The Altus Public Library Conference room rang with the sound of children’s laughter as they discovered some ancient truths with very modern applications. Two members of Mahenwahdose, Will Hill and Jehnean Washington, brought some cultural understanding to young and old alike on Thursday, June 14, during this second of the Summer Reading Programs based on “Dream Big, Read”. These two talented performers, based in Tulsa, are dedicated to preserving and performing traditional and accurate Native American stories. The title of their group, Mahenwahdose is Muscogean for “The Real Thing”.
They opened their performance of a lilting song with Jehnean playing a drum and singing, accompanied by Will on the flute. The musical bridge allowed a peaceful transition for those who’d just been out in the heat and hustle bustle. Will then told a bit about his youth and the storytelling tradition of his grandparents’ home. Native Americans use stories about animals to teach about character, he said. There is great respect for animals in tribal settings, for the creatures provide food and skins for the people.
All three of the Mahenwahdose stories on Thursday were based on strong morals with which the children and their parents and grandparents who were present could identify. The stories are told seamlessly by both Will and Jehnean, accompanied by musical instruments and ingenious ways of introducing audience participation. The most unlikely creatures turned out to be heroes and heroines of these tales, illustrated by their first tale.
A mother opossum became weary of carrying her many babies upon her back, so she placed them in a hollow log and covered them with moss. She stepped away for a moment to find her babies have been kidnapped by bats. The babies were being tossed into the air and Mama Possum appealed to many bigger animals for help. The alligator, the bear, and others tried to rescue the babies to no avail. Who solved the problem and rescued the babies? The little box turtle. He When the babies are returned, he gave Mama Possum a furry gray sweater with a pocket in front. From that day forward, baby possums have had a place to rest, in their mother’s pocket. The moral of the story, according to Mahenwahdose is: “It’s not what a person looks like on the outside, but what’s in their heart that counts.”
In a story everyone can relate to, the villain was “Long Claw”. Simply put, ugly, selfish Long Claw was a bully. He found enjoyment scaring others, especially those who are vulnerable. When confronted by the grown-up creatures for his bad behavior, he merely said, “You’re not the boss of me.” Long Claw continued to bully the smaller animals until one day he encountered an animal he’d never seen before. He planned a special attack for the fluffy black creature with the long white stripe on her tail. The critter rebuffed Long Claw, who repeatedly bothered her. She told him that someday he would get what was coming to him. She finally ran down a burrow but the end of her tail was still showing. Long Claw returned to pester the skunk one more time and got the surprise of his life, skunk spray right in the nose. The moral of the story is “Be careful not to be like Long Claw, looking for attention. You may end up on the wrong side of it someday.”
The third story involved the stars and coyotes. The coyotes were wily and full of pride. They challenged the twinkling stars to see who could stay awake the longest, and howled at the stars above. The coyotes danced all night; they yipped, they pranced with their paws held high. In response, the stars laughed and twirled with twinkling majesty. They gave out women’s war cries, quite unimpressed with the coyotes howling and dancing. Deep in the night, the stars grew quiet and the coyotes fell asleep. When the coyotes awoke near dawn, they realized they’d lost the challenge, and howled in disappointment. To this day, coyotes will howl at the first star’s light and again at dawn, for they are still sore losers. The moral, according to Mahenwahdose, is “Always be a good sport and never be a sore loser.”