Global Whispers: A true tale by Julia Hawkes-Moore

Chief Dan George of the Lacota Indians

About twenty years ago, I attended a storytelling party at Sidmouth Folk Festival. There were many professional storytellers there, and I got talking with a woman called Sheila Fisher. She was a tidy, 40ish woman with greying hair and a lovely smile, speaking in a lilting accent which seemed a rich blend of Irish and Scottish. She was very happy, having just won the annual storytelling competition. I asked her ‘what was the greatest gift she had received from her storytelling experience?’

She held up the small flint arrowhead hanging from a cord around her neck. “There are three of these in this room tonight, and I have care of one,” she replied with delight. “Altogether, there are only five of these in the world. They are entrusted to the five finest storytellers of their generation, and are very ancient. They were made by the Lakota Indians of North America, who are regarded as the tribe of the Sioux Nation which has responsibility for protecting and preserving the spiritual heritage of the Sioux. When I reach the end of my storytelling career, I shall pass this arrowhead on, along with all my stories, to someone I trust to continue the tradition.”

“How did you come to have this?” I asked, intrigued, and she laughed. “Well,” she said, “I have always been a storyteller, along with the other women of my family, and we come from a particular group of travelling people, all very close family, who have always moved between Northern Ireland and Scotland. A few years ago, a member of our family was invited to speak at an International Conference in America, held between travelling peoples around the world, to discuss border-crossings, passports and nationality issues. As I was the eldest daughter of our family, it was decided that I should attend.’

‘To my astonishment, I found myself sitting at the circular table in the Oval Dining Room of the White House in Washington DC, chaired by the Vice-President Al Gore. All around the table were representatives of travelling peoples, dressed in their traditional ceremonial costumes, Lapplanders and Siberian reindeer herders, Eskimos and North American Indians, Eastern European Romanies, Mongolian horse herders and Masai cattlemen, Kalahari Bushmen, Australian Aborigines and many others I didn’t recognise. And there was little old me, wearing a borrowed posh frock, and wondering why I was there. I decided to keep very quiet and listen politely to the men sitting on either side of me – which is a difficult thing for a woman like me to do!’

‘The first half of the banquet was fine, as I listened to the smart lawyer sitting to me left. But I was terrified of the second half of the banquet, when I was supposed to turn around and talk with the person sitting to my right. I had noticed him as soon as we all arrived, and he was the scariest and most magnificent man I had ever seen.’

‘He must have been well over six feet tall, but was made a lot taller by the enormous eagle-feathered war bonnet he was wearing on his head. The waitresses kept tripping over the feather tails of his headdress, which trailed onto the polished floor behind his chair. He was wearing soft golden buckskin jacket and trousers, with long fringing, and buckles and buttons of turquoise. He smelled better than the food. His hair was snow-white, bound into long plaits on either side of his head. His skin was an astonishing copper-red colour, and his nose was large and hooked like an eagle’s beak. Laughter lines crinkled around his eyes, which when he slowly turned his head and looked straight at me, were as brilliant a blue as the turquoises he wore.’

‘He looked straight down at me, and spoke, in English, saying “So why are you here?” I was quite overcome, and because I was so nervous, I started to babble. I said “Well, I’m not sure, really, but it might be because someone from my family was invited to this conference. We are a travelling people, always have been, taking boats between Northern Ireland and Scotland. We carry beef cattle, potatoes, coal, sometimes barrels of whisky and other things. We have always tried to make crossings without paying fares, so we have trouble with passports and the like.’

          ‘These days, there are not many of us. The women of my family have always been, sort of, in charge, kind of thing. We make the decisions about moving, and crossing the water. We arrange the weddings and Christenings, sort of quietly Christian I suppose. We go to a church, different churches, usually the ones where we can have a good sing. We have a lot of songs, everyone in the family sings, we have songs of our own, in our own language, mostly an old Gaelic language.’

          ‘Although, because it’s the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter who makes the decisions, I’m the eldest daughter of my mother, she is a sort of Queen, or Chief I suppose. We even have our own secret language which only the eldest daughters learn. Never men…”’

          ‘Then I realised that I had said too much, so I went quiet. He had been looking at me all along. Then he spoke. He said “Speak to me in that language.” So I did.’

          ‘And then he replied to me in the same language.

          ‘And he was wearing another of the five arrowheads!’

 

‘We began to talk, and although we had different accents, we understood each other very well. He told me: “This is the secret, sacred language which only the Chief and the eldest son of the Chief learn, father to son. Never women. We have always made the decisions for those around us, when to travel, when to stay. We too all have songs we sing, and we too prefer attending the Christian churches which have a good sing! We too were invited to this conference, and I knew that there would be messages for us. I had not imagined that those messages would be in our own language.”’

‘Then he stood up, full height, and, oh my, he was tall, with that feathered warbonnet falling open like a halo around him. Everyone in the room turned to look at him, and stopped talking. He looked across the huge room, to a man sitting one person to the left of the Vice President of America, and called out in our language, saying ‘My son, come over here to me. Here is a woman whom you have to meet. She speaks the same language that we do.”’

‘The tall young man stood up, and walked smoothly around the table to his father, and knelt between us. He had the same glossy copper skin and piercing turquoise eyes as his father. His hair was blue-black, bound back in a long ponytail, and he wore a crisp tuxedo and bow tie. He looked like a film star. He turned to me, and smiled, and began to talk to me in our language.

‘I can’t remember the rest of the banquet. The three of us talked and laughed, and even sang the same song together at one point. I do remember wondering how many of the native people present had understood the Chief’s call to his son. We met up the next day, and I went to stay with them at their family home, just a shack, one of several they moved between, huge distances apart. I told them my stories, and learned as many of theirs as I could, and at one point an old grandfather in their tribe gave me this sacred arrowhead.’

 ‘I do not understand what all this is about. All I know is that there are good friends to meet, in many surprising places, all over the world. So long as we can keep talking to each other, and telling our own stories for others to listen to, that there is a purpose to humankind. I am very lucky to have learned that.’”

So, because Sheila gave me permission to tell this story as often as possible, I have finally written it down and told it to you. It is the best story I ever heard, and deserves to be shared between as many people as possible. Perhaps one day that secret language will be the one language we can all learn, so that everyone on this precious, tiny little planet, can talk and listen to everyone else when we share our stories.

Julia Hawkes-Moore

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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3 Responses to Global Whispers: A true tale by Julia Hawkes-Moore

  1. Julia Hawkes-Moore says:

    Good story, huh? I later attended another of those annual meetings, held in Cambridge Corn Exchange. A Monty Python introduced a new Eco website with cartoon on screen. The audience were mostly wearing full tribal costume, Suomi in thick red & blue felt, Inuit sweating in thick sealskin furs, shivering Aborigines etc. Two Inuit were sitting behind me, and one turned to the other, and said in perfect BBC English “Wow! This green laser show puts our Arctic Lights to shame! Can’t wait to get home and tell them about glitterballs! We must get some for the Cabin.”

  2. charlespaxton says:

    Wow! Thanks again, for relating this one. A powerful story. Kimmie and I enjoyed it a great deal.

  3. Pingback: A Salute To Steve Hollier | Azerbaijan Days

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