“I wonder what good Indian ceremonies can do against the sickness which comes from their wars, their bombs, their lies?” (132)
Ever since the Europeans landed in the New World in the fifteenth century, there has been a clashing of Native American and white cultures. The whites spread new diseases, were unconscious of the spirit of nature, and brought new modern technology, like swords and guns. The cultures have been at odds since; from this culture clash developed the issue of tradition versus modernity, old versus new culture. This quandary is evident in Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko, a novel about the struggle of the mixed race protagonist, Tayo, to reconcile his opposing Native American and white cultures. Tayo must embrace the Native American traditions of love, community, respect for nature, and non-violence as he is confronted by the white modern ideas of drunkenness, poverty, war, sexism, racism, and greed. He is forced to tackle the conflict between the traditional culture of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and the modern white culture. Silko seems to believe that a fusion of the tradition and modern cultures is necessary, not simply adopting one or the other.
Tayo is enveloped in the Indian/white struggle of tradition versus modernity. The story the reader encounters is satiated with this concern to rectify the differences. But the reader can only get so far, for the reader is reminded that the novel is written in English and the story is meant to be in the old dialect, as much of it takes place in the Laguna Pueblo, where English is not always spoken. The old medicine man Ku’oosh explains to Tayo that in the Laguna Pueblo language “no word exists alone, and the reason for choosing each word had to be explained with a story about why it must be said this certain way” (35).
In our family, there are several cultures and traditions that play a very important role in defining our family values and cultures. These traditions and cultures have been passed to our parents from our grandparents. The two most vivid cultural patterns that are present in our family have been inherited by our parents from the blending of the culture from my maternal grandparents and my fraternal ...
The reader is left inaccessible and uncomfortable as to this gap between the traditional Laguna Pueblo language and the modern English. Tayo also feels uncomfortable with his opposing cultures as he tries to choose one over the other.
As a child, Tayo was told by his white teachers that his stories from childhood were all nonsense. However, like if one told a Catholic that his religion was all a lie, Tayo still believes in the old stories. The teachers told his cousin Rocky that “‘nothing can stop you now except one thing: don’t let the people at home hold you back.’ Rocky understood what he had to do to win in the white outside world. [Auntie] wanted him to be a success. She could see what white people wanted in an Indian and she believed this way was his only chance. She saw it as her only chance too” (51).
Rocky and Auntie are prepared to cut themselves off from their traditions in order to fit in with the modern white society. Auntie is a born-again Christian who tries to turn her back on her Native American traditions. Grandma, Auntie’s mother, is very much immersed in the traditions of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, so much that she is literally becomes “totally blind” to the modern white world (67).
Tayo is also made to choose in one culture over the other. He is told in school that flies “are bad and carry sickness” but Josiah says that the fly saved the Indians from a drought and “since that time the people have been grateful for what the fly did for us” (101).
Tayo is ashamed for killing flies but Josiah comforts him, saying, “next time, just remember the story” (102).
In this case, it seems impossible to honor both the traditional idea that flies are good and the modern science that flies are bad. As a child, Tayo wants to follow tradition but ends up reverting to the modern ways in the jungle, “not able to endure the flies that had crawled over Rocky. […] when he could reach them he had smashed them between his hands” (102).
In the last 50 years or so technology had contributed to the exponential growth of the mass media where what started out with the telegraph was subsequently followed by the radio, the newspaper, magazines, television and the new arrival the Internet. The outcome of all these subsequent introductions had made society to be dependant on information and communication for all the major steps they are ...
Tayo’s mother, Laura, couldn’t deal with the conflicting messages from the white and Indian cultures and she was “ashamed of herself. Shamed by what they taught her in school about the deplorable ways of the Indian people” (68).
Laura was ashamed of both cultures and ran away because she could not separate the Indian ways from the white ways. Other Indians are also exploited for the whites, thereby compromising their traditional culture.
During the Gallup Ceremonial, the white men organize a festival that showcases Indian dances, rodeo, and crafts. While it may sound delightful, it is nothing more than a tourist attraction that uses the Indians while pretending to value their culture. The ceremonial takes all the different tribes and groups them together as “Indian dances,” “Indian jewelry,” and “Indian cowboys” (116).
While ceremonies like dances are performed for certain purposes, they are now presented out of context and for an audience. This exemplifies the way that tradition is forced to adhere to modern society, while conceding the purposes of the Native American traditions.
While sometimes Tayo is compelled to fit into either Native American or white customs, occasionally he is completely outside of both cultures. A Native American family unit is generally an extended family, like Grandma, Josiah, Auntie, and Rocky. A typical white family unit would be the nuclear family: two parents and one or more children. Tayo belongs to neither classification. Growing up on the reservation, he lived with Auntie, who put “a distance between them” of “narrow silence” (67).
Rocky’s initial reaction to Tayo is that he screams, “You’re not my brother. I don’t want no brother” (66).
Tayo doesn’t seem to fit into any traditional or modern family, but he is desperate to be part of one, so when Rocky calls him brother, he is proud but confused; “It was the first time in all the years that Tayo had lived with him that Rocky had ever called him ‘brother.’ Auntie had always been careful that Rocky didn’t call Tayo ‘brother,’ and when other people mistakenly called them brothers, she was quick to correct the error” (65).
Native Americans Today Although only a handful of the more than 500 Federally recognized tribes have benefited from gaming, mainstream America seems obsessed by the idea that Native Americans are basking in unmeasured wealth. The truth is that desperate conditions of poverty and unemployment remain widespread throughout Indian Country. Even worse is the deplorable state of health care in many ...
As they sign up for the army, they gain respect from whites, and Tayo is proud to be doing it with someone he can now call family. But that only makes it that much harder for Tayo to deal with when Rocky dies in the service. Once again, he loses his family (as he did when his mother left) and any semblance of either a traditional or modern family. Tayo attempts to fit into the traditional Native American family but he is not accepted. Instead, he watches as Josiah attempts to create a tradition that defies the modern white society.
Josiah illustrates the spirit of tradition through his mixed breed cattle. First off, the blending of cultures is evident as a Native American buys Mexican cattle which are then bred with Herefords (European cattle).
The purpose of the breeding is to create a stronger, more adaptable cow that can live in the dry conditions on the Indian reservation. The Herefords were “weak, soft” cows that couldn’t survive on Indian land, so Josiah is out to disregard the books “written by white people who did not think about drought or winter blizzards, or dry thistles” (75).
He finds a way to breed cattle that are more productive, not following the modern rules on what a cow should be, because he knows that tradition can often be more useful than the modern way of thinking. This sort of tradition is illustrated through the medicine men on the Laguna Pueblo reservation.
The medicine men are extremely important to the Native American tradition, for when tradition is neglected, disasters ensue. In the poem, the people “neglected the mother corn altar” and “so she took/ the plants and grass from them. No baby animals were born./ She took the/ rainclouds with her” (48-9).
Ku’oosh, the medicine man from the reservation, can not help Tayo because he is also part of the white world, so solely traditional Native American medicine can not help him. Ku’oosh cannot comprehend that Tayo “had not killed any enemy or that he did not think he had. […] In the old way of warfare, you couldn’t kill another human being in battle without knowing it” (36).
Paula Chrystine Poling Poling 1 Myths, Memories and Realities of the War Between the States Dr. Mary Ellen Rowe and Dr. Larry Olpin German, Irish, African and Native are all American For minorities, as for other Americans, the Civil War was an opportunity to prove their valor and loyalty. Among the first mustered into the Union army were a De Kalb regiment of German American Clerks, the Garibaldi ...
Ku’oosh doesn’t know of modern warfare, of guns, planes, ships, and bombs. He is too traditional to be able to help Tayo except that he knows enough to send him to Betonie, a medicine man in contact with the white world. Betonie is familiar with the white modern culture so that he can help those affected by it; “In the old days it was simple. A medicine person could get by without all these things. But nowadays….” (121).
Betonie shows Tayo that the white world is actually part of the Native American world.
Silko explores the culture clash of Native Americans and whites and the conflict between tradition and modernity in Ceremony. From the English language to opposing racial messages to not belonging to a family, Tayo encounters some difficult issues that he must overcome to compromise his conflicting backgrounds. Through the novel, Silko demonstrates that there is a need to reconcile both the traditional and the modern in order to peacefully exist in Tayo’s world of both Native American and white cultures.