Folktales provide great insight into specific cultures. We often find enjoyment reading our own folktales to our children but tales from different cultures provide us with a greater understanding of other kinds of lifestyles. “Two Old Women” is powerful story written by Velma Wallis about a Gwich’in band of Alaskan Athabaskans. It is a story about two aging women and traditional Athabaskan practices, but it incorporates universal themes of survival and motivation.
The story follows Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ as they face the cruel fate of being abandoned by their own people. The lack of food forces the chief to make the decision to abandon the two old women. Thus, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ begin their journey of physical, emotional, and psychological endurance. They travel across the land fending for themselves finding they had more strength than they thought possible.
They started as a couple of old women who would complain a lot while doing little work, but they transform into two successful and strong survivors. At the end of the story, they reunite with their tribe. The meeting is shaky at the start, but the women eventually forgive their people for abandoning them and share their bounty with their less successful family and friends.
Throughout the story, we learn much about the Gwich’in culture. Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’ recount their childhood and discuss roles within their families. We learn that the Gwich’in have distinct jobs designated to females and males, there are female and male gender roles and specified times when males and females should marry and have children, the Gwich’in view of aging is varied and changing, and there are distinct cultural values among the Gwich’in.
The distinct cultural values among the Gwich’in are shown in the themes of the story. These women toiled and survived through hardship and eventually found a happy ending. It shows how the Gwich’in value strength, both physical and mental. This story was likely created to inspire others to be strong and endure through hard times because it is possible even for a couple of old women. The Gwich’in also value their people. The women were abandoned by their band but forgave them since they have a deep connection with their people. They share certain understandings and a way of living.