Native American Experience Essay, Research Paper
THE NATIVE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE American Indians and Alaska Natives have played a vital role in the life of our country, and their many contributions have enhanced the freedom, prosperity, and greatness of America today. Native American culture is very rich. Among Native Americans they speak at least three hundred and fifty languages and have developed complex genre systems of verbal art within the familiar categories of speech, chant, and song. Foreign invaders took these to be the oral literatures of the Native American communities. These works thus correspond well to the most fundamental notions of literature, however many of their themes, forms, and styles may differ from European American traditions. Oral literature is less a tradition of texts than a tradition of performances. The age of reason and discovery in Europe coincided with the age of book and for this reason and others, most Europeans were slow to recognize the existence of these Native American literatures. As a result of this the process of documenting the literature did not begin till the early nineteenth century as the Native American communities themselves were beginning to emerge with great Native American authors.Transformation of oral literature into textual literature is a complicated process because it involves reflection of audience who are non-Indians at whom it is aimed and due to the specific interests motivating it. Europeans understood language to be a good tool to learn important cultural information about Native American culture, which caused some of the statements to be framed in the third person, thus obscuring the Native American speaker’s meaning or point of view. Being an author is a cultural role burdened by many assumptions of society. In most Indian society both stories and songs are considered common property, while others are the property of a particular social or religious group, and still others are said to belong to individuals. Culture is a system of beliefs and values through which a group of people structure their experience of the world. By working with this definition of culture, which is very close to the way current criticism understands the impact of ideology upon literature, we can begin to pluralize our notion of the world and understand that other peoples can organize their experience in different ways, and dramatize their experience of the world through different symbolic forms. If culture is a system of beliefs and values by which people organize their experience of the world, then it follows that forms of expressive culture such as these myths should embody the basic beliefs and values of the people who create them. These beliefs and values can be roughly organized in three areas: 1. Beliefs about the nature of the physical world. 2. Beliefs about social order and appropriate behavior.3. Beliefs about human nature and the problem of good and evil.Both the Zuni story and the Iroquoian story of the origins of the confederacy also talk about how society should be organized, about the importance of kinship and families, about how society divides its many functions in order to provide for healing, for food, for decision making, and so on. The Iroquoian confederacy was a model of Federalism for the drafters of the Constitution, who were much impressed by the way in which the confederacy managed to preserve the autonomy of its individual member tribes while being able to manage effective concerted actions, as the colonists to their dismay too often found out. The Navajo story of Changing Woman and the Lakota story of White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman are important illustrations not only of the role of women as cultural heroes, but also every peoples necessity to evolve structures such as the Pipe Ceremony or Navajo healing rituals to restore and maintain order in the world.The Raven and Hare narratives are stories about Trickster Figure. Tricksters are the opposite of culture heroes. Culture heroes exist in mythology to dramatize prototypical events and behaviors; they show us how to do what is right and how we became the people who we are. Tricksters, on the other hand, provide for disorder and change; they enable us to see the underside of life and remind us that culture, finally, is artificial, that there is no necessary reason why things must be the way they are. If there is sufficient motivation to change things, Trickster provides for the possibility of such change, most often by showing us the danger of believing too sincerely that this arbitrary arrangement we call culture is the way things really are. When Raven cures the girl, for instance, he does so to gain her sexual favors and in so doing calls into question the not-always-warranted trust that people place in healing figures like doctors. The Bungling Host story, widespread throughout Native America, humorously illustrates the perils of overreaching the limits of ones identity while trying to ingratiate one’s self. Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be done is to challenge peoples’ notions of myth. When people hear the word “myth,” they succumb to the popular belief that mythology is necessarily something that is false. This is good place to start a discussion about truth, inviting people to consider that there are other kinds of truth besides scientific truth (which is what gave a bad name to mythology in the first place). Consider this definition of myth: ” The dramatic representation of culturally important truths in narrative form. “Such a definition highlights the fact that myths represent or dramatize shared visions of the world for the people who hold them. Myths articulate the fundamental truths about the shape of the universe and the nature of humanity.
In our journey to learn and understand ourselves as well as people of different cultures and religions we must first learn about past histories and what brings people to act and live the way they do today. We must delve deeply for deep understanding. Part of who people are is expressed in their art, music, and literature. To help us grow and see Native people as vibrant, highly varied, and very much alive today. In the story Origin of the stories by Seneca, it is portrayed that stories originated in the earth, or elsewhere beyond human understanding and are only communicated to humans either through dreams or magical agents confirming a deep belief in the seriousness of stories, as chartering original relations among all the elements of the universe. In this story we can also see that the attentiveness of the audience is tested by imaginative participation with formulaic words and the value and importance of story telling is further signaled by giving gifts to the storyteller and to the earth. In the Talk concerning the First Beginning (Zuni) he said to his two children “you will go into the fourth womb.” Four is a sacred number, signifying wholeness or completion. We see as the story progresses and he says “Perhaps it will be all right for you to come she is still alive she has not really died”. This is a symbolic story of the first death in exchange for corn and suggests the reciprocal relationship between life and death. “To all directions he stretched out his arms, everywhere it was the same, right here is the middle”. This shows the significance of center and balance from which no further movement is necessary. The Contest for Daylight story, which is widespread throughout Native America, is told here to account for the characteristic behaviors of different species and leads to comment about the deaths of animals. Wohpe and the Gift of the Pipe (Lakota) is another example of a Native American Oral Narrative in which a European physician had serious problems on a reservation and decided to ask for help from the medicine men to help him understand and serve the Lakotas. They tell him stories and show him what he would do if he were an Oglala who wished to take part in it. Whope is feminine and the mediator between earth and sky, so she is recognized in nature as the meteor or falling stars. Wakan is traditionally translated as sacred or holy, but also more importantly, anything charged with power, which can only be approached through rituals. The pipe is used in all rituals and is therefore the central integrating element in Lakota ritual life. In its complex forms of stone, wood, feathers, and animal carvings, it also represents the Lakota cosmos. The smoke offered to the four direction carried prayer to Wakan Tanka. The pipe can only be handled by trained people and cannot be desecrated by word or deed. In most of the worlds numerous oral literatures songs, are considered to be poetry. Other poetry also consists of effectively charged and sophisticated language. Poetry created for communal rituals is very widespread in Native American literature. Poetry just like stories is a way of transporting participant’s back to the time an event originated giving structure and meaning, life and health, to this world, or it calls them forward to belief in a new world to come. In most Native American tribes poetry was commonly used in healing ceremonies and other rituals. The Native American poetry is pretty hard to follow and understand if it is new to you. Sayatasha’s Night Chant is a fine example of Native American ritual poetry. It is sung as part of the extensive Zuni world renewal ceremonial commonly called Shalako, after the ten-foot tall masked impersonations of those spirits. This is called The Coming of the Gods, and refers to Kachinas and Zuni’s patrons of spirits. It is believed that the dead spirits promise to return every December to bring seeds and rain to the desert of New Mexico for the new year. It’s a half year long process in which Kachinas are present in men until they go home till the summer. The poem has two narrative sections firstly the events of the last year are described. When Pautiwa chose and concentrated the present Sayatasha narrator a more limited flashback in which Sayatasha recounts his formal investiture and the immediate preparations for this Shalako which began forty nine days before, during this preparatory period to the sacred shrines where he contacted the rain-making ancestral spirits. Secondly, it narrates contemporary occurrences taking place on the eighth night of Shalako, the house consecration and the gift of seed, game and human fertility and the concluding list of blessings. When closely looked at the chant brings out one single manifestation of a more basic pattern current through out the world, the quest for power.Even though it may have taken a long time for Europeans to realize the importance of Native American literature, there is still a lot to be learned and followed from Native American oral literature. As one Inuit poet commented, “The most festive thing of all is joy in beautiful, smooth words and our ability to express them.” Mishra 8CITATIONS 1. Paul Lather Ed. the Heath Anthology of American Literature, Houghton Mifflin Houghton Company NY Third edition Volume one 1998.2. About Indian Country Today http://www.indiancountry.com/aboutict.html3. Native Web http://www.nativeweb.org/4. Native American Siteshttp://info.pitt.edu/ lmitten/indians.html