Storyteller The stranger
From village to village, a man with no name would visit. From high in the mountains to the desert plains and the sea’s edge he traveled, keeping what he had learned safely tucked in his mind’s eye.
Long ago, when we were the people of hard times, the man walked. He was a brother to all he met, and above all he was a teacher. No one knew where he came from and no one ever saw him leave, but all were changed in a good way by meeting him.
The early morning sun was shining when a young boy named Ell Me Whum went to the river to fish. The wind was gently blowing as he grabbed his first fish. Since it had rained the night before, he knew fishing would be good. It was not unusual to see trees and branches hiding in the river downstream.
As he stood admiring his catch, a tall man appeared out of nowhere. Ell Me Whum was startled because the stranger looked different from all the people he knew. The man was tall with long, black, flowing hair that looked like the darkest blue skies. His eyes commanded attention, but were gentle. He wore a white buckskin outfit with feathers of all colors on the shirtsleeves. The feathers were different from those of the birds that were familiar to the boy. The man was barefoot, yet his feet did not show the signs of walking. The tall stranger wore earrings made of shell.
The boy watched as the man put his staff down and sat on the ground. “Who are you?” the boy asked. “Where did you come from? I have never seen anyone like you before.”
The stranger smiled. “I did not mean to frighten you. I was walking along the river and thought I would rest here. I thought I would make myself known so I would not scare you. I mean no harm. I am just a traveler.”
The boy glanced down at the man’s feet. “If you are a traveler, why are your feet nice like my little sister’s?” he asked.
The man laughed. “You see well with those eyes. That is a good question! But I will give you an answer later. What I would like to do is talk to the elders of your tribe. Do you think you could take me to them?” he asked.
“Yes, I can,” Ell Me Whum replied. “But it seems that they have been grouchy lately, like bears with no food. It seems we are always fighting with the tribe that lives across the river. Do you see the smoke from their village?”
“Ah yes, I see,” the man answered. “But I have been to their village and had a talk with them. I do not think they will be fighting your tribe again. They learned that there is no honor in fighting their own people.”
The boy seemed surprised to hear this. “But our tribe is better than they are, right? That is what they must have learned, right?” he asked.
The stranger said, “My, you have a lot to learn – and the answer to your question is no. Take me to your elders. I see that not only the young must learn, but the elders must learn even more.”
Ell Me Whum seemed perplexed, but pointed in the direction of his village.
“Let us go,” the man replied. As they walked to the village they talked. The boy noticed the animals that usually made themselves scarce in the day were out and visible. The eagle flew over them and deer were everywhere. The bear watched as their cubs nipped as if to play with the stranger’s hand. Even the elk and wolf came out of the forest. The trees were full of birds, squirrels and chipmunks. Ell Me Whum was amazed at all he saw.
Ell Me Whum couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Why are all the animals out where I can see them? And why are they not hunting one another? Brother Wolf could have a feast, but he watches you and shows no signs of hunting.”
The man smiled and looked down at his young friend. “All the animals you see know that they are brothers and sisters. They do not kill to be better than one another. When they do hunt, it is for a reason and not to be the best,” he said.
“Okay,” Ell Me Whum said, and became quiet. By the time they reached the village, all the animals seemed to disappear as quickly as they had appeared. The boy noticed this, but he kept quiet because he did not want to ask too many questions.
As they approached, all the people stopped and watched the tall stranger near the chief’s tipi. There was no reason to announce his presence, for he stood as if he knew something was going to happen. Ell Me Whum explained to the chief about how he met the stranger. The chief asked the man, “What is your name? What tribe are you? I have never seen a man like you in all my years on mother earth.”
The man smiled and said, “I am all names and no names. I am no tribe and all tribes. I am what you said you have never seen. I am a man.”
The chief and all of the people looked perplexed.
“I have come to talk to you as I have many other tribes across the mountains near and far. The fighting among all the tribes needs to stop. Soon there will be no tribes and no people. There is no honor in killing others to prove you are the best. Do you understand what I say?” the man asked.
“I do,” the chief replied. “But it has always been this way. I agree it should not be this way, but it is. What can I do?”
The man smiled and held out his hand to the chief. “You could start by being friends. Learn from one another. Tell your stories and lessons to them. Help one another and become one. Live in honor,” the man said.
“Your words are true,” said the chief. “I will try to teach my people these lessons. But why do you come to me with these words?”
“I have been to all the tribes with the same words. My hope is that all will learn and understand that fighting over whom is the best will not work.” The traveler asked, “Ell Me Whum, when I leave will you have learned from the animals that all can live side by side in peace and earn each other’s respect?”
Ell Me Whum replied, “I agree we will try our best to become one with the other tribes.”
The man smiled, “Good! Now I must go. I have others to talk to.” He nodded his head as he walked away.
“Please wait,” the boy called out as he ran after him. “What is your name? You must have
The man never turned around or spoke, but Ell Me Whum heard the wind whisper through the trees: “Kay Meen.” As he walked to the river it was as if he had disappeared or become one with the land. Ell Me Whum stood with his eyes desperately trying to find a glimpse of him. All he saw was a large fallen tree gently drifting downstream. But as he looked, he thought he saw a medicine bag draped over one of the dead branches with feathers of all colors on it.
Did the man of many names and no name become one with the land and water and wind? Perhaps the tree that drifted down the river? Only a special person could travel so far. Maybe he still walks among us. I like to think he does. You decide.
Ken “Rainbow Cougar” Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and is a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.