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The last medicine man?

This story begins where pen meets paper and voice meets ear. Having had a grandfather who was a medicine man, I was taught to listen and learn, for the stories passed down are tools of wisdom; tools to learn with. When we stop listening, we stop learning. Knowledge is a wonderful tool to build a life with, and knowledge is what Amani tried to give his people.

Amani was the medicine man of his village. When you looked at him, he had the appearance of an old man: a bit stooped, with a face that showed the signs of time. When the women of the village teased his young wife for being married to such an old man, she would just smile.

The people of the village constantly cried to the medicine man for help. Please, Amani, my foot hurts; my head hurts; a bee has stung my son ... their pleas went on and on. Amani tried to teach the people of the plants, berries or barks that could be made into medicine to help them, but no one wanted to listen. They did not learn from Amani's teachings. When real sickness did occur, Amani never had time to rest and was always worn and tired.

One night he went for a walk into the woods, hoping to see his friend, Bear. Amani and Bear had been friends since he was a young boy. Bear taught him many things, for he was also a medicine man.

As Amani walked, he heard the familiar sound of his friend's rattle. He found Bear dancing and shaking his rattle. Raven and Coyote, who also had healing powers, danced with him.

''Hello, my friend,'' Bear bellowed. ''You look troubled. Come sit with me. Talk, and I will listen.''

Amani sat down with his friends and told them of his people.

''I don't know what to do. I try to teach cures to help them, but they don't listen. I am so tired from taking care of everyone. They drain me. It becomes harder to take care of the ones in real need. I feel the spirit within me is growing very tired. And my poor wife will be a mother soon.''

Bear listened. He and Amani had been friends many years and he could see there was more to Amani's problem.

''Amani, are you sure you have told me all that bothers you?''

Amani smiled.

''I never could keep anything from you, old friend.''

And then his face changed.

''I am afraid I am dying. I worry not for myself, but for my people. When I die, who will take care of them? They do not want to learn from me or the spirits that test them with their little problems. I am the last medicine man of my people.''

Bear rubbed his paws together until a warm glow seemed to surround them. Raven and Coyote shook their rattles until the glow slowly disappeared from Bear's paws. Bear turned to Amani and put his paws upon his chest.

''I have asked the spirits to share my medicine with you. Raven and Coyote have also given you the gift of their medicine,'' Bear said.

''But how will that help, old friend?'' Amani asked. ''I am dying. You are wasting your medicine.''

''The spirits feel differently, Amani,'' Bear answered. ''When you know that it is time to leave Mother Earth, just lay your hand on your wife's stomach. Our powers will pass to your child and your people will have a medicine man. You will not be the last, but they will have to wait until your son grows; he needs time to learn how to use his medicine. Meanwhile, your people will have to remember your words to take care of themselves.''

''How do you know I am to have a son?''

''Have I ever lied to you?'' Bear asked.

''No, you haven't,'' Amani replied.

''I thank you, the spirits, Raven and Coyote for helping me. I do not feel sad now; I know all will be well. You have taught me to listen and learn, and I have learned so much from you.''

Amani and Bear said their goodbyes, knowing they would see one another again in another time.

The days went by, and Amani grew more tired from his illness. His wife stayed by his side and did all she could for him, but they both knew it was his time to leave.

On the night of the new moon, Amani kissed his wife and held her tight. Just as his spirit left him, he touched his wife's stomach ever so gently. As he did this, there was a soft glow. When it faded, Amani died.

The next day was filled with both sadness and joy. The people of the village were sad and scared, for their medicine man was gone.

Amani's wife also gave birth to a beautiful boy, just as Bear had said. She could hear the peoples' worries, but she knew there was nothing to worry about. As she held her baby close, she just smiled.

Lim Lim.

Ken ''Rainbow Cougar'' Edwards, from the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, is an accomplished painter and storyteller. Edwards is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and a longtime cartoonist for Indian Country Today.