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A discussion of native literature written by native

See Article History Alternative Titles: American Indian literature, Indian literature Native American literature, also called Indian literature or American Indian literature, the traditional oral and written literatures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. These include ancient hieroglyphic and pictographic writings of Middle America as well as an extensive set of folktales, mythsand oral histories that were transmitted for centuries by storytellers and that live on in the language works of many contemporary American Indian writers.

For a further discussion of the literature of the Americas produced in the period after European contact, see Latin American literature ; American literature ; Canadian literature ; Caribbean literature. General characteristics Folktales have been a part of the social and cultural life of American Indian and Eskimo peoples regardless of whether they were sedentary agriculturists or nomadic hunters.

As they gathered around a fire at night, Native Americans could be transported to another world through the talent of a good storyteller. The effect was derived not only from the novelty of the tale itself but also from the imaginative skill of the narrator, who often added gestures and songs and occasionally adapted a particular tale to suit a certain culture.

One adaptation frequently used by the storyteller was the repetition of incidents.

Native American literature

The description of an incident would be repeated a specific number of times. The number of repetitions usually corresponded to the number associated with the sacred by the culture; whereas in Christian traditions, for instance, the sacred is most often counted in threes for the Trinityin Native American traditions the sacred is most often associated with groups of four representing the cardinal directions and the deities associated with each or seven the cardinal directions and deities plus those of skyward, earthward, and centre.

The hero would kill that number of monsters or that many brothers who had gone out on the same adventure. This type of repetition was very effective in oral communication, for it firmly inculcated the incident in the minds of the listeners—much in the same manner that repetition is used today in advertising. In addition, there was an aesthetic value to the rhythm gained from repetition and an even greater dramatic effect, for the listener knew that, when the right number of incidents had been told, some supernatural character would come to the aid of the hero, sometimes by singing to him.

For this reason, oral literature is often difficult and boring to read. Oral literature also loses effect in transcription, because the reader, unlike the listener, is often unacquainted with the worldview, ethicssociocultural settingand personality traits of the people in whose culture the story was told and set. Because the effect of the story depended so much on the narrator, there were many versions of every good tale. Each time a story was told, it varied only within the limits of the tradition established for that plot and according to the cultural background of the narrator and the listeners.

While studies have been made of different versions of a tale occurring within a tribe, there is still much to be discovered, for instance, in the telling of the same tale by the same narrator under different circumstances.

These gaps in the study of folktales indicate not a lack of interest but rather the difficulty in setting up suitable situations for recordings.

The terms myth and folktale a discussion of native literature written by native American Indian oral literature are used interchangeably, because in the Native American view the difference between the two is a matter of time rather than content. American Indian mythology can be divided into three major cultural regions: North American cultures from the Eskimos to the Indians along the Mexican borderCentral and South American urban cultures, and Caribbean and South American hunting-and-gathering and farming cultures.

Though each region exhibits a wide range of development, there are recurrent themes among the cultures, and within each culture the importance of mythology itself varies. In North Americafor example, each tale can usually stand alone, although many stories share a cast of characters; in contrast, stories developed in the urban cultures of Central America and South America resemble the complicated mythologies of ancient Greece and are quite confusing with their many sexual liaisonshybrid monsters, and giants.

These mythologies are related to the concept that all animals have souls or spirits that give them supernatural power. Because humans have subsequently been differentiated from the animals, the animals appear in visions, and in stories they help the hero out of trouble. When there are many tales involving a single character—such as Raven, Coyoteor Manabozho—the transcriptions are linked together today and called cycles see e.

The body of American Indian folklore does not include riddles as found in African folklore, for example, nor does it include proverbs, though there are tales with morals attached.

The importance of mythology within a culture is reflected in the status of storytellers, the time assigned to this activity, and the relevance of mythology to ceremonialism. Mythology consists primarily of animal tales and stories of personal and social relationships; the actors and characters involved in these stories are also an index to the beliefs and customs of the people.

For example, the Navajo ceremonials, like the chants, are based entirely on the characters and incidents in the mythology. The dancers make masks under strict ceremonial control, and, when they wear them to represent the gods, they absorb spiritual strength. The Aztec ceremonials and sacrifices are believed to placate the gods who are the heroes of the mythology.

Oral literatures North American cultures: Canadian and Greenlandic Arctic peoples are generally called Inuit; the U.


Arctic literature embodies simple stories of hunting incidents in which the heroes are sometimes helped through supernatural power.

Other stories include themes in which people ascend to the sky to become constellations, maltreated children become animalsand an orphan boy becomes successful. Still others surround the exploits and priestly magic of the shamans. In the region from Greenland to the Mackenzie River, Sedna is the highest spirit and controls the sea mammals; the A discussion of native literature written by native is a male deity who lives incestuously with his sister, the Sun.

When she discovers he is her brother, she seizes a burning bundle of sticks and rushes away into the sky, the Moon pursuing her. There are many stories involving family life, as well as others that deal with the feuds between Inuit and the Native Americans south of them.

The western Eskimos along the Pacific and Arctic coasts have the Raven cyclea series of tales centred on Raven, a protagonist whose role ranges from culture hero to the lowest form of trickster. Many of the same plots and themes also occur in tales of the Northwest Coast culture. Around some coastal villages, a story about a flood that took place in the first days of the Earth is told. Many stories are especially intended for children and stress proper behaviour.

They are often told by young girls to younger ones and are illustrated by incising figures in the snow or on the ground with an ivory snow knife. On the lower Yukon Rivera migration legend is told about a long journey from east to west. The usual incident that breaks up this party of travelers is a quarrel, after which they divide into two groups, occupying separate villages, and for years make constant war on each other.

Tales of hunting begin as personal adventures but become stylized with supernatural characters and events. Northwest Coast There is greater similarity in the mythology of the various tribes along the Northwest Coast than in other regions of North America.

Collectors of folktales have gathered a long series of stories told in the region from the mouth of the Columbia River through southeastern Alaska into a Raven cycle. The protagonists of these stories—from south to north, CoyoteMink, and Raven—vary from culture hero to trickster. In each subarea the stories elucidate the origin of a village, a clanor a family and are regarded as the property of that group. Thus, these stories can be used by others only through permission or, sometimes, purchase.

In Bungling Host, Trickster, after seeing his host produce food in various ways e. In Dog Husband, a girl has a secret lover who is a dog by day and a man by night. When she gives birth to pups, she is deserted by her tribe. In some versions, parents lose all their sons to a monster, and, when a new baby is born, it grows rapidly, kills the monster, and restores the brothers.

Star Husband, another widely known myth, relates the story of two girls sleeping outdoors who wish the stars would marry them. They ascend to the sky, marry the stars, and experience a series of remarkable adventures. Among the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Islandthe mythology is represented in an elaborate a discussion of native literature written by native of dances that illustrate characters and incidents with masks, puppets, and other mechanical devices.

The principal events during the winter ceremonial season, these ceremonies include initiation into the secret societies, the highest of which is the so-called Cannibal Society; members of this society recount ancient stories of cannibalism but, contrary to some accounts, do not practice cannibalism themselves.

European Explorers and Native American Literature in the New World

Less elaborate forms of this winter ceremonial are found among the southern tribes who base their activities on the quest for the guardian spirit and on the return of the spirits to those who have seen them in visions. In order to exorcise these spirits, their songs a discussion of native literature written by native be sung and their dances performed. The Salish-speaking tribes of southern British Columbia and of Washington have less complicated costumes for this ceremonial, but their dancing is very interesting and vigorous.

The attitude of the Northwest Coast Indians toward animals is expressed in rituals such as the first salmon ceremony and in the ceremonial treatment of the bear. When the first salmon of the spring run is caught, it is ceremonially cleaned and placed on a clean mat or a bed of fern leaves.

It is welcomed with an address of thanks and promised good treatment. The entrails are wrapped in a mat and thrown into the river so that they can return to the land in the west where the salmon can tell how well he was treated. The salmon is carried to the house by a selected group—children, women only, or the family of the successful fisherman—and is roasted and eaten by the selected group, or a morsel may be distributed to each village resident. The bear is never killed wantonly.

When seen, it is addressed in terms of kinship, an attitude that is shared by a variety of cultures. California The many small tribes of California exhibit more unity in their mythology than is present in many other features of their culture.

In the north-central area, the Kuksu cults enact the myths of the creator and the culture hero with Coyote and Thunder as the chief characters. In southern California, in ceremonies of the Chungichnich cults, contact with the highest god is achieved by smoking datura or jimsonweedwhich produces hallucinations of animals. The boys initiated into the cults regard the animals as their guardian spirits.

This concept relates the cult activity with the most fundamental feature of American Indian religion: Documentation of the mythology of the California tribes was thoroughly disrupted by Euro-American colonization, although some animal stories and a few themes about ill-defined characters have been recorded. Southwest, Northeast, and Plains Southwest The Native A discussion of native literature written by native of New Mexico and Arizona, along with a few small tribes related to them in southern California, have cultural traditions with some features in common.

In the folklore of the Southwest, the emergence and migration myths show the indigenous peoples emerging from an unpleasant underworld at the time when the Earth is not yet completely formed. They start a long trek southward, some looking for a sacred spot and others looking specifically for the centre of the Earth. In some instances they are led by a pair of culture heroes, the Twins, also called the Little War Gods, who help stabilize the surface of the Earth and teach the people many features of their culture, including ceremonials.

  • Documentation of the mythology of the California tribes was thoroughly disrupted by Euro-American colonization, although some animal stories and a few themes about ill-defined characters have been recorded;
  • Many of the same plots and themes also occur in tales of the Northwest Coast culture;
  • The hostility of the European explorers to this time-honored culture and lifestyle changed the lives of Native Americans forever;
  • Among the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island , the mythology is represented in an elaborate series of dances that illustrate characters and incidents with masks, puppets, and other mechanical devices;
  • Finally, the Chibcha , who live in Colombia north of the Orinoco River , have a body of mythology that reflects the ethos of immediacy in their culture; the stories are cosmological and ritual, and they lack all perspective of time.

When the people were weary during the migration, powerful spirit-beings known as kachinas came and danced until someone made fun of their peculiar faces and insulted them. The kachinas allowed the people to copy their masks and costumes and then returned to their home in the underworld. Since that time the men from the kivasthe ceremonial chambers to which all the men belonged, have made these costumes and masks and have performed the dances necessary to stimulate and protect the harvest, bring rain, and promote general welfare.

They sometimes behave like unruly children and tease their grandmother to death. Coyote, in the Pueblo literature, is always sly and is often caught in his own wiles. A group of very crude and vulgar tales about him exist. The Athabaskan-speaking tribes of the Southwest are the Navajo and the Apache.

Nowhere in America are mythology and ceremonial more closely associated than among the Navajo, where the myths are poetically expressed through great chants see Blessingway. The principal characters are the gods of the wind, the rain, the dawn, the Sun, the semiprecious stones, the sacred plants, corn maizetobacco, squash, and the bean.

The ceremonials are intended to cure sickness, both mental and physical, and protect people on dangerous missions rather than to inspire any sense of worship. All the arts are combined in the ceremonies: This is one of the most inspiring ceremonials devised by the American Indian.

The other Athabaskan-speaking people, the Apacheare divided into several groups, of which the Lipan are particularly interesting. The southernmost of North American tribes, they live partly across the Mexican border. One of the monsters in the tales is Big Owl, a destructive cannibal in the form of a large owl. The story of the man seeking spiritual power from the gods who goes down the Colorado River in a hollow log to reach the holy places where the spirits live a discussion of native literature written by native almost identical to its Navajo version.

There is a Lipan Coyote cycle, but there are no Spanish-derived tales.