"An Indian Nativity Play"
An Indian Nativity Play
By Anthony Walsh
Mary, Hillmen, Deer, Joseph, Man, Pawn, Indian Man, Cripple, Grandmother Rabbit, 1st Woman, Young Boy, Young Rabbits, 2nd Woman, Chick-a-dees, 3rd Woman, Man of Wings, Old Woman
This play is based on a Nativity Tale which has been written by the children of the Inkameep India Day School in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.
The Tale which was recently published, depicts the Nativity as seen through the eyes of Indian children. Instead of the events taking place in Palestine, they occur in the Okanagan Valley, and the rabbits, deer, and chick-a-dees take the place of the ox and the ass. Childrens’ voices will represent these animals and birds.
Many hundreds of years ago, the Chief of the Okanagan Indians wished to know how many people he had in the various valleys. He sent out the messengers to all the bands commanding them to assemble at a big camp, at the Southern end of the Okanagan Lake. While there they were to put down their mark on pieces of birch bark. The time chosen was mid-winter, before the coming of the heavy snows. Mary and Joseph had left their small valley, well in advance of the rest of the people, but owing to Mary’s weakness they arrived to find all the lodges of the big camp filled. Joseph searched unceasingly but without success. Then some of his friends thought of a cave some distance from the camp. Mary has accompanied the party, but has been forced to rest for a few moments under a pine tree. We find the party just entering the cave.
Man: Here is the only place left where you can stay Joseph.
Joseph: But this is no place for a woman.
1st woman: If you had come earlier I would have given you shelter in my lodge.
Joseph: But there must still be some other place better than this! [page break] For myself, I do not mind. I can sleep anywhere, but with her it is different.
Man: If you had been a day ahead, we could have got you good shelter.
Joseph: I had to go slowly on account of Mary.
1st Woman: You should have started earlier.
Man: This cave may not look nice, but the winds cannot blow into it.
2nd Woman: Many years ago the bears used to come here for their winter’s sleep. They would not have done that if it was not warm.
Joseph: Would you ask your woman to stay in such a place?
Man: No, but I would not have started on the journey.
Joseph: We had to come when the Chief called us. You know me as a man who listens to the words of the chiefs and who carries out their orders.
1st Woman: We know that, but you have only yourself to blame. With so many people here you are lucky to have this place.
Joseph: Look at the many times that I have helped your people when they have been ill and in trouble.
2nd Woman: I can’t stay here any longer talking. I’ve cooking for many people to do.
1st Woman: So have I, and children as well to look after. (FADE)
2nd Woman: Come along we must hurry or we’ll never get that meal ready in time.
Man: I am sorry Joseph that this is the only place we have left. We never had so many people here before and everything is upset. When things get quiet again I will try and get you a place in one of the lodges. I must hurry away too and get the meat cup up for tonight’s meal. (FADE) May the Great Spirit watch over you.
Joseph: This is the place Mary. Just leave your bundles there and I’ll bring them in. I am sorry to bring you to such a shelter as this. How hard are people’s hearts, that they could not find some small place for you in their lodges. [page break]
Mary: Don’t worry, we got here before the first heavy snows came.
Joseph: But it looks so cold and lonely.
Mary: It will be warmer though and our sleep will be more sheltered than under the green arms of the pine trees.
Joseph: Sit awhile and try to rest while I get some sage brush and fir boughs to make you a soft bed. Here is the big robe – sit on that, and now put your own small one over your knees. (FADE) Don’t be afraid, I shall not be long.
Deer: This must be the place – now keep close behind me Fawn. Oh, Woman of the South Valley. The Chief of Winds told us of your sorrow and loneliness. So my fawn and I have come to cheer you.
Mary: How kind you are Deer to leave your warm bed under the mountain trees and come with your Fawn to comfort me.
Fawn: You look so cold and sad, so I’ll stand on the East side of you and my mother will stand on your West side. Put one hand on my coat and one on hers and we’ll breathe and warm the air.
Grandmother Rabbit: (FADE IN) Now my young ones, I want you to be good and not get up to any tricks.
Young Rabbits: We will be good Grandmother.
Grandmother Rabbit: Peace, Woman of the Cave. As my grandchildren and I were nestling down for the night a message came through the rustling of the grasses, telling us of your want. So, I and my young ones hopped and leaped here as fast as we could. I see that our friends Deer and Fawn have heard of your coming too.
Mary: Thank you Grandmother Rabbit. A little while ago I was lonely, but now I feel happy because my animal friends have come here to help me. It was so kind of you to give up your night’s sleep.
Young Buck Rabbit: My sister and I will lie at your feet and you can warm them on our thick white fur.
(FADE IN) Songs of the Chick-a-dees
1st Chick-a-dee: Why here is Deer and Grandmother Rabbit and her young ones. I hope you are well – O lovely maid? As we were sleeping with our heads under our wings, there came a sighing through the branches of the trees that were around us, saying [page break] that we had work to do – that we must cheer a lonely maid, who had need of our songs. We never go out in the darkness of the night, and so we had to come so slowly, hoppitty, hoppitty over the boulders. That is why we are the last.
Mary: I love all the songs of the birds, but from now on no song will ever be as sweet as yours. No matter how dark or foggy the winter days may be, they will be made as bright as a spring morning by your happy songs.
2nd Chick-a-dee: Your words will be passed on to the young ones, as each spring comes. Even if the winters are bitterly cold and the food and berries scarce, they will never leave the cold lands of the north----but will cheer the people with their songs.
Mary: Thank you birds and animals for helping me and mine. Because of your kind deeds, I have overcome my womanly weakness and am now brave and strong. You have brought gladness and joy with you.
Deer: It is we, who are glad.
Grandmother Rabbit: My young ones and I are so proud.
1st Chick-A-Dee: We will always remember you and the words you have spoken.
2nd Chick-A-Dee: I can hear someone coming.
Mary: Don’t be afraid. That will be my man Joseph. he will be pleased to see you.
Joseph: Here are the boughs and sage brush Mary. Ah – I see you have friends.
Mary: Yes Joseph. They heard that I had come and hurried to welcome me.
Grandmother Rabbit: If Deer and Fawn will help carry in the boughs my grandchildren and I will make a bed for the Woman as snug and cosy as our own. That’s right Fawn, bring the smaller branches up here. Now young Buck, get me the sage brush. Hurry now.
2nd Chick-A-Dee: Look, the Woman has closed her eyes.
Grandmother Rabbit: That is good, she will now have a little rest. Now don’t make any noise to disturb her.
Joseph: Friends, you have given my woman warmth, but most of all you have eased her pained heart by your thoughtful deeds. While my own people turned us from their lodges, saying there was no room, you have made us welcome.
Grandmother Rabbit: We had to do something to show the Great Spirit how much we owe him for our fur coats and the sharp eyes He has given us. The fresh green grass of the spring and the blankets of snow in the winter season, which He provides.
Deer: And to us, He gave strong legs and clear eyes, so that at times as we sail through the air, we feel we have wings.
1st Chick-A-Dee: And instead of banishing us to the south lands He gave us thick feathered coats, so that we might stay in our homeland.
2nd Chick-A-Dee: We do not have to travel for a moon of days and nights. We know that no matter how long the blizzards may blow, or how deep the snows, there will always be berries and seeds for us to eat.
Grandmother Rabbit: Chick-a-dees – you get some little twigs, and my rabbits will find some sticks for a fire.
Joseph: Grandmother Rabbit O you have a very big heart. You are always thinking of something to help others.
Grandmother Rabbit: I have had many children and now many more grandchildren. I have always found that in helping others in their troubles, I have always felt happy.
Fawn: The Woman is starting to open her eyes.
Deer: That is right.
Fawn: You both look sad. Will you watch us while we try to make you smile. It may ease your hearts and take away your sorrows.
Grandmother Rabbit: That is a good idea – and Fawn will be the first to do some tricks.
Fawn: Mother shall we have a butting match?
Deer: Yes, we’ll do that.
(THE TAPPING OF FEET IS HEARD, AND THE BUTTING OF HEADS)
Mary: How pretty the spots look on Fawn’s coat, and how gentle his mother is with him.
Joseph: Yes, Mothers are always careful with their young, even in play.
Grandmother Rabbit: Now my young ones, let me see how well you can hop and jump. I’ll do a little myself too, even though my legs are stiff. (Sounds of hopping and jumping.) [page break]
Mary: Very good, young Rabbits. When you are full grown you should become the best jumpers among your hills.
Grandmother Rabbit: When I was young, no one could ever catch me, that’s why I’ve lived to be so old.
Joseph: You have trained them well.
Grandmother Rabbit: Now Chick-a-dees sing and dance for us.
(The Chick-a-dees sing their song and then dance and flutter their wings.)
Joseph: Very lovely, - your words have come true. We do feel happy, don’t we Mary?
Mary: Yes, indeed. How good the Great Spirits [sic], when He gave you two gifts – that of song and flight. There are many that will envy you.
(THE HOOT OF AN OWL IS HEARD)
Joseph: Thank you friends, no words that I could say could tell you all that is in our hearts. We will ever remember this night. Now we had better have a little sleep before the hour of the new day.
Grandmother Rabbit: The bed is ready.
Joseph: Come then Mary, I will sleep here near the fire and put on some more wood during the night.
Grandmother Rabbit: Do you like your bed? Woman of the Cave?
Mary: It is the softest and warmest one that I have ever slept in.
Grandmother Rabbit: Now deer, you and fawn can sleep on this side to keep the cold air away from the cave entrance. Chick-a-dees come on this side and spread out your wings, while the young ones and I will kneel in front.
(THE HOOT OF THE OWL IS HEARD TO MARK THE PASSING OF TIME. THE DISTANT CRY OF THE COYOTES CAN ALSO BE HEARD. THEN COMES THE FAINT CRY OF A BABY, THE CRACKLE OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTS CAN BE HEARD AND THE ROLL OF DRUMS GETTING LOUDER AND LOUDER.)
MUSIC DEPICTING GREAT JOY.
FADE THE SOUND OF JOSEPH CHOPPING WOOD, AND THE CRACKLING OF THE FIRE, THEN THE SOUND OF WASHING.
Joseph: Had we been a day longer getting here Mary, we would have been caught in the heavy snows.
Mary: (IN A SOFT VOICE) I always love to see the first snows, when they cover the valleys and mountains with a soft white robe.
Cripple: I cannot go on much longer, my cripple leg is paining so much.
Young Boy: I am getting so sleepy.
Man: Quiet, we are just coming near to the cave.
Joseph: Who are You?
Man: We are men from the Western bands. Are you the Foster-father of the newly born Chief?
Joseph: Yes, but He was born so short a time ago. How did you hear of Him so quickly?
Man: A few hours ago, we were sleeping around the fire of our lodge. Suddenly the sky became filled with Northern Lights of many colours. The still air was filled with the fluttering of men of wings.
Cripple: We heard the roll of great numbers of drums, and then came thousands of voices telling us of the birth of a new Chief.
Young Boy: We were such afraid and hid our faces in our hands, but a man of wings, such large white wings, said, we had nothing to fear. That we had better hurry to this cave and be the first to see the Baby.
Joseph: Why were you not with the rest of the people in the big camp by the lake. [sic]
Man: Our children have many pet animals, and they were afraid that the coyote might come down and attack them, while we were away.
Cripple: As soon as we had put our marks on the birch bark, we went back to the hillside camp.
Man: We have come to bring presents to the Boy Chief.
Joseph: Come in then and see my Woman and the Baby.
Man: I have brought you a piece of my woman’s best buckskin, as soft as the down of the geese and ducks. You can make a pair of moccasins to keep the Baby’s feet warm.
Cripple: Here is a mouse, brown and so small that he will be able to eat from even the band of your Baby. Many years ago I fell off a ravine while hunting and since then I haven’t been able to run and climb like other men. As I had to stay still so much, I have learned to watch the habits of birds and animals. During these last ten moons I have been made happy by watching the quick and pretty ways of this mouse. I hope he will please your little boy too.
Young Boy: I found this mountain lamb late this summer. It was alone. Its mother was killed in a rock slide and it will never be strong or grow big – but it is the thing that I love the most. So I give it to the young Chief, hoping that He will like my poor offering.
Mary: Man and boy of the hills. My heart is filled to overflowing because of your sacrifices.
Joseph: When your people are settled in their camp again you must tell them of your visit here.
Cripple: We will, and of the beautiful boy Chief. He looks so lovely.
Man: We are not great talkers but we’ll try and tell them of all that we have seen and heard. Never will we forget what has happened.
Mary: What are the pets you were looking after?
Young Boy: There are some rabbits with broken legs, a young mountain goat, a black bear cub, who has just started his long winter sleep. A little chipmunk that had lost it’s [sic] tail and a squirrel with only three paws.
Cripple: There are two young geese and a young swan. Their wings were not strong enough to carry them to the warm south lands.
Young Boy: And some bluebirds and a meadow-lark, who are weak and old. They would rather die in the valleys, where they had built their nests and raised their young ones, where they had built their nests and raised their young ones, than go to distant parts.
Mary: I understand. This valley was their real home.
Man: Now that we have seen the young Chief, we must return.
Joseph: Why must you hurry. [sic] It will not be light for time yet.
Man: The men of wings said that they would guard the animals, while we came to visit you. If we leave now, we should be back just before dawy [sic], so that they can go back to their camp in the sky.
Mary: You must wait until Joseph has made you a drink of tea, to warm and strengthen you for your climb.
Joseph: Yes, the water is hot, come over and put some of these dried tea leaves into it.
(SOUNDS OF MEN WALKING TO THE FIRE)
Cripple: I can walk! I can walk! (EXULTANTLY)
(SOUND OF CRUTCH FALLING AS HE TURNS AND KNEELS DOWN IN FRONT OF THE BABY)
(THEN SOUNDS OF THE MOVING OF RUSH MATS AND THE RUSTLING OF THE WEAVER AS SHE PUTS SOME FINISHING TOUCHES TO A SMALL MAT SHE IS WORKING WITH. WE ALSO HEAR THE SHAKING OF FUR ROBES)
1st Woman: I think that all is now ready for Joseph and his woman.
2nd Woman: I wish that Mary’s Baby could have been born in this lodge instead of a dark cave.
1st Woman: I felt so ashamed, when those three Chiefs from afar off came to visit them.
2nd Woman: Yes, so did I, they wouldn’t think must of us for letting Him be born in such a poor place.
3rd Woman: I shall always be sorry that I never saw them. I was too ill to get up while they were here though I remember the day when the boys came running up from the river, saying that a strange canoe was coming.
1st Woman: It belonged to the Chief who came from the shores of a big lake where you could travel for days without seeing land.
2nd Woman: He said that the waters were bitter to taste.
3rd Woman: What was his present?
1st Woman: A little canoe that had taken months to make.
2nd Woman: The second Chief came from the South West. His present was a bowl made of clay and in it was some gum, quite different from any we have. He called it pinyon gum. He told Mary that if ever the Baby got restless to put a little on the fire and scent would soothe the Child.
1st Woman: The Third Chief came from a very hot country by the Eastern waters where the trees have wide leaves. His present was a cloak made of these leaves to protect the Baby and keep Him dry in wet weather.
3rd Woman: If these men came from different parts, how did they meet?
1st Woman: Each of their tribes have wise men who knew that this young Chief had been born in the northlands. They called a meeting and said that one of the chiefs of the tribe would have to travel north and take presents.
2nd Woman: Then one day as the Chief from the South West was resting near a large river he saw a canoe coming from the West and then he happened to look to the East. There was another man coming towards him.
3rd Woman: How strange. [page break]
1st Woman: While they were resting, they found that they were going to the same place. They formed one party and journeyed together.
3rd Woman: But how did they find their way here? That’s what I can’t understand.
2nd Woman: This is what happened. As they were sitting at their camp fire the next night a bright star appeared in the Northern skies and seemed to beckon.
3rd Woman: Go on.
2nd Woman: They struck camp and got into their canoe and paddled till near day break.
3rd Woman: Was it there the next night?
2nd Woman: Yes – for every night until they reached that big camp, you know the one I mean, where the cruel and blackhearted chief lives.
3rd Woman: Why did they stay there?
1st Woman: They were strangers and did not know what a bad name those people have.
2nd Woman: The strangers were given a great welcome by the Chief. He knew of the new Boy Chief, and said that he too would like to visit here and bring presents.
3rd Woman: If he comes here – his presents will be death and bloodshed.
1st Woman: All the time the three chiefs were at the camp, there was no sign of the star. They [sic] the Chief of the camp came a short way with the visitors and told them to be sure and pay him a visit on their way home.
2nd Woman: When the night came there was no star and the travellers were afraid they were on the wrong river. Then suddenly it appeared out of the darkness more bright and beautiful than before.
(FADE IN THE TAP, TAP OF THE STICK OF AN OLD WOMAN)
3rd Woman: What’s that?
1st Woman: I expect it’s that old gossip again with more lies.
Old Woman: (Speaking slowly) I have just come from the Shahman’s lodge. There are a crowd of people there to see Mary and her Baby. They are all very excited.
1st Woman: I expect that’s another of your stories. You get things more mixed up than any one else in this camp. [page break]
Old Woman: No, this is true. Mary’s Baby has been given His name. The old Shahman said the He would grow up to be the greatest chief that had ever lived.
3rd Woman: Perhaps she is telling the truth for once.
Old Woman: Old Anna was there too. She looked strange and was crying. The people were watching her closely, waiting for her to speak. I wonder why they always listen to her, but never to me.
2nd Woman: Because she tells the truth, but you only tell lies.
Old Woman: That’s not right, but listen to this. The Shahman turned to Mary and told her that arrows would tear at her heart.
3rd Woman: Oh! poor Mary. I wonder if the bad chief has anything to do with her troubles.
1st Woman: Don’t listen to her, she just made that up.
Old Woman: No, by the Great Spirit, I sweat it is true. (Turning to the 3rd Woman) Do you think that the bad Chief will come here and steal the Child?
3rd Woman: Maybe, it is strange how the star went out when he was near.
Old Woman: If he should come here, he will kill and burn and take all the children away as slaves.
2nd Woman: No, not that you gossipy old woman. Hold your tongue.
Old Woman: (Gleefully) Now, I am glad, that I have no children. I’m sorry for you mothers that have. Something tells me that the Chief will send a raiding party, who will creep down from the hills while we sleep.
1st Woman: Stop-you long-tongued snake. (She rushes at the Old Woman, who slips behind a tree.)
Old Woman: Here is Mary coming now. I will ask her if she thinks her Baby is already in danger.
1st Woman: You will not. She has suffered so much already that you are not to frighten her any more with your wicked talk.
2nd Woman: Get out from here before she comes.
3rd Woman: Yes, drive her away before she causes trouble. (they drive her away)
Old Woman: FADE you may force me away, but my words will stay with you to haunt your sleep.
1st Woman: Of all the evil-minded old women.
2nd Woman: Let us forget her tales and greet Mary with smiles, and make her feel at home.
3rd Woman: Poor Mary, she looks so sweet and gentle. I dread to think of her having to suffer still more.
1st Woman: Hush, don’t speak any more.
3 Women: Welcome to your new home.
Mary: Oh! Thank you for getting this lodge ready for my Baby and me. (She looks around) It is lovely.
1st Woman: We are sorry that our visitors kept us so busy, we could not do this before. But every lodge has been so crowded.
2nd Woman: Never have I seen so many people.
Mary: I know how busy you all were. Our cave did look bare and cold at first, but it was warmed by the kindness of our birds, animals, and friends.
1st Woman: I hope You’ll be happy here. I’ll see that my boys bring you wood for the fire.
2nd Woman: My man will bring you fish and deer meet, whenever you need.
Mary: Thank you again. (Turning to Third Woman) I hope that you are feeling stronger now?
3rd Woman: Much better. I trust that you will be happy and that the Great Spirit will watch over you. We must go now.
Mary: Good night, my friends.
Women: Good night, Mary.
1st Woman: (FADE) Why here’s Joseph. We have been working hard on your lodge. I hope you’ll like it.
Joseph: (ALSO FADE) Thank you. I’m sure I will.
Mary: Joseph I feel I shall be very happy here and quite content until the spring winds melt the snows and dry up the trails so that we can travel back to our own dear Valley.
Joseph: It’s a nice lodge. I only wish it could have been ready sooner. You would then have been spared many worries and much suffering in your hour of trial.
Mary: But Joseph, if we had been among all these people, our birds and animal friends would have been too shy to visit us.
Joseph: That is true, but I was afraid for you. I should have felt happier if another woman had been beside you.
Mary: I know that you were only thinking of me. You shouldn’t have worried so, because all came out well.
Joseph: It will not be long now for the spring to come.
Mary: I’m looking forward to it so much. Our little Boy will see the sheltered valley with the early spring flowers, and the first birds from the south will greet Him with their songs. The springs and creeks will bubble and gurgle, and the groundhogs will sit up and bow their heads as we pass.
Joseph: Yes, there is no more lovely spot in all this country than our own small valley.
(MUSIC OR SOUNDS DEPICTING THE DEAD OF NIGHT. A SOFT WIND THE HOOT OF THE OWL OR THE HOWL OF THE COYOTE)
(Mary and Joseph are asleep one on each side of the fire, which has died down to a few embers. The Baby is asleep on a pile of furs.)
Man of Wings: Joseph! Joseph! awake.
Joseph: (Sleepily) Yes, what is it?
Man of Wings: You must take the Child and Mary and hurry across the mountains to the south country.
Joseph: But we have only just settled in this lodge.
Man of Wings: You must go at once because a cruel and jealous chief wishes to harm the Child. He is sending a war party to this camp. You must hasten before they reach here.
Joseph: Mary is still far from strong and the child is too young for such a long journey.
Man of Wings: You will all be well cared for, but you must start without delay. Awaken the Mother and flee before the new day breaks.
Joseph: (Getting up) Mary! Mary!
Mary: Yes Joseph.
Joseph: I am sorry to have to wake you but we must leave this camp at once.
Mary: What do you mean? You must be dreaming.
Joseph: I wish that I were, but alas it is true. A man of wings has brought a message that we and the Child must hurry away to the south country, far beyond the mountains.
Mary: But Joseph – my Baby is still too tiny. He would suffer from the cold north winds and the drifts through the mountain passes would hold us back. We might freeze to death.
Joseph: Have no fear. All will be well. The men of wings in their hundreds will go with us. They will protect us from the winds and let us cross the drifts on wings. No harm will befall the Child.
Mary: Why must we leave at this dark hour?
Joseph: We must be gone before the people of the camp start to stir. Already the raiding party is closing in on us. No matter how dark the night may be, the bright star which guided our friends to the Cave will also help us to safety and peace. Put the Baby on His board while I roll up my robes.
Mary: Wake up my little One. You are going on a long journey. Sometimes you will feel cold, but You must not cry, because if You do your Mother’s heart will ache. Now give Mother a sweet smile to help her bear this heavy load. (she looks down at Him) Thank you my sweet one.
Joseph: (GOING TO THE DOOR OF THE LODGE) There is a star shining on the trail like the sun at mid-day. How strange when all else is as dark as the inner caves. It was a good thing that we did not unpack the rest of our things. Are you nearly ready?
Joseph: I will go ahead and break trail.
FADE – We will have no trouble with this bright light to guide us.
Mary: Goodbye, warm lodge. I had hoped to be so happy here, but the great [sic] Spirit Our Father has asked one more sacrifice of me. This must be one of the times that the Shahman spoke of for truly an arrow tears at my heart.