Don’t Be The Rabbit

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“Mary, listen. The way the owl hunts, he sits in a piñon and he hoots. He can’t see the rabbits, and they can’t see him. And that’s the problem for the rabbits. He hoots. And he waits a little to let them think about it, and he hoots again. And the rabbits think. And one of them will think too much. He thinks the owl is getting closer and closer. He thinks the owl has found him. So he makes a run for it, and the owl has her meal for the night.”

Mary moved his hand from her leg. “Okay, wise guy,” she whispered. “I get your point.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

No Longer a Stranger

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It was the third time he had spoken to her, and Chee had a theory about third meetings between people. The third time you were no longer strangers.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Just Add a Sweater

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The chair in which Jim Chee sat was covered with a stiff green plastic. He felt the chill of it through his uniform shirt. The house was the “summer hogan” of the Kinlicheenies. There was no heating stove in it. In a while, when the high country frost arrived full force, the family would shift its belongings into the old earth-and-stone “winter hogan” and abandon this poorly insulated structure to the cold. Until then, the problem of the chilly margin between the seasons was solved by wearing more layers of clothing. Fannie Kinlicheenie looked about eight layers deep. Chee wished he had worn his jacket in from the patrol car.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Definition of a Witch

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The word witch has many meanings in the United States, some good and some bad. The historic usage as a slur for people who practice earth-based religions or anyone practicing herbal medicine or midwifery, has resulted in unfortunate misunderstandings and excuses for senseless violence. For more information about the Pagan community and it’s use of the term ‘Witch’ see: Witches’ Vox, Starhawk, and History of Witch Burnings.

The following quote describes a very specific cultural perspective based on a definition that falls under the ‘bad witch’ category. It is not a reference to modern Paganism or the US history of witch burnings. It’s also a quote from a novel – only members of the Navajo nation could say, definitely, how accurate this information really is.

I went back and forth on these quotes and ultimately decided to post them because they are a wonderful example of the style used by this author and an excellent segment of descriptive color in a work of fiction. Also, I do not see anything racially or culturally offensive in the quote.

If there are problems in the presentation of the Navajo culture or additional issues surrounding the use of the word witch, then they are valid concerns and worthy of further discussion. If I am blind to a problem, I invite you to open my eyes. Feel free to add comments accordingly.

Quotes:

“And finally Chee had accumulated a general impression of Windy Tsossie. It was a negative impression. His kinsmen and his clansmen, when they admitted remembering him at all, remembered him without fondness or respect. They talked of him reluctantly, vaguely, uneasily. No one put it in words. Since Chee was Navajo, no one needed to. Windy Tsossie did not “go in beauty.” Windy Tsossie was not a good man. He did not follow those rules which Changing Woman had given the People. In a word, Windy Tsossie was believed by his kinsmen to be a witch.”

“To become a witch, to cross over from Navajo to Navajo Wolf, you have to break at least one of the most serious taboos. You have to commit incest, or you have to kill a close relative. But there’s another story, very old, pretty much lost, which explains how First Man became a witch. Because he was first, he didn’t have relatives to destroy. So he figured out a magic way to violate the strongest taboo of all. He destroyed himself and recreated himself, and that’s the way he got the powers of evil.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Old Eyes

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Seen in profile, his face was ageless. But his eyes had spent more than forty years looking at drunks, at knife fighters, at victims, at what happened when pickup trucks hit culverts at eighty. They were old eyes.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Can’t Choose Your Own Nickname

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The third door down the hall bore the legend LAWRENCE SENA, SHERIFF. VALENCIA COUNTY. WALK IN. The capitalized LAW, Chee had heard, represented Sena’s effort to replace “Gordo” with a less insulting nickname. It hadn’t worked.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Never Expect Charity

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“Don’t think a man don’t care about one goat because he’s got a thousand of ’em,” Hosteen Nakai would say. “He’s got a thousand because he cares more about goats than he cares about his relatives.” In other words, don’t expect the rich to be generous.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Learning Through Listening

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For what? Chee thought. But he didn’t say it. His mother had taught him one learns through the ear and not the tongue.

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman

Burial Customs

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“Mrs. Benjamin J. Vines (Alice) Born April 13, 1909 Died June 4, 1949 A Faithful Woman   Faithful to B. J. Vines? It seemed an odd thing to put on a tombstone, but then everything about the white man’s burial customs seemed odd to Chee. The Navajos lacked this sentimentality about corpses. Death robbed the body of its value. Even its identity was lost with the departing chindi. What the ghost left behind was something to be disposed of with a minimum risk of contamination to the living. The names of the dead were left unspoken, certainly not carved in stone.”

People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries Book 4) by Tony Hillerman