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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 25, 2003 - Issue 79


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Shoe Game Teaches About Animals, Fairness

art: Navajo Children by Gladys Carambella
Navajo Children by Gladys CarambellaSHIPROCK, NM - Wintertime, with its short days and long nights, is the time for telling stories about animals and playing games like the Navajo Shoe Game.

Bilingual classes from Central School District are teaching one another about the game. Ts Bit'Ai Middle School pupils shared their knowledge of the Shoe Game with younger pupils when they recently toured elementary schools in Shiprock.

Ts Bit' Ai Middle School pupils performed a skit of the Shoe Game to explain a time in the Navajo historical period when the insects, bird and animal people emerged into the fourth world, where One Walking Giant roamed. Everyone feared and avoided the giant and he became very lonely. Meanwhile, First Man and Coyote talked about creating day and night. While Coyote wanted to throw a pebble into water to determine the fate of whether it would always be day or always be night; First Man wanted the night people and day people to play a game to decide the matter.

"The game teaches the characteristics of the animals and really how cheating won't get you anywhere," said bilingual teacher Lula Begay of Ts Bit' Ai Middle School.

The game is enhanced with a lot of songs about the animals who are taking part in the games, added Mamie Becenti, a bilingual teacher from Naschitti Elementary School.

"The game brings out the true colors' of the animals," Becenti said, noting that the animals also learn about one another's strengths and weaknesses. The short songs are used to distract players on the other team.

With the help of bluebirds, everyone was notified of the Shoe Game including One Walking Giant. Everyone gathered at Lukachukai and after Coyote helped the people start the game, they played on into the night. Night people and day people, one after the other, hid a yucca ball from one another in a pair of moccasins. When it appeared that the night people were going to win, Owl panicked and decided to cheat. He pretended to hide the ball but kept it in his hand. When the Giant stepped up to find the ball and missed, everyone laughed at him. Rat Woman saw this and whacked the Owl with the stick. As the day began to light up and the night people left, neither the day people nor the night people won the game. So today there is equal amounts of day and night and the Shoe Game is played during the winter months.

Central Schools Shiprock Administration Office provided this article.

Navajo Shoe Game

The Shoe Game, Keshjee', is centuries old and is not a game. This sacred Navajo ceremony tells and shows the story of how the cycle of day and night came to be.

Long ago, in ancient days, the night creatures and the day creatures did not understand the importance of the cycles of the universe. Each group wanted it to be either day or night all the time. A contest was held to see which group had the most power and this was the first Shoe Game.

The two teams played through the night, trying to guess in which of four shoes the ball made of yucca root was hidden. As the game went on each team would gain or lose 102 yucca stems. At sunrise there was no winner and the animals had learned that all seasons and cycles are part of the grand plan.

Keshjee', as a game of choices, represents life and the fact that the natural order of things cannot be changed. Not every choice can be correct, but the lessons are learned and experience is gained. Neither lying or cheating can change the outcome and the payment of a fee of yucca stems is still required.

Shiprock, NM Map
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