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Chapter 14: I Make A Choice

Chapter 14: I Make A Choice

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Published by Gordon Clark

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Published by: Gordon Clark on Jan 17, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The second day of the great feast was a day of games and gambling and clan visits. It wasa grand day of good food and good friends. Of course, I did not know any of those who hadaccompanied Chief Custologa, but everyone else in my village seemed to know them, so therewas much “catching up” for them to do. They had brought several children with them, so we hadnew playmates to attend to.My favorite game was the Kokol (Rabbit Tail) game. In it we used a sharp stick withstring tied to the base and some cone-shaped pieces on the string with a rabbit tail tied on the endof the string to keep the cones from coming off. The object is to catch the cones on the stick. As Iwas new to it, I was not very good at it.Another game was Selahtik, not unlike Jackstraws that I used to play with Hannah. Piecesof reed were decorated with various lines and dots for scoring purposes. We would drop theseonto a flat surface and then try to pick them up one at a time without disturbing any others. Myhand was steady and I did well at this game.Meanwhile the adults played a dice game they called Mamandin. The player places dicemade of bone or deer antler in a wooden bowl. Then he quickly brings the bowl down on afolded blanket to make the dice jump in the bowl. Since the men were keeping score and bettingon the outcome, these games were loud and raucous, ‘tho always friendly.It was while I was observing the Mamandin game that I became aware of Murchisonobserving me.“Hey, Delaware boy,” he said in English, just loud enough so I could hear him but no oneelse could.I froze. I knew without turning around that he was speaking to me. And I knew I must notrespond to the English greeting, so I ignored him.“Delaware boy,” he repeated in English. Still I ignored him. Then he tried it in Lenape.“Lenape boy, I want to talk with you.”I was surprised that his Indian talk was pretty good. I turned around to look at him.In Lenape, he said, “I remember you. At the Fort. You were going down the river withyour family. I heard you were all killed. But I guess not you. Here you are.”I nodded to let him know that I understood.“Kistalwa says you are his adopted son.”Again I nodded.“Have you forgotten your mother tongue?” Murchison inquired in English.
In English, I replied, “No, but I have no reason to speak it now. I am Lenape. I can speak Lenape. I have no one to speak English to.” I looked closely at him, wondering what he wantedof me. It felt odd speaking my native tongue again. Except for saying some simple words andsentences with Water Moon, I was now quite unaccustomed to speaking it.Murchison continued, this time in Lenape: “Kistalwa says your name is Ka-tesk-aw-tin.Would you like me to call you Ka-tesk-aw-tin, or your English name?”“Ka-tesk-aw-tin,” I replied. “It is my name now, the name I am comfortable with.”“Ka-tesk-aw-tin?” He tried out the sound of my name. “Ka-tesk-aw-tin? I do not knowthat word.”“It means Racer,” I said in English.“Ah. Very well then, Master Racer,” he said, switching back to English. It began to feelas if we were playing a game, switching back and forth between the languages. “Are you happyhere among these people? Do you ever think about your White family, the family you must haveleft behind?”I was startled by his question. “Yes, I think about them sometimes,” I replied slowly,instinctively grasping the Hannah doll I always carried as a necklace. Murchison saw my quick hand movement.“Might I ask, Master Racer, what it is you carry around your neck?”I pulled out the necklace with the doll for him to see. He red hair was long gone and her eyes and mouth were rubbed off but I still was quite fond of my Hannah doll.“My sister gave me this doll the last day I saw her,” I explained. “Her name is Hannah. Ithink about her, and the rest of my family in Delaware. But I am happy to be here now.”“You know, Racer, the British have ordered all captives to be returned to their Whitefamilies. Your Lenni Lenape chiefs already agreed to this. I could arrange for that to happen if you so desire it.” Murchison cocked his head and looked at me curiously, awaiting my reaction.I was stunned. I did
so desire it, of that I was certain.And yet . . . and yet, sometimes I did wonder what had happened to my Mother, brothers,and sisters, especially Hannah, and all those aunts and uncles and cousins. Sometimes, at oddmoments, I would have quick, delightful memories of that big house in Delaware and so muchfamily living in it. And I really did wonder if I would ever see them again. Those thoughts oftencaught me unawares,I looked around us. The fact that we were talking English had attracted some notice, particularly from Mud Turtle who seemed to be watching us intently while pretending not tonotice us at all. Others of the tribe watched from a respectful distance. I was sure none could hear us, or understand us even if they could hear. As far as I knew, none spoke English except Water Moon.Murchison waited a moment, then continued: “Perhaps, it is . . . a question of money? If you need to buy your freedom, I could help . . .” The question hung in the air between us, like agentle night moth.
I shook my head, slowly at first then more resolutely. It was not a question of money, andcertainly not of freedom. In truth, I felt as free at that moment as I ever did in my former Whiteworld. And why would this man, whom I did not really know (and who did not really know me),make such an offer? I thought long and hard, then responded.“Mister Murchison, this is not a new thought to me, returning to your Yangwe world[
here I used my word, not his
]. But I have made my peace with these Lenape people. Yes theseare the same people who killed my father and cousins on the river. Perhaps these are the same people who burned my village and killed my neighbors when I was but three years old. I do notknow. But I do know this: In the three winters I have lived with them, I have received nothing but love and acceptance from them. It is not that I do not miss my White family. It is that now Ilove my Lenape family more.”A look of surprise crossed the trader’s face when I said this. He nodded thoughtfullywhile I continued:“When I lived among the Whites, I heard many stories, horrible stories, of Indians killingWhite settlers and burning White villages.
village. Now I live among the Lenape. Now I hear of Whites killing my Lenape brothers and sisters and uncles and burning Lenape villages.
village. I myself have witnessed British troops burn enough maize to feed our village for a year.We are all watching the Lenape being pushed ever toward the setting sun, out of sacred lands wehave used since the beginning of time.”The trader did not respond immediately, so I kept going:“Sir, I am Lenape now. I choose to stay that way.”We looked at each other, a White boy dressed in Indian clothing and a White mandressed nearly the same, speaking both Indian and English. He nodded and said gravely, “Master Racer, you are learning a great deal here among the Lenape. You are growing up wisely. I wishyou long life and good health.”And then, in Lenape, he added with a twinkle, “Làpìch knewël”.I will see you again.He offered to shake my hand, a custom completely foreign to the Lenape. I shook myhead slightly. We were done; we parted company. I did see Murchison half a dozen times in later years. To this day we each maintain a great respect for the other, and when we address each other it is always in the cordial, stately cadence of the old language of the Lenni Lenape.
* * * *
 It is a beautiful night. There is a large gathering of people who have come together for the ceremonial. Now the sun has set. Inside the dance area attendants have brought in the fire. People are sitting around visiting, and waiting. Then, the deep, resonant sound of the water drum begins. A steady beat is soon followed by the singing of the drummer. He is singing a song  for the women to come out and dance. On either side of him sit other singers. They have gourd 

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