“Esch Cheen' nahkah is the
trickster, but rabbit is the hero.” At least in the Ponca language.” The
woman studying the Ponca language said. The outline she handed Dee was a
translation of a story told to her by an ageing member of the tribe at the
time. The man, Joseph Hairy Back, was now since deceased. The story was
one about the rabbit.
Remembering a rabbit story
was what Dee was trying to do at the moment. It was something about the
rabbit trying to wake the sun and on getting too close the hair on his
back was singhed. This was the reason for that color there. The outline
she held in her hand was a different story. Dee listened respectfully. The
woman was working on her doctorate and there was no question she was well
educated in the white man's universities.
Dee's mother was Ponca and
spoke the language fluently. She was quite against the alphabet and the
English words they had devised in order to write the words down. But, at
the moment Dee saw these outlines were necessary in order to follow the
story being told by the elderly man which the University of Oklahoma had
helped her tape.
Dee never had any question
the language was an ancient one but now as she listened to the elderly man
methodically going through the story there was something she could not
quite grasp as to the meaning. It was a child's story, a fable, but the
man told it with real seriousness.
The gist of the story was
that the rabbit had killed the evil big hill by splitting it open. He took
its heart out and offered it to his grandmother to eat. Then he worked to
bring back to life the people who were dead and dying inside that hill.
Because he did this, the
people wanted to make him a chief. He said to them. “No.” “ I don't
think this is appropriate because of the way I have this split in my
Of course, Dee was trying
to understand and in partially understanding in her own mind was intrigued
with the wisdom of the rabbit. In her mind she was asking. “Was the big
hill the enemy of God who caused death? Even though the rabbit defeated
this enemy and resurrected people did he refuse to become a chief because
of his imperfection? Or because he was a rabbit and not human?”
Really, Dee had not
intended to get into the language. It was difficult. Only a handful of old
ones spoke and they were busy in their modern lives with little time just
as she was.
The language people studies
were certainly to be commended. However, like every other time, when the
cultures tried to mesh it just couldn't happen. The written word and their
alphabet could not be understood by the common person or the person
unlearned in the methods of writing the words which had inserts of small
letters above letters in order to indicate one particular sound or
another. There might be a gentle quiet popping sound on a letter and this
was how they were shown. There was that throaty bubbling sound in the
back of the throat and it was indicated with an x. These were the educated
and the lofty ways of the white man in his attempt to save the language
which ended up that he may have saved the language, but only for himself.
When Dee took the
manuscript to her mother in order to get her help in pronouncing the words
line after line was ripped apart.
“Look. Here she has,
Nia'shiga as man. That isn't so. Nu' is man. Nia'shiga is people but it
means more than that. She has shiga at the end of nia'. That shiga
should be shing' gah, meaning a small amount. If you pronounce that word
as it is written here it would sound like Nigh' a shy gay. I don't know
what that means! It doesn't mean anything.”
“You embarrass me by going
down there to learn Ponca from a white woman.” Dee's mother wasn't ever
known to mince words.
“Well, you know. My cousin
is teaching too?” Dee asked.
“You want to talk like a
man? They have a different language. Oh my! You have an aunt who speaks
fluently. Go see her.”
Dee didn't scorn her
mother's advice. In her mind she was thinking about it though. She had
art work on schedule from a year ago. The children's ages were slipping
right on along and art instruction for them was fast getting away from
The goal of creating a
garden on the hillside was really only partially completed and her back
was quibbling with her on that.
Sewing was to the point of
neglect as far as quick gowns and quick sports wear to be sewn for two or
three dollars a piece when their cost was in multiples above that.
These projects were not
even touching into daily maintenance and cleaning plus the need to keep
food cooked in order to avoid the fast food places which were unhealthy as
well as expensive.
Quietly Dee spoke, “If only
Aunt Josephine was still alive. She knew how to teach. Ne was water, Ne
Nee' was smoke (or cigarettes), Ne skee the was salt water. Easy! I
should have spent more time with her, and that is hind site.”
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