The Farewell Song of the Havasupai

Leanne Hinton
University of California, Berkeley

The Havasupais are a small tribe in Arizona who speak a language that belongs to the Yuman family. They live in a tributary of the Grand Canyon, a lush oasis of spectacular color and beauty. Also under their stewardship is a large area above the canyon, on the Coconino Plateau, a sweeping landscape of great vistas. Their love of the land is illustrated in "The Farewell Song."

This kind of Havasupai song, sometimes called "old men's songs" and "old women's songs," are composed to express a deeply felt emotion. They are love songs, songs of anger and songs of pride in a family member. They are almost always directed to a certain person and, some like this one, are addressed directly to the land.

Traditionally the Havasupais did not talk about their emotions but sang them instead.

"The Farewell Song" expresses the understanding that youth believes itself immortal, and displays the deep disappointment of old age's realization that this youthful belief is false. And even more strikingly, the song communicates poignantly the expression of the Havasupai belief that the land is a living being and has a close and loving relationship with humans. The land is always treated as sentient. A person traveling to a land he has not been to before talks to it about who he is, why he is there, and where he is going. The widespread practice of planting prayer sticks at springs is based on this same belief in the land's awareness. As a Havasupai woman once said to me, "We believe that the land knows you're there, and it misses you when you're gone." The lesson of her words and of the song went straight to my heart during the intense learning experience of my early fieldwork. It is a fine thought with which to travel through life.

The line in the first verse that translates as "forget about me" is far from literal. Havasupai speakers have interpreted the verb as "to bear pain" or "to tolerate a bad situation." But Dan Hanna, the Havasupai great singing poet, said the line in the song means "Don't mourn for me," "Forget about me," or "Learn to live without me."


The song is sung to the land. Try singing it rather than reading it.

In Havasupai as in English, when melody and rhythm are removed from a song, leaving the bare text, a feature such as the frequent repetition of a refrain seems overly repetitive and intrusive. The first line (a) begins at a high melodic level, the second line (b) begins at a lower melodic level and the third line (c) begins at the lowest level. The verse may consist of as few as five lines and as many as fifteen and will always have the melodic form of abc (bc), where (bc) may be repeated more than once.
 

The Farewell Song

Spring Water Dripping,
land that I wandered,
    that place.
Listen to me:
    forget about me,
        ha na.

I thought I'd live forever,
thought I'd travel forever;
    that's how I was.
I thought I'd always be that way,
    but now my strength is gone,
        ha na.

I thought I'd always be that way.
That's how I was,
    but now my strength is gone.
Land that I wandered,
    that place.
Listen to me:
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Horned animals,
I used to hunt them;
    I thought I'd always be that way,
I'd be that way forever.
    But now my strength is gone,
        ha na.

That's how I was,
    I was, I was.
Thicket of bushes,
    that place,
        ha na.

I ran and ran
all around them;
    listen to me.
Forget about me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Fallen logs
that I'd jump over,
    that place.
Listen to me:
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Sitting boulders
that I stumbled over,
    that place.
Listen to me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Trail lying there
that I once followed,
    once followed.
That place.
    Listen to me.
Forget about me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.
 

Arroyo,
arroyo,
    that I used to dash across.
That place.
    Listen to me.
Listen to me:
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Pointed Hill,
Pointed Hill,
    that place,
that I used to run up,
    that place.
Listen to me:
    forget about me.
To the very top
    I would come.
I'd stand there;
    I'd look into the distance.
That place.
    Listen to me.
Forget about me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Faraway jackrabbit,
a young one,
    a brown one.
He leaped out of hiding,
    leaped out of hiding.
I went after him,
    went after him,
        ha na.

I caught right up;
I came up beside him;
    that's what I did.
The hunting cane
    that belonged to me:
I hooked him,
    I caught him,
        ha na.

I roasted him,
roasted him
    and ate him.
I thought I'd live forever,
    thought I'd travel forever.
That's how it seemed to me
    but now my strength is gone,
        ha na.

Faraway antelope
Faraway antelope
    a young one.
He leaped out of hiding;
    he came out suddenly.
He started off,
    and I went after him,
        ha na.

I caught right up,
I came up beside him;
    that's what I did.
The hunting cane
    that belonged to me:
I hooked him,
    caught him.
Roasted him,
    ate him,
        ha na.

I thought I'd live forever,
thought I'd travel forever,
    thought I'd always be that way;
that's how it seemed to me.
    But now my strength is gone.
Land that I wandered,
    that place.
Listen to me:
    forget about me.
That's what I say;
    that's what I say,
        ha na.

Land that I wandered,
that place,
    listen to me.
I thought I'd always be that way;
    that's how I was.
But it wasn't true.
    I thought I'd be that way forever,
but it wasn't true.
    I thought I'd be that way forever,
but now my strength is gone.
    I thought I'd be that way forever,
        ha na.

Deer hides
that belonged to me,
    I hung them on a juniper.
I filled a tree with them;
    I looked at them there.
I felt
    so proud,
        ha na.

Deer hides
that belonged to me,
    I hung them on junipers.
I filled two trees;
    I filled three trees.
I looked at them there.
    I felt
so proud.
    I thought I'd be that way forever,
        ha na.

I thought I'd always be that way,
but now my strength is gone.
    I thought I'd always be that way.
That's how I was,
    how I was,
        ha na.

I thought I'd live forever,
thought I'd travel forever;
    that's how I was.
I'd be with the land,
    it seemed.
That's how I was,
    it seemed,
That's how I'd always be.
    But now my strength is gone,
    ha na.

The sky
spreading over me,
    it seemed
I'd be with it forever,
    it seemed.
I thought I'd always be that way,
    but now my strength is gone,
        ha na.

Listen to me:
forget about me,
    Forget about me.
Now my strength is gone.
    I thought I'd always be that way.
That's how I was,
    how I was,
        ha na.

Standing water,
I came there;
    I knelt down.
The drinking place
    where I always drank,
that place,
    listen to me.
Forget about me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.

Painted water hole
in the rock,
    I came there;
I knelt down.
    That place:
forget about me;
    forget about me,
        ha na.

The sun
over the hill,
    I saw it go down.
I started out running,
    started out running.
That's how I was;
    I didn't go slow,
        ha na.

That's not what I did;
I wasn't that way,
    that way.
I ran fast,
    ran fast.
I got home quickly,
    got home quickly,
        ha na.

I outran the sun;
I outran the sun.
    That's what I used to do.
That's how I was,
    how I was,
        ha na.

I didn't sleep late,
didn't wait for the sun;
    that's not what I did.
I wasn't that way,
    that way,
        ha na.

The dawn,
when it came,
    I saw it.
I got up,
    I got up.
The dawn,
    I ran toward it,
        ha na.

I thought I'd always be that way;
that's how I used to travel;
    I thought I'd be that way forever,
but now my strength is gone.
    I thought I'd be that way forever;
that's how I was.
    Listen to me
        ha na.

Land that I wandered,
that place,
    listen to me:
forget about me,
    forget about me.
That's what I want,
    what I want
        ha na.

My strength is gone.
I thought I'd always be that way,
    that's how I was.
I thought I'd live forever,
    I thought I'd live forever.
I'd always be with the land,
    it seemed,
        ha na.

I'd always be with the mountains,
it seemed;
    that's how I was,
that's what I believed.
    I felt
so proud.
    I thought I'd be that way forever.
But now my strength is gone.
    I thought I'd be that way forever;
that's how I was,
    how I was.
        ha na.


Other Native American gems:
Oral Tradition of the Dunne-za
Faith In Our Dreams - Thoreau
Naraya Poetry-Song of the Wind River Shoshone Ghost Dance
The Threefold Miracle
Scroll of Timothy
Worship
I Ching
Webs of Significance
Deeds
Hanukah - an interpretation
Satchel Paige
Experience
Speaking With God Right Brain