Book Review

A Book Review The Story Behind the Story As told by Elroy Begay, Medicine Man of Bamboo Springs, Arizona

Thomas R. McCormick1*

1Senior Lecturer Emeritus, Department of Bioethics and Humanities, School of Medicine, University of Washington, USA

*Corresponding author: Dr. Thomas R. McCormick, Senior Lecturer Emeritus, Department of Bioethics and Humanities,
University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-7120, US. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Submitted: 05-24-2017 Accepted: 06-08-2017 Published: 06-08-2017

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Abstract

The Story Behind the Story is an unusual book, growing out of a unique partnership between Elroy Begay, a medicine man in Bamboo Springs, Arizona and Valerie Albrecht, a writer from Australia. Her first books, Search for Mother (Inkwell Prod.AZ 2010) and Mother Journaling (Balboa Press/Hay House US 2014) explored the idea of ‘mother’ in the generic sense of ‘that which nurtures’ and led to her creating an accredited Natural Therapies Course in Birthing with the Australian College of Midwifery. Valerie is currently involved in conversations and interviews with Aboriginal healers in the outback of Australia, seeking to preserve stories of healing methods and ceremonies and writing a new book.


In 2010, Valerie Albrecht was in the United States, on her first book tour, and arranged for Tom Goelitz to guide her on a trip to Monument Valley. Upon learning of her interest in native healing practices, Goelitz introduced Valerie to his friend, Elroy Begay, the medicine man. Begay claimed that the creation stories, or origin stories, of the Navajo had not been adequately written and wanted Albrecht to work with him in translating this oral history into a written narrative so that it might be available to his own people and to a wider audience. These origin stories are the “story behind the story” of Begay’s development as a medicine man and a description of how the Navajo healing practices fit into the philosophy of living in balance with nature. Their mutual interests led to forming an agreement to work together to capture Begay’s mastery of the oral history onto paper, with Albrecht serving as translator and writer. Begay explained that he was named “Cradle Boy” due to a paralysis that required him to use a wheel chair for mobility. He named Albrecht, “Bamboo Girl,” and the two began their work. Begay is also under treatment with kidney dialysis, so it soon became apparent that Albrecht would need to travel to Arizona to carry out the work, in order to be in close proximity to her source of information. In November, 2013, Albrecht proposed that she come for an extended stay to expedite their project, Begay agreed. His wife volunteered as their chauffer, and took Albrecht to Chinle, Fish Point, Blue Canyon, Sawmill, Tselani, and all over the Black Mountain area, home to the Deer Spring People. On these trips, the Medicine Man talked, and Valerie, Bamboo Girl, wrote the notes she would later transcribe into the manuscript. Her writing was enriched, though complicated, by the fact that Begay would later remember facts that he wanted her to insert into the narrative, and the difficulty of identifying exactly which story was to receive this enhancement. The narrator and the writer are to be commended for their amazing cooperation, leading to this book as a product of their mutual journey.


We learn that Navajo introduce themselves by referencing, not only mother and father, but also paternal and maternal grandparents, and the clans from which they came, as Elroy Begay demonstrates in his self-introduction. His grandfather was recruited around 1968 to tell stories of the Navajo and the ceremonies and practices used in healing the sick, at Rough Rock Community School and Dine College.


The origin myths are well described by Elroy Begay and preserved here for posterity. Various healing ceremonies, or ceremonies
designed for the restoration of beauty and balance are described by the Medicine Man. Among these are the Beauty Blessing, cedar burning ceremony, earth ceremony, crystal star gazing ceremony, protection ceremony, tobacco ceremony, Deer Way ceremony and the Traditional Dine’ Yei bi Chi ceremony. Also, the inter-tribal Peyote ceremony. Many of the ceremonies center on restoring the patient to a sense of balance with the natural world, and balance in his or her relationships with animals and humans. Emphasis is placed on positive thinking (hozhoh) and the avoidance of any form of negativity. Coyote is an important figure in Navajo culture. Begay tells us, “Coyote was created by Holy Spirit in the Black First World to show us within ourselves our own powers of darkness and light, evil and wisdom.” He adds, “we accept we are like Coyote, with duality of shadow and wise philosophies.”


The process of the writer’s discovery through the oral traditions shared by the Medicine Man elicited a powerful inner-subjective response. She writes: “It is November 2012 and Elroy and I have been telling and writing this story for two years. I am visiting for two weeks and staying in his sister’s place across the desert garden from Elroy’s. I lie in Folding Darkness moonlight pooling on my bed and cup the stars in my palms. I cannot sleep in this beauty and gaze on the cotton-woods and the symmetry of the mesas enlarging in the dawn light as Father Sky lifts himself from Mother Earth. I wonder if they’ve been making love. My eyes are learning to see behind what they see. I am in a sacred geography, a Holy Desolate Vastness of Mundane and Miraculous Important Things.”


The writer not only had to listen carefully to the words of Elroy Begay, and the Navajo concepts he described, but, as an Australian citizen, she also had to choose English words she felt best represented the meanings he was seeking to convey. I am sure the writing was an arduous interpretive process. She has done the work well. Although this book is less than 200 pages in length, it is richly packed with concept, ceremony, and word-descriptions that enliven the narrative for the reader. I recommend it to all who wish to learn more about Dine’ culture, the practices of traditional Navajo medicine, and the origin myths of the Navajo people. Health care professionals also might be interested in the experiences and research of Joseph Carrese, MD, who spent four years on a Navajo Reservation in the 4 corners area following the completion of his residency training in general internal medicine. “Bridging Cultural Differences in Medical Practice, the case of discussing negative information with Navajo patients.” Joseph Carrese, MPH, MD, and Lorna A Rhodes, PhD. Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 15 Issue 2, pp 92-96, February 2, 2000. Dr. Carrese learned from local traditional healers, the importance of avoiding negativity and speaking with patients in a positive manner, as emphasized by the authors of this book.

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Cite this article: Thomas R. McCormick. A Book Review the Story Behind the Story As told by Elroy Begay, Medicine Man of Bamboo Springs, Arizona.
OAJ Case Reports. 2017, 1(1): 003.