection into society was epidemic; it’s causes wide and varied. But then, from the center of the half moon, a short man, whom looked ninety years old, with long, gray streaked, jet black braids–which were tied with bands of red cloth and silver objects–stepped forward and began to paint in the color between the lines…
With a short brush stroke of his left hand, he silenced the group. And then, as if viewing a magnificent canvas with a keen eye, he motioned to the land with both arms in a gentle, sweeping manner and began, in a sing-song, melodic voice, to speak in his native tongue. His vocals, rising and falling like a rhythmic flowing and ebbing of a peaceful shore line, reverberated in sweet, smoothing, harmony. He began to walk forward, his voice rising with each deliberate step, until he reached the car. He halted and bellowed a crisp, sharp cry, while grasping Davis’s arm with his right hand and signing with the other. As if on cue, the group, melting into one, warm hearted mass of happiness and friendship, converged on the car…welcoming Davis “Lost Cloud” home…
Tribal Elder Nijanio, one hundred and two, was the oldest surviving member of “the old way”. Born in the year of 1863, in the face of a high, full moon, he was gifted with the name Night Warrior. Night Warrior Nijanio, man of a thousand truths and the oldest living repository of the history of his once great and powerful people, sat upon a threadbare sofa in a plywood faced shack, surrounded by fifteen young tribal members. His face was flat, high-cheeked, with piercing, eagle-like eyes, thick, broad lips, and strong, white teeth. Joe was amazed at his mental energy and his vibrant, physical demeanor. The first thought that ran through Joe’s mind was the fact that the guy talked “normal”!
“The Great Spirit has honored our people for our care of Mother earth; for welcoming all whom seek peace and consoling; for behaving in the Right Way–with goodness and beauty;. therefore, with much joy and honor, we welcome Lost Cloud and his friend Mike to our home. We thank The Great Spirit for watching over him and showing him the way back to his roots.”
For the next several hours, Nijanio entertained an eager Joe with stories of the NAVAJO’s past….
“Before I was born unto this earth, the NAVAJO were called the Diné. “The Diné” translates in English into “the People” or “the Folks”. The name NAVAJO was invented by Europeans whom had no clue to the vocabulary of the Diné! In fact, in my native tongue, the “V” in NAVAJO has no meaning…it cannot be reproduced! The Diné began as a small group of people related to the Apache. After settling in this very land, we began conducting raids to capture people–whom we allowed to join our tribe–and wealth in order to build our tribe. Up until the coming of the Spaniard, with his horse, steel sword, hot musket, and tendency to scalp his conquered, the Diné were basically a group of peaceful people whom loved the heat of the occasional fray like all of the other tribes whom made the desert’s mesas and cliffs home. After the coming of the Spaniard, with his sly intrigue, wealth and power, the Diné began a specific routine of warring to satisfy their need for people and wealth with which to combat the Spaniard. Eventually, through this continuing war-like atmosphere, the Diné were able to become the most numerous and prosperous peoples of the painted land. Reaching more than 10,000 by my birth, my people were very industrious: Our women wove the finest blankets; we worked the Spanish metal of water into great works of art; we raised thousands of little peach trees and great patches of corn. Our hogans–what you call houses–were simple structures built of the earth and providing the necessary shelter we needed. Our flocks of sheep were as great as our desire to hear the Singers sing the Songs of Talking God. We cherished philosophy, poetry, and art. We were a happy and healthy peoples. But, due to many confrontations with our brothers the Apache, whom were being pressed by the Spaniards and their descendants, the Mexicans–whom enslaved vast amounts of peoples for their personnel and economic pleasure–we eventually became fierce warriors and raiders first, tenders of the land and flocks second. In 1849, three years after the Americans defeated the Mexicans, Americans began appearing in great numbers. We began to experience much robbery and outrage. In 1851, after numerous retaliatory raids and skirmishes, led by the most war-like of our people, Fort Defiance was established in the very heart of our country. The presence of the Fort and it’s contingent of personal reduced the thefts and brought peace until 1858 when an argument between one of our people and the slave of an army officer–with everyone taking up for the slave–brought upon the greatest war of the Diné. Our people attacked Fort Defiance and the struggle began. The American Civil War brought a temporary peace until the appearance of Kit Carson in the winter of 1863-64. Carson led an expedition to the once impregnable Diné stronghold of Canyon de Chelly and cut down thousands of peach trees and fields of corn that took many men days to destroy. They butchered our flocks and eventually starved our people into submission. Our people were then moved to a reservation called Bosque Rendondo near Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. That is where I was born! By my third birthday, we were allowed to return to our lands–which were greatly reduced–and begin our lives again. And then…”
Thus, for seven hours, Night Warrior told tales of bravery and legend; of comical laughter and desperate struggle; of love and death. In the end, Joe felt proud and special; he knew the Old warrior was treating him to the most fantastic oral history lesson that he would ever be privy to! By four am, the old warrior had used his last remaining drop of energy and finally conceded to sleep.
As Joe lay upon a heap of blankets, along with seven others who slept in the single, small room of the shack, he thought of Nijanio and his history. The old man had been delighted to tell his stories to Joe. He reminded Joe of Old Man Bianco! What a father figure Night Warrior was: Proud yet humble; Old and weak yet strong in his youthful memory! Nijanio had committed himself to more than story telling, he had delivered a strong message to the young boy whom had seen so much yet knew so little: “The past was so important to the future; With out memory one has no dreams; With out dreams one does not move forword; With out knowledge of the beginnings, one cannot determine the endings; With out truth, one is prone to repeating fallacies.”
Nijanio also told Joe of Dream Catchers: “Dream Catchers were once more than the intricate works of feathers, twisted saplings, beads, and animal fur of the plains tribes. Dream Catchers came in human form: Men whom had the ability to perceive and interpret dreams; men who once roamed the lands, coming and going in their eternal quest to discover man in his many modes. Dream Catchers were medicine men, great healers of the mind, spirit, and body, religous men, philosophers and scientists, astronomers, all packed into one. Dream Catchers were usually excepted in any tribe or peoples they came upon on their often long journeys.”
Nijanio said that a dream was nothing more than the mind gathering, digesting, inquiring; and formatting all thoughts, ideas, and happenings that men pushed aside into their subconscious minds. The mind sorted them just like Mr. Bianco sorted the rumors and facts of the neighborhood before analyzing them and willing the benefits! He said that the mind was Powered By The Great Spirit, but that man, limited by his consciousness, could not understand their dreams… “only in the subconscious can they truly gather the entire power of their mind to assimulate their buried thoughts!” The Dream Catcher, with his vast experience, was the only one whom could decipher the information! Joe then knew that Mr. Bianco was in fact a natural Dream Catcher!!!
When Joe asked whom of the tribe was the Dream Catcher, Nijanio’s face went sad before he began, once again, to educate Joe… “…in 1870, when the tribes had been allowed to return to a small portion of their original and vast ancestral lands, every portion of their way of life returned except two: The Warrior Spirit and the raids ceased; the “NAVAJO” became a peaceful peoples….. and why is this fact so important? You see, the NAVAJO economy had always been in the hands of a few wealthy families. The NAVAJO did not have a communal system. Their long history of success and wealth had delivered a system of stability. With this stability, a central governing core was not needed. No great chief ruled, just individual families of individual clans. The only way a warrior could break into this circle was by either securing riches through raids and becoming wealthy himself, or by marrying into a wealthy family. But in order to marry into a wealthy family, one would have to secure a dowry… and in order to secure a dowry, one would have to raid! Thus peace brought poverty to many; the poor remained poor, while the wealthy got wealthier… and the Warrior Way ceased.. and with this cessation.. the Way of the Dream Catcher also ceased….”
As Joe lay thinking of dreams and Dream Catchers, he was suddenly aroused to the thought that he himself had so much buried in that file deep in his mind. That must be the reason for all his weird day dreams! His mind was trying to analyze all those thoughts and questions! “Boy, if only a Dream Catcher was here; alive! I could get the answers I have struggled with for six years and running”… And then, another wave of sorrow, another thought to be filed into that file marked Accident:Personal, hovered in his mind:. the thought of the look on Nijanio’s face when Joe asked whom was the Dream Catcher of the Tribe….
Two weeks had passed since Night Warrior first spoke those seven hours of greatness. Joe felt he had been treated with so much respect and honor, he decided to level with Lost Cloud, Night Warrior, and the entire clan. He soon told them his stories and his truths. He informed them of his quest and his dreams. In fact, as Joe delivered his own historical heritage, the old warrior sat as amazed and entranced as Joe had listening to him. The Oath of Alphonso had mesmerized the entire clan. At one point, when Joe got to the part where Joe had decided to avenge his father, everyone sitting crossed legged upon the floor, including Nijanio, bent towards Joe so far, he thought they were going to topple over in their determination to hear and memorize every word of this youthful Warrior; a Warrior whom had so much Respect for his ancestors, he decided to wage war. Joe felt pride in Nijanio’s respect. ‘Yes, what a father figure Nijanio was! He stood straight and lived his life for his people.’
After Joe honored the clan with his-story, he was treated to four weeks of experiences in Diné tradition. He hand worked siver and stone into earrings and other pieces of traditional jewlry; he learned traditional ways to prepare and cook foods of the Diné; he rode a horse, bare-back, into the desert and camped for five days with several, specially chosen, modern day Warriors–in the way of the old! He felt the pride of the young “Warriors” as they demonstrated and taught him the keys to many of the mysteries of life and survival in the place of the Painted Lands. Later, he took the time to play with excited children; whom ran around just as half-naked as the Puerto Ricans of NY–except in the place of the fire hydrant, a muddy hole of several feet wide and two foot deep became their oasis. Joe had one of the most memorable experiences of his entire life. And then, Joe went to Old Nijanio:
“Great Father Nijanio, Night Warrior of the Painted Lands, I feel as though I have known you all my life. I, in fact, wish that I had known you all my life… but then, I wonder if I would have truly appreciated all of the welcome I have received by your truth. I have never spoken like this before, Nijanio, so you can be assured that you have become a part of my mind. Therefore, I make the promise of the Earth, Sky, and Waters, I shall remember you and your peoples; I shall hold as a part of me, like you have taught me, all your thoughts of words so that I may tell them to others long after you have joined your ancestors in the land of the Great Spirit Of The Sky…” and with much regret, he informed his adopted people that he would have to leave…
“Your words are truth, spoken like a true Diné.” Night Warrior replied, “I shall call you Warrior Whom Travels. Yes, Whom Travels, you are welcome as long as the Great Spirit warms the Earth and the Moon rises to caste the Shadow of the Warrior”
Lost Cloud and Joe sat talking on a bluff overlooking the encampment under a sky splashed in blush and golden clarity. Lost Cloud had sold the car for two thousand dollars. Neither of the two felt any regret nor crime–they had endured much. When Lost Cloud–as Joe preferred to call Davis–handed Joe one thousand dollars in cash, Joe refused all but one hundred dollars. He informed Lost Cloud to give the rest to Night Warrior and his people after he left as a gift. Then they talked of their plans. When Lost Cloud said he was going to resume his journey, Joe spoke with much determination. Joe had met Lost Clouds father; an influential member of the council who was hoping that Lost Cloud would stay. Joe had seen such a change in Lost Cloud since his return he knew he belonged with his people. He began to tell him of his own needs; of his own dreams and wishes. He told him he had such a gift in his father–and his peoples–he would be foolish to leave and chance another Popa Joe and Pigny. Joe was not sure if Lost Cloud would heed his advice, but he could tell a great impact had been etched upon his mind by Joe’s story; he hoped it would remain so. Joe had already told everyone he was leaving and one of Lost Clouds friends was waiting to drive Joe to the main highway. Joe felt that he would have a better chance of catching a ride at night when most of the truckers would be hauling butt down the roads. So, with much regret, Lost Cloud walked with Joe to the car. As they hugged in Diné tradition, a hawk, screeching loudly, flew in circles high above as if to say, “I also am leaving in the night. I sing my song for all those whom sacrificed their dreams so we might have ours. Have no fear, for our strength is in our friendship; bonded through memories to be passed down as leaves falling to a ground of eternity.”
Joe sat in the car as it made it’s way back down the road. Before entering the highway, Joe asked the driver to stop a moment and rolled down the window to view the village one last time. Turning in his seat, he was struck with a vision he had been unaware of when he first saw what he viewed as a group of dusty, run down shacks; he now could see the real beauty of the village: bathed in the brilliant, receding light of the clean desert air, the village was transformed into cubicles of gold, crimson, and rich amber, a place of elegance in nature–populated by a great people whose legacy swept the very breadth of history. Neither of the great ancients Homer, Virgil, Horace, nor even the venerable Shakespeare, could have put to words the feelings that pounded in the heart of Joe as he rode his memory down that long, long, lonely highway on his return to his great quest…