Most of us have spent an evening listening and talking with our Elders. Those are good and important memories. I keep mental pictures of certain things that were described to me. One such picture is of an Osage Elder speaking, and young people listening. My mental picture includes a small flame that warms and lights the Elder’s lodge, during the cold winter months. A picture very similar to other Osages.
My Uncle Wakon Iron, Wa-ko’n-ti-a’n, was born in 1891. He described such a scene from his childhood. Uncle Wakon was one of the young boys and the Older Osage was one of the men called No’n-ho’n-zhi’n-ga. That Osage term refers to a Man of Knowledge who has been initiated into the mysteries of the ancient Osage rituals. They have also been referred to as Men of Mystery or Little Old Men.
The scene my Great Uncle described was of an Older Osage Man who sat facing the five young boys and there were Sticks laid side by side in front of him. There were markings on the Sticks, and the Elder would pick up one of the Sticks, and while the Elder held the Stick he told the Young Ones what the Stick represented, what it meant. When finished the Elder would lay the Stick down and pick up the next one, then tell them the part of the Clan Organization that the Stick represented.
In the ancient Osage order the time spent listening to the No’n-ho’n-zhi’n-ga was an early stage of a lifelong learning process that brought understanding of the Earth and Sky and understanding of the Clans, and life itself.
There is no question that as a People we are in evolution. While our institutions evolve, we, as Osages still have an enduring culture and a vibrant economy, and we have beautiful traditions. Through those institutions, today we are creating both Written and Oral Histories that are important to future generations of Osage People.
Today, we have Women and Men that have both past and present knowledge of Osage, and we rely on their knowledge and guidance.
All Osage families have handed down experiences. It is good to hang onto those Oral Histories, and to continue passing them on to a generation ready to keep and protect them until it is time to pass them on to another generation.
Charles Red Corn