Thursday, June 5, 2008

Super Heroes and Yeis

The three boys sprang into the trading post with a loud yelp, assuming karate stances and preparing for battle. The Hulk, Spiderman and Superman; all on my doorstep in one moment, and all ready to save the world, any available princesses and the current occupants of the trading post. I reached for the broom that stood just outside the door, and the hooligans scattered like leaves in a gale. “So much for that threat,” I muttered to myself, informing them that they better save themselves before worrying about anyone else.

Navajo Sandpaintings
Navajo Skywoman Sandpainting by Hosteen Etsitty

Over the past three years, Grange had accumulated a collection of Halloween costumes that he and his Navajo buddies, Trevor Sampson and Darrien Maryboy, enjoyed wearing whenever they got together after school. When the boys arrived at the house above the trading post after class, daily wear flew in all directions to facilitate the transformation from ordinary schoolboys to super heroes.

These were not the homemade costumes of my youth; no cutout eye patches and wooden swords in this group, their getups had steroid induced muscles and bright graphics. Forget the ghostly bed sheet with Magic Marker eyes, only catalog cloaks and plastic weapons will do for today’s children.

In spite of my cautioning them not to run in the trading post, once the boys were wound up, there was no stopping them, and they rampaged from one end of the property to the other, without regard for unseen danger or perilous pitfalls. Tourists and traders alike gave way as the warriors fought their way through various challenges.

It was late September, and gentle breezes blew the fallen leaves around the gravel parking lot and along the paved street. Autumn is my favorite time of the year, and having the boys blow through the store made me even more contented with this small river valley.

It is in the fall of the year, just after the first thunder that the Yeis sometimes appear at the trading post. Washington Matthews, in his book, The Night Chant; a Navaho Ceremony, states, “Yei, or in compounds, ye is a name applied to many Navaho divinities, but not to all. Perhaps we should translate the word as demi-god or genius. . . . “ As I have been informed many times, the Yei are spiritual beings that assist medicine men in the healing ceremonies. They are, therefore, important and indispensable to the traditional Navajo way of life.

My first firsthand experience with the Yeis came shortly after the trading post opened in September of 1989. Priscilla had come to work for us and set about trying to educate me to the ways of the Navajo. She and I made a great team, and I valued her insight into traditional ways of thinking.

Navajo Sandpaintings
Holy Man Sandpainting by Hosteen Etsitty.

As we poked around the newly opened store, cleaning and straightening up, I heard a quiet, almost ghostly, “hooty who,” much like an owl hooting in the distance. “Oh no,” Priscilla exclaimed, “we don’t have anything to give them.” “What do you mean?” I questioned. “It’s the Yeis, and we have to give them something to eat if they stop here,” she explained. Trusting her judgment, I quickly pulled a ten dollar bill from the cash drawer and sent her scrambling to the K and C Trading Post for refreshments.

When the Yeis arrived, Priscilla was prepared with sodas, flour and fruit. Dropping the supplies in their bag, she received a blessing of corn pollen and off went the real world incarnations of these spiritual beings.

As the heroes searched for maidens to rescue and beasts to slay, I once again heard the now familiar “hooty who,” and noticed a white Ford van pulling up to the porch. As the Yeis piled out, with their leather masks and bare bellies protruding into the chilly fall air, the dynamic trio stopped in their tracks. This time I knew what to do; and dispatched the boys upstairs for supplies. When they returned, I asked the kids to place the food in the pillow cases held by the spirits. “No,” they said, refusing to go near the masked beings who had been painted with kaolin clay, making them all the more spooky.

Nothing I could say would entice the boys to approach the Yeis and place their offerings in the bags; their bravery had failed them. Dieties, however, have grown more sophisticated, and these Yeis had retained a spokesman. “It’s just like Halloween,” he wisely explained to the super heroes, instantly liberating them from their fears. That was something they could understand, and they immediately stepped up and placed their offerings in the pillow cases.

With corn pollen adorning their heads, and emboldened with newly found courage, the heroes once again set off to redeem the world. I instinctively reached for the broom.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

No comments: