Family Night at the Page Public Library with Carlos Begay and his Diné Language and Culture students introduced Navajo winter time traditions to the Page community. The presentation included stories and winter games most Navajo families and communities still have fun doing during the cold winter months in the hogaán or at chapter houses.
The presentation featured stories about Coyote’s trickster ways and how it affected those he played the tricks on. Collin Copenhagen, a ten-year-old youth participant of Family Night explained the story he enjoyed the most.
“I had really, really fun,” he said. “The story that inspired me most was the how Coyote stole the babies from the Water Monster. He couldn’t return them because [the Water Monster] was going to hurt him so he sent them adrift. Then, the Demons found them and raised them to use them for evil.”
This particular story is a story meant to keep kids from wandering too far from their mother’s supervision, or stranger danger.
Another story Copenhagen and his mother Yasmine also enjoyed was the story of the lizards having fun and Coyote wanting too much fun. We learn at the end of the story that too much fun has consequences.
Every story has a moral and most are intended to keep kids respectful of family and spiritual traditions of the Navajo culture. The stories encourage the roles of future generations and the importance of maintaining them. Traditionally, throughout most indigenous cultures, winter stories are only allowed to be told after the first snowfall. Once snow fell on the San Francisco Peaks, a sacred place to northern Arizona tribes, the stories were finally able to be told.
Once story time was finished, the ‘Shoe Game’ began, bringing with it much excitement and high competition. Once the crowd learned the rules and then got over their shyness everybody was eager to play.
Begay taught to those in attendance how to play the Shoe Game by using four pairs of bear claw slippers, a moqui marble, several buckets of red sand and a wooden stick made from a tree branch. The room was divided into two sides, ‘Day’ and ‘Night’. The object of the game was to correctly guess where the ball was hiding. Four slippers were placed in front of each team. A blanket went up like a wall to keep the other team from seeing where their team hid the ball. The marble was placed into a shoe and red sandstone dirt was piled on top of them. Singing was essential to the game and each team had a chance to find the ball 3 times if they used the rules correctly on how to predict the right shoe. One tap, or two and the score was kept with yucca leaves.
It was the Navajo elders who were the first to jump into the game. The attendees, who were a bit shy at first, watched how the elders and Diné Language students used strategy while explaining the rules as they played which gave them the extra confidence to join in.
Soon everybody was laughing and cheering for one another. Begay also taught them how to sing small phrases in the Diné language and how to tease the opposing team to choose correctly or incorrectly.
Begay explained that the team who did not sing would lose their chance to find the ball. It was the Day team who took home the win when they collected enough yucca leaves to weave two baskets and the Night team only enough for a single basket. Yucca leaves are a high commodity for weaving traditional baskets.
The Shoe Game is still a favorite winter past time held in many remote communities on the Navajo reservation. Desiree Fowler, Page Public Library’s Children’s Coordinator, is from Coppermine and happily explains that her home chapter house still plays the traditional games.
“It’s nice [the kids] are getting into [the game],” she said. “It sometimes goes on until midnight and we have food and sometimes a bit of gambling.”
She laughs because the bets are not money but supposed to be things like food or favors. “We also have a potlatch style meal because it could go until midnight.”
Begay also noted the Shoe Game is not normally called a game but is a way to teach the young children. Singing, counting, memory and social skills are some of the things they learn at a young age. The Shoe Game is also a way for the more rural communities to come together during the months when winter seclusion can become more about survival or loneliness grows heavy deep in Navajo country.
“It is still a huge event [for] communities two hours from a town, said Begay, about the Black Mesa area where he’s from. “Some communities sponsor the Shoe Game at a local school gymnasium. [Page] is a border town so the [Shoe Game] doesn’t really happen as much, but they are getting a taste of tonight. Sometimes it lasts till dawn.”
Begay brought several of his high school students to set up and help teach the community. He really enjoyed seeing his students overcome their shyness at the beginning of the Shoe Game.
“It is awesome and unique to see them embrace their own culture,” he said. “In my language class I see them making those connection by getting immersed into the language and culture.”
Keeping with the tradition of the all night games, frybread was handed out to the participants mid-game. When the evening ended, after four hours of Family Night activities and singing, the library provided actual Navajo tacos for the dedicated players and students.
Fowler planned the event because the library is currently incorporating more Native American activities to acknowledge the demographic population of Native Americans in the Page area. With the Navajo reservation being as close as it is, Fowler thought helping the community and its visitors understand a bit of their culture would break down some of the walls of misconception some people might have.
“I was explaining to a woman from [the Inuit of] Alaska the purpose of the handshake. [The handshake] shows respect and kinship, ‘Hoshzón’, it’s called. It is a way to say ‘peace’.” said Fowler. She addsed thatthe handshake Navajo people use in greeting each other is another way for people to feel less isolated because many families live so far from their nearest neighbor.
For more information on the Navajo culture Begay will be holding aNavajo Studies Conference this Friday, January 26 from 4:30 to 8 p.m. where he will hold the Shoe Game again and more fun family activities the community can enjoy. The conference will continue till Saturday, January 27 from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The Saturday schedule will include more stories and educational activities.
The Page Public Library has been trying to hold events that are low cost to help keep funds on budget. By utilizing volunteers and making the food from donations the library’s Children’s Department was able to hold a successful Family Night. The next Family Night will be the String Game presentation, another winter activity from the Navajo culture.
Many regular programs are on hold until the next fiscal year begins such as the “Teen After Hours” event for the middle school and high school students.
If you’d like to make a donation to the library please contact them at 928-645-4270.