Tag Archives: disobedience

Old Woman Scratching the Tipi Walls

Main Piece:

Informant: We wouldn’t go to sleep and it was getting really, really late. And the younger kids were still awake. My older cousins and my older sisters would tell us that if we didn’t go to bed there is an old woman with really long nails that would scrape her nails along the outside of the tipi. She said that every time you talked or were loud, even laughed or anything, she would come closer and closer. And you knew she was about to take you when you start hearing her nails on the tipi, on the tipi canvas. It would start on the opposite side of the tipi and get closer and closer until it went passed you to the door. Then she would grab you and take you to the coulees. 

Background:

The informant is a fourteen-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in eighth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. Admittedly, I may or may not have told her this story long ago. We were cleaning the kitchen and I asked if she remembered any old stories she heard while growing up.

Thoughts:

There is a story about the lost children who get separated from their camp. Lost in the woods, they stumble across the home of an old woman. She takes them in and is later revealed conspiring to eat them. The villainous hag is a common trope in stories worldwide. In folklore, a crone is an old woman who may be disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in nature. She often has magical or supernatural abilities which can make her either helpful or obstructing. It is also a reversal of the nurturing and protective role a women traditionally plays in a child’s life, though historically, the most power person in a child’s life is the mother, so perhaps it is just a pendulum dynamic. The part shared above is a bit of a tag on, a tail end used to make sure children kept in line. It also shows the use of spirits as a disciplinary measure, serving as a warning when you edge too close to certain bounds.

“The Disobedient Frog”

“This story was a bedtime story that my grandma used to tell me sometimes when I was a child, probably around when I was in kindergarten. It was about a disobedient frog.

So, once upon a time, there was a tree frog who was very disobedient to his mother. He never did what he was told and always just did the opposite of whatever his mom wanted. For example, like if his mom said not to eat the bug, he would eat the bug and if his mom said to go west, he would go east. Because of his constant disobedience, the mommy frog ended up getting sick, and died. But before she died when she was very sick, she asked the disobedient son to bury her near the river, because, um, she thought he would do the opposite of what she asked, as always, and bury her in the land. However, because his mom became sick from his disobedience, the son frog repented from his ways and wanted to obey his mom at least for her final wish. So, he actually buried her by the river instead of on land. Each time it rained, he was so afraid that his mom’s body would wash away in the water so he would cry out. This is why you can hear a frog’s cries near rivers every time it rains.”

My informant told me this tale over lunch on a sunny day, as she stated that this story was the first one that popped up in her thoughts, as she was feeling homesick. She said that she remembered being so sad whenever her grandma would tell her this story, and that it would really make her feel love toward her mom. It helped her to at least try to be more obedient, because of fears that her mother would get sick if she disobeyed her. She would remember past instances of disobedience would remorse.

Hearing this story, I was also really struck with how sad and depressing the story is, especially for a tale that is often told to children. The way the mother and the son frog are never on the same page is really tragic, as it took his mothers death to make the son come to his senses and the mother was never able to see her changed son. She could have thought he never really loved her, as he was constantly disobedient, when he really did as evidence by his crying at each rainfall. This story could really scare children into obeying their parents, especially since children often take things literally. I think I personally can never hear the croaking of frogs the same way.