Paul Begay

Paul Begay

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...Well, as I remember being told by my mother, I was born when the snow was this high. (holds out hand, about three to four feet from floor)  Now, the Navajo people don't keep records, they don't have written records, so all the records are kept by memory...  back in those days, it is understood that it snowed all in December.  So when January comes, the snow is this high.  When I got introduced into the education system, they put as my birth date, January.  What day, we don't know.  Everybody took a wild guess, said "third sounds good."  So they put January 3.  What about the year?  See, that's where the difficulty comes in... they tell me today I'm forty-five years old, give or take a couple of years, because we don't know.  So that's the way my so-called "official" records say, January 3, 1952.  I know for sure, according to my mother's story, January is correct.  But I have questions about the day I was born, the third, and the year 1952.



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I remember my grandfather telling me that the sheepherding process is an all-day job.  He would stand to the west, and with two fingers, go like this, sideways.  "You do not head home until there's two left," he says.  Meaning that this is the land, and this is the bottom part of the sun.  And so this is the time when you will head home.  That will give you enough time to take the sheep back home, put 'em into the corral, the sun has set and you've done your job.  You will not be heading home when the sun is still up.  There's a lot of grazing time left.  You're wasting that full day here.  So these were the teachings given to us by our old people.  This is the way to herd the sheep.  You had learned how to identify certain plants.  In case you didn't eat, you can dig up a certain type of a plant, and chew on the roots, drink the juice and the hunger will go away, so that you can last the rest of the day.  These are the things that is taught the young child.
 
 

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When a sheep is butchered, the skin is saved.  It is stretched and pinned down on the ground to dry.  After it dries, it's all rolled up so at times you might have nine, ten, eleven sheepskins all rolled up.  These were even taken to the trading posts to be sold.  And a couple of these sheepskins, that was my spending money for me, because I did a lot of herding sheep.  And many times when a sheep is butchered, I would save it and put it up there on top of the arbor shade, save it for the next trip to the trading post.  And if I have two or three of 'em there with me, that would give me a ticket to go to the trading post also.  It was something to look forward to.  All the other times, if I didn't have a sheepskin up there, my job is to go out there and herd the sheep.  But when I had a couple of those sheepskins, I knew that I could take it to the store, take it to the trading post, Mom and Dad will sell it, or my grandfather would sell it for me, and I would get the money.  And I don't quite remember, I think it was always like kid stuff, something sweet that you wanted to buy, or something that will last a long time, that you kept in your pocket.  So, a couple dollars went a long ways back then.
 
 

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Underhill:  How often did your family go to the trading post?  Just twice a year, or more often?

They will determine [when there is a need.]  There will be a need to go.  It wasn't set like we will go at least once or twice a month.  I think there is a time when they feel there is a need to go.  Of course, Navajos are not community-oriented people.  There's clans living together.  Our group of clan consisted of probably about five or six hogans, dwellings, and that made our big family there.  Mom and Dad and the kids, my brothers and sisters and I, we had our own hogan.  And aunt and uncle over here had their own hogan.  Grandpa and Grandma, they had their own hogan.  So we all lived in this small area.  And being that they're not a community-oriented people, the next group of clans lived maybe four or five miles away.  So they were bunched up like this, many miles away.  Of course there's visitations, people keep in contact, but your families stay together like this.  And so one of these families from one hogan within your group might decide there's a need to go to the trading post.

 Now, the Navajo way of thinking is not like people think around here today.  I live here in town now.  If my neighbor two doors down is going to the trading post, or to the store, he won't come over here and tell me that he's going to the store and [ask] if I needed a ride.  Now, the Navajo ways, they help each other in this way.  They will go around all these other hogans within their group and say, "We're going to the store, does anybody need anything, or does anybody need a ride?"  And so they will go, rather than making four, five, six, seven different trips within one month.  Why not make one trip?  It'll be easier on the horses, and you get to help your family members also.  And so it wasn’t really specified how many times you should go.  There will come a time when there is a need to go.
 
 

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I was very attached to my grandfather.  I remember my mother telling me a story one day, and my grandfather, I guess, was going away to the trading post.  Everybody was inside the hogan, and me being very attached to my grandfather, a very young child, as a toddler, I began to follow Grandfather.  Grandfather never looked back, he just kept going on with his team of horses and wagon.  And I kept following, until after a while, everybody missed the child, the little kid.  And I guess by that time I had gone over the hill and still going after my grandfather.  And my grandfather tells us the story, he says something made him look back after he was down about three, four miles traveling.  He looked back and there was this dog, the dog that always followed Grandpa when he was traveling, the tail wagging back and forth.  The dog is following Grandpa quite a few ways back, I guess.  But he also noticed something quite a little ways back there, too, something else moving.  And the thought just came to him, "It's my grandson!"  So he turned around.  By that time, everybody was following the foot tracks.  He left, he went and followed Grandfather.

So the little kids will tend to cry, because now they understand there is good stuff at the trading post also.  But you also understand you have a job to do, you're herding sheep, or you stay home and you help your other relatives, you kept the house clean, you had a lot of stuff to do.  It was never--you never had time to lay around.  We are so spoiled today.  I believe what made us very spoiled is the TV set, the video games, all this commotion goin' on, back in those--oh, that was a sweet life, that was a good life, even though it involved a lot of work, it was a good life.  I remember and wish it could have stayed that way today.
 
 

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Back in the old days when I was growing up it was expected that the women are weavers.  Like I said, it was the way of our economy.  You can't have anything or expect to have anything unless you knew how to weave.  If you had sheep, you gotta know how to weave.  You can't be selling sheep or sheepskin all the time.  But of course a nice blanket will always bring a higher price than just selling your sheep or selling wool or selling sheepskin.  And so Mom was the weaver.  She taught my sisters how to weave.  Because of the introduction to the education system, some of my sisters have limited education in the art of weaving.  A couple of my sisters had spent a lot more time with Mom, and she had more experience and education into weaving, so she has more knowledge in the weaving area than my other sisters.  And so weaving, we've always seen.  In each hogan, there is always a weaver.  This is a part of life.  It was always done year-round, because you never know when the trip to the trading post will be made.  It seems like there's always a rug there.  When I go down to visit my mother in Tuba City, there seems to be always a rug on the loom there, half woven or almost completed, or in the process of beginning.  So Mom is still a weaver today. 

I have a daughter and she spends a lot of time with my mother, and she's learning how to weave.  In fact, a year ago, a year-and-a-half ago, she began to give me small practice ones.  They're about a foot by ten inches, and I'd seen maybe about ten of them, around.  And she would give me a couple of them here and there.  And then one day, I don't remember what the occasion was, but she gave me something wrapped.  And all the time I've been visiting there, I guess she was hiding the loom somewhere, but it was a pretty big-sized rug, about three feet by four feet.  And she gave me her first finished big-size rug.  She says, "This is for you, Dad."  So I have it at home.  And so the rug weaving is carried down--at least in my family--to even the granddaughters, the younger generation.  And so it's important to my mother, in her way of thinking, that this tradition, this art--it's not more or less an art, it's a tradition, it's a culture--that it be carried on and be maintained, not to let it die.  And so I feel that she's got this great appreciation in her heart, knowing that it's still being carried down.