Native Americans tame twisters with rituals

2014-06-23 11:30

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Just over a year ago, tribal elder Gordon Yellowman watched on the news as a kilometer-wide tornado roared toward the homes of his Cheyenne-Arapaho people in Oklahoma.

Sirens blared, warnings were issued and many people rushed to shelters as the weather radar warned the funnel cloud brewing would be massive and deadly.

But Yellowman and a small group of the elders huddled to perform an ancient ritual that would turn the tornado away.

"We spoke to it in our language", he said.

After the ceremony, whose details are hidden to outsiders to protect its potency, the tornado barrelling toward the Native American tribe in the red dirt state took an unexpected turn and veered away, a move not part of any computer modelling for the funnel cloud.

The El Reno tornado on 31 May 2013 was one of the widest recorded at 4.2km and killed eight motorists, four of them so-called storm chasers. It hit just days after a tornado killed 24 people in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

Although there is no scientific data to prove it, the rituals seem to work.

Officials in tornado-prone Oklahoma said Native American lands have suffered relatively less damage over the past 60 years from twisters that have destroyed tens of thousands of structures in other parts of the state.

Talking to tornadoes

Native American lands are not immune. In April, a tornado touched down on land of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, damaging about 30 homes and buildings, while in May 2010 a few homes were damaged by a tornado on land managed by Absentee Shawnee Tribal Housing Authority, the state's Bureau of said.

Tornadoes are easy to spot, if one listens to the world around them, Yellowman said.

“Nature will tell you”, said Yellowman, also a sundance priest of his tribe. "The land talks to the Cheyenne, tells us that a tornado is coming."

The leaves of the trees whisper warnings, he said, flipping themselves over in supplication to the angry skies. The birds warn by quieting their songs. Livestock file to far ends of fenced-in fields to escape a storm they know is coming.

The Cheyenne-Arapaho people do not leave everything to chance and have built tornado shelters for protection.

At their sprawling complex near the Lucky Star Casino in Concho is Oklahoma's first native-owned television station, CATV-47, which airs weather warnings.

Tornado shelters have been built on the lands of Native American groups that can afford them. The state is working to help finance shelters in less economically vibrant places, including those belonging to Native Americans.

The key is communicating with the tornado, which also talks to the elders.

"He tells us how many lives he will take and how destructive he will be. But he remembers the rituals and the language. Tornadoes are not evil; they reset the balance in nature", Yellowman said.

He compares his tribe's ability to read and predict the weather to an oral Farmer's Almanac, but with the language of the Cheyenne. His people are connected through stories, and he firmly believes the tribes have the spiritual power to protect themselves from dangerous weather.

Powerful women

“We were very strong people”, he said. “The Cheyenne were forced out of our home in Minnesota in the 1600s, pushed out of our original homeland by westward expansion, and to survive, we had to adapt. The first challenge we had to adapt to in Oklahoma was the weather, the tornadoes.”

The Native American methods have attracted the attention of the community of storm watchers and meteorologists who have settled in an area known as 'tornado alley'.

Randy Peppler, associate director of the Co-operative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, has worked with the Kiowa, Apache, Wichita and Comanche tribes to study what they have learned from nature to predict weather.

The Kiowa women say tornadoes understand their language and they can ask it for mercy. The Wichitas hold a ritual in which they throw an axe into the ground, splitting the storm so it goes around the tribe, he said.

"The Kiowa women will get their families into the shelters, but then they come back up and speak to the storm. It's a combination of traditional practices and modern knowledge”, Peppler said.

Some groups use what is called a "cedaring ceremony" in which the smoke from a smoldering cedar tree is used to bless people taking part in the ritual.

Peppler and other weather experts are still stymied on why the 2013 El Reno tornado took a sharp turn south when their forecasts had it continuing on a northeastern path.

Yellowman attributed it to the sacred ritual of talking to the tornado.
Read more on:    us  |  weather  |  religion

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


How to open a beer bottle without an opener

Do the right thing and never be thirsty again…


You won't want to miss...

WATCH: Man films himself going down water slide upside down as things go very wrong…
WATCH: Conor McGregor: Notorious the trailer
Best date night restaurants in South Africa
WATCH: Ryan Reynolds offers fans a free tattoo in new Deadpool 2 teaser
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.