Traditional storytelling took center stage, immersing audience members in the world of O’odham lore, on January 26 when Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members and guests were treated to traditional O’odham stories that are told only during the winter months.
For this year’s winter storytelling, Gila River Indian Community Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Barnaby Lewis was invited share traditional O’odham stories. Lewis is from District 1 (Blackwater) and has been telling traditional stories for over 20 years.
Lewis presented a series of three stories: Ho’ok, Eagleman (Vonda), White Clay Eater, and Yellow Buzzard. Each of these stories follows characters through a series of events, such as courageous acts to save a village. Part of the fun is passing down the spoken language, tribal lore and life lessons to new generations.
The traditional stories were told at winter gatherings because winter is the time when rattlesnakes are hibernating, keeping them from biting people. Lewis talked of a specific hill located on GRIC called “Rattlesnake House,” where rattlesnakes go to hibernate during the winter months.
Other lore states that it was not appropriate for people to sleep when they listened to the stories. “If you fall asleep, it takes away from the memory of the storyteller. In the old days the storyteller would appoint someone to watch the people. They would have a stick, and when they saw someone falling asleep, they would wake them up with it,” said Lewis.
Lewis said the stories are also told starting at sunset and can go all the way to sunrise over the course of a couple of days, often four days. Throughout the course of the evening, Lewis would recite parts of the story in English and then go back over in O’odham ñiok to reaffirm the oral traditions spoken in the language of the Community.