Shadow Dreams

By: Evangeline Anderson


A Navajo Legend

Once there was a boy of the Bitterwater Clan of the Din`e, the Navajo People. He lived with his ma`sani, his grandmother in the Four Corners in the Navajo Nation on the reservation. Life was harsh on the reservation and food was sometimes scarce. The grandmother was worried for her grandson.
"Go," she told the boy. "I will send you to the white man's boarding school so that you may learn and grow and be strong. But you must promise to never forget the ways of the People."
The boy promised and his grandmother sent him away. He spent most of his time in school, and less and less time in the Four Corners. He received scholarships to go to the white man's college and every year he saw his grandmother less. He missed his grandmother, but the dust of the reservation stuck in his throat and the taste of mutton stew was sour on his tongue. The air outside the Four Corners seemed sweeter somehow. The boy soon became a man and began to forget the ways of the Din`e.
Then one day, when the man had finished school and was working and living far away from the Four Corners, he received a call. 'Come back,' he was told. 'Your grandmother is dying.'
The man rushed back to his grandmother's hogan to find her lying with her head to the North—the direction of death.
"Grandmother," he said. "I'm so sorry, I never should have left you." But he spoke in English, not in Navajo and she couldn't understand him.
"Ya`at`eeh," she told him, taking his hand. "Welcome. In all the time you were gone I thought of you every night and every day," she said. "I prayed for the day when I would see you again with a good Din`e woman as your wife and children of your own to warm my old heart. But you come back to the Four Corners more empty than when you left. Where is your wife? Where are your children?"
The man tried to explain that he had filled his days learning the white man's law and was too busy to find a wife or have children, but again, he spoke English and his ma`sani couldn't understand.
"Speak the language I taught you," she told him. "Let me hear the words of the Din`e come from your mouth before I die so that my spirit can be released with joy."
The man opened his mouth but found to his shame that he had forgotten every word of Navajo. He could understand his grandmother, but when he tried to say it back to her, his tongue was like lead in his mouth and the words were ashes and dust on his lips. They blew away before he could catch them.
"Speak to me!" the old woman cried angrily. "All I ask is a few words in my native tongue before I die."
But the man could not. He shook his head, frowning.
"Da`iisolts`aa—Listen," his grandmother said, taking his young, strong hand in her old, crippled one. "You didn't visit me very often … this I can forgive. But you broke the promise you made when I sent you away. You have forgotten the ways of the Din`e and that cannot be forgiven."
"Grandmother," he tried to say, but she hushed him again.
"This is the curse I leave on you, my grandson. This is my death curse so listen carefully. For the next three months you will live the life of a leechaa`, a dog.
"You will wander the streets like a chindi, an evil spirit that nobody wants. For three nights during these three months when the full moon is in the sky you will have the power to be a man again. During this time you must find a woman of the Din`e who will believe in you. She must have courage and love in her heart, enough love to embrace you and the ways of the People which you have forgotten
"When you find this woman, you will find the true man in your heart and the outward appearance will reflect the inward once again. This way, when I look down from the Spirit World I will be able to see the great-grandchildren that you did not give me in life.
"If you do not find a woman to believe in you in the next three months, then you must wander the world as a dog forever, never finding a place to call home."
And with that, she died.