ZELIENOPLE — Miguel Sague has been a traveling storyteller since 1977.
“I love to tell stories; this is something I love,” said Sague, who was born in Cuba. “In my people's tradition, there's a really wonderful tradition of storytelling, so I tell those stories also.”
Sague, who is Taíno, came to America in 1961 as a child.
“Right away living in Erie, Pennsylvania, where my family settled, I was able to establish a relationship with the local people, the Senecas,” he said.
About 30 attendees listened intently with eyes wide open as Sague of Pittsburgh shared stories during Native American Music and Sky and Star Stories earlier this month at the Zelienople Area Public Library, 227 S. High St.
Sague, who is a member of the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, appeared in Seneca regalia to share stories of the local Seneca tribes and other Native American cultures and demonstrate the use of the Native American drums.
Sague wore an Iroquois Gustoweh, a traditional Native American headdress that is a fitted hat made of strips of wood. The wood is then covered and adorned with eagle, hawk, pheasant or turkey feathers.
As an artist, Sague used visual aids to tell the stories that came from the Seneca tribe, who were originally located in Western Pennsylvania.
The Seneca was the largest of six Native American nations comprising the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations, a democratic government that pre-dates the United States Constitution. They are known as the “Keeper of the Western Door” because the Seneca are the westernmost of the Six Nations.
Although he donned Seneca regalia, Sague is of the Taínos, a group of American Indians in Central America who inhabited the Greater Antilles, comprising Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (that became Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea at the time when Christopher Columbus' arrived in the New World.
One of the four stories Sague told was The Great Bear and the Six Hunters, which is the tale of the Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper, constellation. While six hungry hunters looked for something to hunt, one lazy hunter claimed he was too sick to continue, Sague said. The other hunters made a cot to carry him.
Then, the group came across a black bear. The men dropped the hunter they had carried and all started running to catch the bear.
The hunters followed the bear who did not realize they followed the bear into the sky, he said. Finally, the bear and the hunters turned into stars and formed the constellation.
“I'm kind of amazed because there was really no cultural interaction between the Americas and Europe and the word Ursa Major comes from a tradition in Europe and Asia where they saw the constellation of the Ursa Major as a bear,” Sague said. “Here, the Seneca didn't see it as a bear, but there was a bear involved in the story.”
Liz and Ryan Franceschina, whose family are frequent visitors to the library, came to the event for their daughter, Lily, who said she could not pick which of the four stories was her favorite.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” Liz Franceschina said, adding her family plans to attend the 41st Annual COTRAIC Powwow on Sept. 28 and 29 at Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center in Dorseyville, Pa.
The Native American stories were a different perspective on the library's theme Universe of Stories, said Amy Kilner, adult librarian. July 20 marked the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon.
One difference between Native American and United States culture is the “Man on the Moon,” Sague said.
Instead of a man, the Iroquois believe it is a woman, he said. The story tells that the woman was skillful at crafts and was cooking at the same time she decorated a basket out of dyed porcupine quills.
As she looked at the pot and sat down her craft, a dog pulled the quills out of the basket, he said, which happened several more times. Each time, the woman rose higher into the sky until she got to the face of the moon.
Now, the Seneca say the stains on the moon look like a woman stirring a pot while the dog watches, Sague said.
All the stories revolved around the sky, Sague said.
“That's the way all indigenous people maintained their culture — through storytelling,” he said. “Especially my people, it's all about storytelling.”
In Taíno culture, the stars also play an important role like they do in the Seneca culture, he said.
The art of storytelling is important because it allows nonindigenous people and even indigenous people to understand the value of the culture, Sague said.
“Nonindigenous people see Indians like a mascot or cartoon image, so this gives us a little more three-dimensional character,” he said. “When I tell these stories, people see us as real people with history with imagination with a talent with capacity.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 41st annual COTRAIC Powwow
WHEN: Noon to 7 p.m. Sept. 28 and 29
WHERE: Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, 120 Charles St., Dorseyville
ADMISSION: $6 for adults; $4 for elders and children younger than 12
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 412-782-4457 or visit cotraic.org