Stories, either written or oral, are the base of our civilization Stories are limitless, and connect people from all walks of life. Cultures who had no written language had storytellers.
At a lecture by F. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian, he stated that at some time in everyone’s life, he must know from where he came. The Native American has no such problem, because he has been taught the legends of his people over and over his entire life. He can recite his family tree for generations back, and can also remember and tell stories about ancestors long dead.
Stories are painted and carved on rocks throughout the world. Reminders to us that we are not unique, and that those who have gone before us left their legacies for us to interpret.
The time honored Indian pueblo pottery tradition of working with clay and telling stories has merged into a modern art form of “storyteller” pottery dolls. The art of making clay effigies is as ancient as the Anasazi peoples who inhabited the deserts of New Mexico many centuries ago. In recent history, it is the Cochiti pueblo potters who are knlown for clay effigies depicting many different aspects of their everyday life.
Helen Cordero of the Cochiti pueblo created her first ‘storyteller’ figure. Cordero’s storyteller mode was her grandfather, who gathered his grandchildren around him to play the drum, sing them songs, and tell stories of their Indian heritage and traditions.
Due to the decline of the number of speakers of native languages in various parts of the world, oral storytelling has become less common. In recent years many of the stories are written down, though many people argue that the telling of the story is just as important as the words within. Story telling, once confined to people in our own community, due to the virtue of the internet, allows us to tell our stories to people around the world.
Language is the archives of history. Ralph Waldo Emerson
While attending a conference in New Mexico some years ago, my friend Georgia Abeita and I were pleased to be invited to a celebration where numerous young dancers performed in the costume of their various tribes.
There was lots of green chile stew and fry bread, and great platters of melon of all sorts. There were dozens of displays of artwork for sale, including great pottery, basketry and blankets. Far too much to take in in an afternoon although we gave it a good shot, and ended up happily leaving a little money by the end of the day.
But the excitement of the day for me came with the colorful dancers, with their feathers, beadwork and deerskin boots all moving in unison to the insistent beat of the drummers who sat alongside the circle of dancers. Lots of tribal elders had their usual suspicious frowns, watching to make sure no one was photographing, which is always a bit nerve-racking, as you need to keep your cameras out of sight until the dance is over.
There were young men and women from all over the Southwest mingling and laughing together as young kids do until the serious business of dance began. Then they arranged themselves naturally into the circle dance and gracefully flowed into the age-old steps with lovely looks of concentration on their beautiful faces. The various tribes and villages were recognizable not only by their dress, but sometimes by their distinctive features. Pueblo, Kiowa, Plains Indians of many tribes were represented, and the color was amazing as they passed by.
At the end of the dance, when talking to some of the dancers, I was given permission to photograph, and came away with these two young people which I painted when I returned to my studio.
The sweetness of the girl contrasted greatly with the wonderfully arrogant expression of the boy, who had not not yet become confident in his young manhood.
O’Odham Tash watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen Black Eagle, Kiowa watercolor by KSR