Native American culture is an evolving topic for people who consider themselves Natives now but throughout the history of their ancestors they have been forced to define themselves over and over again. The culture that exists today is not the same one that existed but has changed due to the events going on in the world around them and the desire to fit in a constantly changing world. Most of what has survived time from the Native American legacy is the things that now define what Native Americans used to be to most of the culture today.
These are the things that today are seen on television, people in odd little pieces of clothing riding bare back on horses making noises by patting their mouth with their hand. But this is not very representative of the culture as a whole. One of the main ways histories is passed down for any group of people to its descendants is through story and the Native American people did this in a more unique and powerful way them most cultures.
Each of these stories in the collection of Native American authors have one thing in common (besides the fact that they are all Native American) and it is that they are all telling their story. No other culture only writes about what they know but they tell stories of epic heroes of long ago and they can be used to fill in the history of the people that write. Story telling for this culture is not just way to entertain themselves or each other but a way of sharing what they have learned and the history of their people. Most Native American stories are written with a purpose.
The literary devices that are used within Native American Literature have come out of the tradition of vocal storytelling that later gets put from pen to paper. One literary device that was used is imagery for example in “The Little People” by Maria Campbell she goes on about the house to tell the reader about how their houses were different and similar at the same time. “There were open beams on the ceiling and under these ran four long poles the length of the house. The poles served as racks where furs where hung to dry in the winter… roots hanging from the walls”. Campbell page 77).
In another story “Return to White Earth” by John Rogers he goes into such detail about little things like how they made dishes, “…Mother would teach us how to make dishes out of birch bark… it was urgent that we understood how to make our own dishes. These we fashioned as we needed them, for always did we carry birch bark with us. Sometimes we had soup, and this would call for deeper dishes. The dishes were always burned after each meal- no washing and nothing left around to attract bugs or flies. ” (Rogers, page 53).
These details seem randomly placed in the stories since sometimes things that one might feel like there should be detail to has little to no detail like when Campbell talks about her uncle’s death she talks about it like it was no big deal (Campbell page 79). But these stories are not just stories for the sake of entertainment but many of these stories are autobiographies that people wrote later in their lives. The details that they remember are not always the ones that one would classify as important but it is knowledge that the details that are written in the book are the ones that impacted the Native American’s live the most.
People of any culture often seek an identity to label themselves with so that they can fit into society. The Native American culture has been changed quickly since the United States began and moved west taking over their territories. This causes many of the stories that take place to end a very different setting then it started. An identity can do many things for a person including giving their lives definition from legal, to social and personal purposes. The role of social identity plays its way with the Native American literature and storytelling like it does with any scenario.
Any person who is looking to social belong within a group of people is going to change themselves to some degree in order to do so. When people within a group change their behavior it causes the group itself to slowly change its dynamic. Most of the character’s within this week’s readings are not only subject to the community they are in and the rules that their people live by but also the rules and communities of other people and villages that practice similar ways of living or are forced to occupy the same space.
These stories are written for what feels like the ancestors of the people who wrote the story to begin with. Much like the oral tradition of story telling it seems like the writing was meant as a way to pass down the tribe’s histories to the next generation. Being that American English majors of the twenty first century we are probably not the target audience sometimes the language is hard to understand. The Native people lived in these lands longer then the American people have but over time the Americans have come into the lives of the Natives and forced them either leave to live by the rules of a different people.
This change did not happen over night but it is why the stories in this book are so very different over time. The stories help pass down traction from the elders to their daughters, sons and grandchildren without have the type of rule books that many cultures follow. The Native American people have had hard times but have grown in with the culture that surrounds them and has adapted to living lives both true to themselves and socially expectable which are two things that often are not easy to coincide.
Courtney from Study Moose
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