The afternoon Arizona sun shone brilliantly, silhouetting our Navajo guide, Will Cowboy, as he treated us to a traditional Navajo courting song. Sitting in the shade of the “Big Hogan,” a natural ampitheatre in Mystery Valley, we marveled at the power of his voice, which he supported by rhythmically thrumming his hand-held drum.
Mystery Valley is right next to Monument Valley, which features the mesas and buttes made famous in John Ford/John Wayne flicks like “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.” Halina and I had spent the morning with Will and our small tour group soaking in the awe-inspiring views in Monument Valley. Then, after lunch, Will drove us into what he called his “backyard,” a place accessible only by Navajos or by groups with Navajo guides.
In addition to sharing his musical culture with us, Will took the time during our day together to chat about Navajo traditions and beliefs. During one of those chats, he touched on the subject of family stories. Navajo children, Will told us, start learning family history from their elders at a very early age, and continue hearing these stories until they know them by heart. It then becomes their responsibility to pass along this knowledge to their children and grandchildren.
Now, we’re not talking about tales that cover a generation or two. Navajo family stories can span hundreds and even thousands of years. As Will told us, it’s thanks to his family stories that he knows his people originated in Siberia. Talk about knowing where you came from!
There are many things we can learn from Native Americans, like the Navajos, and one of them is certainly the importance of preserving, sharing and celebrating family stories. This will certainly require a change in the mindset of our “here today, gone tomorrow” culture, where kids are lucky if they even know their grandparents. Being a driver for this change is part of Family Legacy Video’s mission, and with each completed video biography, I feel we’ve helped another generation to know where it came from.