Silent Voices

What do the Mayans, the Picts, and the Apache have in common?

They were all illiterate societies. They shared their lore, wisdom, and tales orally. The stories may not have been entirely factual. Over time, their heroes may have become larger than life and their histories may have become more fantastic and mythological. But, they told their stories and they shared their history. When the line was broken—when the tribes were wiped out or the language was erased—the stories died. What happened to the Toltecs? We have only the archaeological records to tell us.

Heyemeyohsts Storm is the son of a Cheyenne Indian teacher, an itinerant story teller who went from village to village telling the stories and transmitting the wisdom of his tribe. His was entirely an oral culture. As the people became “civilized,” they began to forget their language and their stories. Storm’s magnificent book, Seven Arrows, is his attempt to put these stories in writing before they disappeared entirely. It suffers the fossilization that any oral story frozen in print must suffer. But at least the essences of the stories are preserved. We won’t have to reconstruct the Cheyenne only from cave paintings and genetics.

Today, we are all blessed with ways to capture our stories. We have a variety of print resources. We have recorded resources. We have photos. We even have collection of souvenirs and memorabilia. There is no excuse for any of us, individually or collectively, to become the next generation’s Atlantis unless we choose to.

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