Native american literature

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Native american literature

  1. 1. Native American Literature English III Mrs. Abercrombie FA 2013
  2. 2. Historical & Cultural Context • Our American identity as we know it is a product of our past. Our class will focus on literature which reveals how we arrived at our society and culture today. • We study Native American literature out of a respect for the indigenous cultures who were here before the European explorers as well as a respect for their cultural and literary influence throughout the years.
  3. 3. Historical Context • All texts (literature, songs, pictures etc.) are cultural productions • It is important to understand the culture/history surrounding the production of these texts to understand their meaning.
  4. 4. • Indigenous Americans inhabited this continent before anyone else. They endured many invasions from the Spaniards for the following primary reasons: 1. land 2. gold 3. crops (all of which were plentiful)
  5. 5. • Once explorers and settlers decided to stay and start building the natives could do nothing although they usually tried to fight back. • Natives had a completely different set of values and traditions: - some wouldn’t fight back until they realized they would lose their land completely - they lived off the land and held it in high regard; earth was the mother - they never used more than they needed and they never wasted anything
  6. 6. • The settlers flagrant ways and intruding methods of desecrating the land came as a huge blow to the Native Americans. • The Europeans also brought disease that natives were never exposed to before, which brought actual physical desecration to their people. • Over time (hundreds of years) land was progressively taken away from them and they were not only robbed of their sacred land and the traditions it embodied for them, but they were forced into assimilating into the emerging European-American culture.
  7. 7. • Indian removal was legalized with the Removal Act of 1830, which stipulated: 1. the tribe “consent” to move 2. new land was to replace the old
  8. 8. • This “manifest destiny” resulted in what would later be known as the Trail of Tears, or the mass forced exodus of thousands of Native Americans from their sacred land to government reservations. • From there, efforts to “civilize” them so that they could be mainstreamed into society continued.
  9. 9. • Indian children were sent to boarding schools far away from the reservations so that the authority of their parents/elders would be undermined. Language, and consequently, cultural identity was legally confiscated. Children were harshly punished for using their own language and were separated tribally to immerse them in English only. • Although great strides have been made in recent years for Indian Sovereignty, Native Americans continue to struggle because of the events of the past.
  10. 10. Storytelling & Oral Tradition • Long before European explorers came to North America, Native Americans had a rich literary tradition of their own. Their stories, histories, and legends were shared and preserved through oral tradition. The storyteller is one whose spirit is indispensable to the people.
  11. 11. • The Native Americans spoke hundreds of languages and lived in incredibly diverse societies with varied mythological beliefs. Despite their differences, their cultures and literary traditions had the following common elements: lack of a written language they believed in the power of words and they relied on memory, rather than writing to preserve their texts • in this regard, these stories are not defined by the boundaries of written language; there are no ending pages and they are not contained within a limited, concrete, physical source.
  12. 12. these stories belong to the collective people/the tribe the oral tradition was a performance and is offered to the audience as dramatic events in time yet, the audience is not passive and has a role in bringing out the story the storyteller is very important to culture and is one of the most honored and respected members of the tribe/society the relationship between the storyteller and the audience is established through: voice emphasis, gestures, use of space, eye contact, and the audience can be representative of the characters in the story there is no known original author these stories are open to personal interpretation
  13. 13. These oral stories include the following types of texts: cultural information (beliefs about social order and appropriate behavior) historical accounts including migrations: how people got to where they are lessons describe how and why things are the way they are creation stories and the origins of societies (beliefs about the nature of the physical world)
  14. 14. traditions, religious beliefs, ceremonies, dreamsongs, shamanic chants, naming chants and blessings (beliefs about human nature and the problem of good and evil) trickster tales featuring a trickster figure who was any combination of the following descriptions: rule-breaker, malicious, cunning, foolish, chaos-causing, shape and gender shifting (a famous example is Kokopeli who was a Hopi flute player symbolic of happiness, joy, and fertility) instructions from spirit mentors and explanations on how to conduct ceremonies descriptions of natural processes such as water cycles, inter-species relationships, life cycles of plants, earth movements, and soil types oral maps for travel which describe historic and on-going migrations of tribe for subsistence and holy journeys magical tales of transformation which articulate the mystery and complexity of being human adventures in love, romance, and marriage
  15. 15. NOTE = While oral stories are meant to be passed down through generations verbally, it is important to remember that written transcripts are not exactly representative of the oral performance. But a translation/ transcription of the stories is the closest we can come to sharing the Native American culture and tradition.
  16. 16. These oral stories were chanted, spoken, sung and repeated over and over until embedded into the memories of the next generations. The Native American oral tradition was the only way to pass on tribal history, heritage, and cultural practices. In order to continue hundreds of years of a tribe’s history the young must listen and remember the stories the elders tell and then pass them on. Therefore, stories are vibrant with figurative language – particularly metaphor.
  17. 17. Some Dominant Themes & Motifs: • relationships between humans and animals • respect and reverence for mother earth and nature • land as the strength of the people • village/community/tribe as sovereign • cyclical patterns: renewal and continuance • importance of tribal traditions and history
  18. 18. Native American Wisdom • “The earth was created by the assistance of the sun, and it should be left as was…The earth and myself are of one mind.” --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce • “All things are connected…Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth…This we know. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself.” --Chief Seattle
  19. 19. • “The Earth our Mother is holy and should be treated as such…all forms of life are our brothers and sisters and have to be respected…Life is a holy, sacred experience…we must live our lives as a religion, that is, with a constant concern for spiritual relationships and values…we must live lives that bring forth both physical and spiritual beauty. All life has the potentiality of bringing forth Beauty and Harmony, but [humans] in particular [have] also the ability to bring forth ugliness and disharmony.”--Forbes
  20. 20. • “Plants are thought to be alive, their juice is their blood, and they grow. The same is true of trees. All things die, therefore all things have life. Because all things have life, gifts have to be given to all things.” --William Ralganal Benson Pomo • “This rock did not come here by itself. This tree did not come here by itself. There is one who made all this, Who shows us everything.” --Yuki
  21. 21. • “The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of the forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the land that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo belongs.” --Luther Standing Bear, Oglala Sioux Chief
  22. 22. Chief Joseph Bruchac • “The Sun Still Rises in the Same Sky”
  23. 23. “The Sky Tree” • Huron piece of literature • Creation myth – The beginning of the earth – How people, and land came to be • The Earth Diviner Myth – – – – Common among Native American cultures Earth is covered by water An animal dives down in to the water and brings up soil Many Native Americans call North America Turtle Island • Symbolism: What does the rooting of the tree represent?
  24. 24. “The Sky Tree” • Archetype – Prefix “arch” = Extreme – Carl Jung (one of the founding fathers of psychology) – There are certain images which our minds unconsciously create that appear in the dreams of all humans and in the myths of every culture. • Archetypes are symbols, but symbols are not always archetypes. – Symbolism may vary slightly
  25. 25. Archetypes Examples of Archtypes In “The Sky Tree”… Archetype Tree Universal religious symbol Gilgamesh (Mesopotamian) Eve (Christian) Yggdrasil (Norse) Symbolism? What does the rooting of the tree symbolize?
  26. 26. “Coyote Finishes His Work”  Creation myth  Explains creation of the Indians  Explains the creation of Indian culture Messianic (savior) Myth  Archetypes – Coyote = archetypal trickster – Earth-woman – Old Man
  27. 27. Common Symbols • Phallic symbols (male)– if it stands up or goes off (guns, cannons, swords, spires); anything that looks a bit like or can stand in for the male sexual organ and represent the potency of the male force/male dominance (snakes, sleek cars, motorcycles
  28. 28. Common Symbols • Yonic (female) symbols – imitate fertility, motherhood, and/or the womb (gardens, food, pots), or the female primary sexual organ gardens, (flowers in full bloom, caves)
  29. 29. “Coyote Finishes His Work” The trickster often takes the form of an animal. (Think of the Serpent in the Christian story). What traits of Coyote help him to be a trickster? Where does Old Man Above send Coyote?
  30. 30. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • Coyote plays tricks on Indians. • Coyote helps the Indians – Rids the earth of evil spirits – Teaches important skills • Old Man tells Coyote his work is done, and he sends Coyote to a resting place. • The Old Man leaves, too. • One day, Coyote and the Old Man will return. • Meanwhile, the Old Man will send messages by the spirits of those with near death experiences. • Indians are awaiting the return of Coyote.
  31. 31. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • Old Man Above sent “Coyote” to create inhabitants of the world. – Coyote made “Indians” and spread around world • Liked to play tricks and often got in trouble • Old Man Above came down and told Coyote his work was done. • Told the “Indians” that Coyote and he would return when the world needed change • Until then, they would live in the world of good/evil, trickery/fun, beautiful/ugly that Coyote had developed
  32. 32. “Coyote Finishes His Work” • The return of Old Man and Coyote – Coyote will return first. – Earth will require a change. – Old Man will bring spirits of the dead with him. – There will be no more “other side camp.” – All people will live together. – Earthmother will be restored.
  33. 33. Wrap Up Key Words/Phrases/Concepts • Historical Context • Oral Tradition • Archetypal Characters and Symbols – Trickster – Tree – Phallic vs. Yonic • Messianic Myth • Creation Myth
  34. 34. In Class Writing Assignment Compare (similarities)/contrast (differences) the American Experience of Native Americans and Enslaved African Americans. What role do their experiences play in the collective American subconscious?

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