Friday, January 22, 2010

A Fish Tale

One of the things I most enjoyed as a young scout growing up in the wilds of San Juan County was prowling through the remnants of cliff dwellings built by what were then known as the Anasazi. “Anasazi” is a Navajo word for “Ancient Ones” or “Ancient Enemy”. Since the term is not favored by descendants of these prehistoric people, more recently archaeologists have begun referring to that civilization as the ”Ancient Pueblo People” or “Ancestral Puebloans.”

Priscilla at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

In addition to learning that I was mistaken in my labeling of this culture, I have also realized that my scrambling in and out of those ancient apartments may have resulted in significant damage to the structures. Such is the ignorance of youth.

As a result of my newfound enlightenment, several years ago I ceased to pocket pot shards, clamor on cliff dwellings or pencil rub petroglyphs. At the same time, I began to inspect this culture with a more studied eye. I learned much about their cultivation of plants, their construction techniques and their religious ceremonies. All this investigation ultimately lead me to the big question, “What happened to these people and why did they leave?”

Of course scientists have debated these issues vigorously for decades. Stress on the environment, warfare among competing societies, violence, cannibalism, drought, the influx of Numic-speakers and a variety of other theories have been discussed and tested. Still, no definitive answer has been concluded.

At Twin Rocks Trading Post, business is universally slow during the winter months, so I have time to look further into issues that interest me. Late last week, having sat at the computer for an hour or two researching Ancient Puebloan culture, my stomach began to growl. Noticing it was noon, and remembering there were a few tins of tuna upstairs in the kitchen, I jumped down from my stool and headed toward the house. As I ascended the stairs to the upper level, I noticed Priscilla arranging the turquoise jewelry and Navajo baskets, so I said, “Hey, you want a fish sandwich?” “Sure,” she replied.

From his office, Barry shouted, “Navajos don’t eat fish!” “What do you mean,” I asked. Barry slid his chair over to the bookcase and took out a copy of Sacred Land, Sacred View: Navajo Perceptions of the Four Corners Region, written by Robert S. McPherson. “Look at page 91,” he said.” Turning to the appropriate page, I read:

For many generations, the Anasazi were hard taskmasters over the Dine' [Navajo], forcing them to carry wood and corn on their backs for long distances and perform menial acts of service. Eventually, a large and handsome man came from the east, appearing to "rise out of where the sky and earth join together. He carried with him a long rod or staff. When he came amongst the Dine', he saw how they were being treated by the people who dwelt in the stone houses in the cliffs north of the San Juan River and he was very much displeased." He told them to stop this harsh treatment, but they replied they were "the greatest people in the world" and would do as they pleased. The stranger counseled the Dine' that at the next new moon they should prepare a feast of turkeys, rabbits, corn, paper bread, and other delicacies and serve it at places on the south bank of the San Juan and Little Colorado rivers. They sent runners to the cliff dwellers, who were "great gluttons" and responded in large numbers. "They were first to cross from along the north bank of the San Juan River as the feast was spread along the south bank for a distance of four miles, and as the horde of cliff dwellers came forward to take part in the feast, they rushed to cross the river." The stranger waited until they were in the middle of the river, then raised his arm to the level of his chest, twice waved his rod, and uttered some magic words. The Anasazi turned into fish instantly. He then faced westward and southwestward, pointed his rod in each direction, said the same magic words, and all the remaining cliff dwellers were struck with lockjaw and paralysis of the arms and legs. They died within four days. By then, the Dine' had eaten the feast they had prepared. Manuelito did not divulge the name of the stranger because he was yet considered a friend. He did say, however, that this incident explains why traditional Navajos do not eat fish, the descendants of the cliff dwellers.
Finally, I had my answer. I immediately sent messages to the leading scientific journals advising them that I, Steven P. Simpson, had solved the mystery. Forget about cannibalism, violence and warfare, no longer would we have to wonder what happened to the Anasazi. Surely I am destined to become widely recognized as the expert on this subject. Never mind that Bob McPhearson and numerous Navajo medicine men solved the riddle long before I arrived on the scene.

As I once again headed back to the house to sate my hunger, I said to Priscilla, “Sorry Buddy, there is no fish for you from now on.” “Darn, she said, “do you have any hot dogs or ham? I don’t think that’s my kin.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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