Let’s face it, Shmoopers: nature’s a beautiful thing. We don’t think we’re going out on any limbs here. It nourishes us, it calms us, and it surrounds us with awe-inspiring wonder. Way back before we had computers and cars and grocery stores, nature was an even more important force in people’s lives. Sure, we still depend on nature today, but we’re just not as aware of how important it is in everything we do. Today, our closest brush with natural wonder might come in the form of a background display pic for our smartphone.
It was different in the past, though. Just ask the Native Americans, whose rituals and ceremonies often gave props to the natural world. The “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is one example of that. It’s a Navajo poem that celebrates the sky, the land, and the creatures of the earth. It’s also a chant that is sung as part of a traditional Navajo Mountain Chant ceremony. This ceremony, which has been performed for centuries, was traditionally done to bring about rain. Back in the days when rain meant the difference between life and death (because, hey—no rain meant no crops to eat), people sang to, and about, nature in order to get it to cooperate.
The fact is that, for the native Navajo—who lived before the coming of Europeans—nature was everything. So why not sing to it, flatter it, and make it feel good about itself, so that it could give folks what they wanted? “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is a great example of the way that the Navajo relate to nature, and it reflects what an important part nature plays in their culture.
These days, when we want to eat, we hop in a car, drive to a local supermarket, and pick up veggies and meat that are all cut up and bundled into nice little plastic packages for us. We forget the fact that, before that meat arrived at the supermarket, it used to be a big fat cow standing out in a field and munching on some grass. And for that grass to grow, there needed to be rain, a certain amount of sunlight, and nice, warm temperatures. And before those veggies were all nicely displayed for us in a supermarket fridge, they were plants that grew out of the earth.
The modern world, in other words, removes us from nature. But even if we ourselves don’t kill the cows we eat, like people used to do, nature is still central to our lives. Think about it: how could we eat without it?
It’s for this reason that we should care about “Twelfth Song of Thunder.” It’s a poem that reminds us of the importance of nature in our lives. We need nature, even more than we need our iPhone or our car or our computer (as hard as that may be to believe). And the important of nature in our lives should really make us stop to appreciate our surroundings more. So stop texting for three seconds and look around you. “Twelfth Song of Thunder” not only reminds us of how much we need nature, but also how beautiful it is.
Learn more about the Navajo people here, and delve into their art and history.
Navajo (Diné) Language
Here you can learn more about the Navajo language, the language in which “Twelfth Song of Thunder” was composed.
“We Shall Remain”
Enjoy this short documentary about the Navajo.
“What it Means to be a Navajo Woman”
This TED talk by Jolyana Bitsui gives some fascinating insight into the Navajo culture.
Navajo Healing Song
Listen to this beautiful Navajo healing chant… ah, don’t we feel better already?
And here’s the Navajo Night Chant, with lots of rattling.
Betatakin Cliff Dwellings
Part of the Navajo national monument, these cliff dwellings are pretty awesome.
Map of the Navajo Nation
Want to know where the Navajo live exactly? Now you do.
We can almost hear their voices.
Hear it? Cheep, cheep... Cheep, cheep…
American Indian Oral History Navajo Transcripts
This is a collection of interviews with Navajo residents of reservations, made between 1967-1972.
The Mountain Chant: A Navajo Ceremony
This book covers all the rituals and ceremonies that make up the Mountain Chant ceremony. “Twelfth Song of Thunder” is included in this collection.
Diné: A History of the Navajos
Here’s a thorough history of the Navajo nation.
This is a suspense thriller set on a Navajo reservation.
A young girl wants to win the Miss Navajo Nation crown.
This television series is about Navajo cops doing battle.