My tribe is known as the Wai’a’atika. During my spirit walk to meet my totem as a young warrior brave, the Great Bear came to me. He told me he would walk the warrior path with me, teaching me his ways. The Great Bear wisdom is the way of courage and peace. Size and strength matter but it is only the foolish who let brash fierceness lead the way. The Bear warrior’s heart tempers the way balancing harmony and respect for all living things. For truly the Great Bear is a lover of peace and tranquility.
It is now my duty and honour to teach the ways of the warrior to my son. This is my story.
SIGNS of wild beast
Since the first lesson on learning to read the signs of nature, the sun had crossed the sky as many times as there were fingers on one hand. The group of young warriors in training had been counting the crossing of the sun carefully. One of them had drawn the outline of his hand on the wall of a cave they used for games. Each day they would mark a finger until all of them carried the sign of the sun’s crossing. In hushed whispers they tried to guess what the next lesson would be. Someone thought they would learn how to use a bow and arrow or a slingshot. But another said first they would have to learn how to make them, for all warriors made their own. It had turned into a guessing game, each suggestion more outrageous than the next. Despite pleading with the older boys for some clues, no-one got so much as a hint. The suspense of waiting made them want the next lesson sooner and made the days drag.
However, the time had now come. Once more the group set off into the forest. There had been no talk at breakfast of what was to come. This made them feel a little uneasy as their fathers were silent and looked very solemn. The silent shadow walk of the warrior started right with the very first step. It made progress slow but none dared to question or make a sound. Having walked until they were deep in the forest the group was brought to a stop. One of the fathers pointed at something on the ground. One by one all the boys had a look. Clearly a large animal of some kind had left its spoor on the earth where it had stopped to relieve itself. The dung was fresh and smelled strongly. A silent conversation took place between the fathers watched intently by the boys. Turning to face the boys, they signed to them that a large mountain cat was somewhere close by. The group would track the animal. It was no longer a game. This was serious. Mountain cats were dangerous particularly if cornered. Nodding their heads as one, each turned to his son and motioned for him to walk behind.
Nanunja led the way, followed closely by Nanja. He tried very hard to see the signs his father was tracking. Some were easy to see. Those he could not find his father pointed out to him. The lesson continued even though they were now tracking a real and dangerous animal. It made Nanja’s heart thump loudly in his chest. He was almost sure that others could hear it for it made his ears buzz. But no-one else seemed to pay any notice. The group continued in this way for some time until suddenly Nanunja signalled for the group to stop.
He pointed to the bushes up ahead where the path they had been following forked. The cat stood there in full view, its ears cocked back and tail twitching, turning its head from side to side, listening intently. Satisfied, it continued on its way. The group waited for some time before moving again. As they rounded a corner, they came upon the mountain cat. It stood facing them, fangs bared, hackles on its neck raised, a deep warning growl coming from its throat. The group stopped. For what seemed an eternity to Nanja they stood still watching the cat. At a signal from Nanunja all the fathers instructed their sons. Then very slowly and very carefully the group started to move backwards one careful step at a time. The cat watched, tail twitching, until they were out of sight. The group continued in this manner for a very long time until the fathers were satisfied that the mountain cat posed no threat to them.
They continued the journey home in the silent ways of the warrior, the only difference now being that the boys were placed in the middle with the fathers at either end. They arrived safely back at the village. The tension in all their bodies eased but the lesson was far from over. It continued around the campfire long into the night. The moon was high in the sky before the fathers were satisfied the boys understood everything that had happened and could identify all the signs that had been found. Some the young warriors had seen, others not. Each was examined closely.
Nanunja then told the group that they had known of the mountain cat’s presence in the forest. It too was a sign for it had arrived at the time of great learning. They had decided to honour and respect the gift it brought as an opportunity for teaching rather than hunting and taking its life to provide sustenance for the tribe.
As before the next lesson on the signs of nature would take place when the sun had crossed the sky as many times as there were fingers on one hand.
© Raili Tanska