Native American Literature

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1 Native American Literature Culture, Traditions, & Mythology Prepared by Melissa Dyer

2 Culture (1492) At the time of Columbus, more than 2,000 different tribes lived on the continent (about 300 still exist) Despite some colonial reports, the Indians usually greeted the earliest European settlers as friends By instructing them in agriculture, woodcraft, and fishing By introducing them to: maize, beans, squash, maple sugar, snow shoes, toboggans, & birch bark canoes

3 Culture These primitive people often had stronger moral codes than the civilized Europeans: Indians had strong laws governing marriage Children were never left home alone Incest, premarital & extramarital sex were forbidden There was little or no fighting within the tribe (which was harmonious, spiritually-oriented, and stable) NO juvenile delinquency NO chemical dependency Little crime BUT, there was a down side to tribal life: the majority of Native societies were heavily conformist, warlike, chauvinistic, and sexist

4 Monotheistic Religion Native Americans believe(d) in one, all-powerful, uncreated God minor deities basically equivalent to angels in the Old Testament

5 Central Traditions Native Americans shared some basic outlooks on life that in many ways differed dramatically from those of Europeans: Land is Sacred -- it s a living entity that benefits all life and must be treated with great respect -- No One Can Own the Land. Lives are organized around cycles of nature (not around linear concepts of past, present, future -- progress)

6 Comparing Social Order Views Native American Nature of Existence Western Civilization The Great Chain of Being God Angels Mankind Animals Plants Dirt Sioux Symbol of Enlightenment

7 Oral Literature Traditions, history, and life lessons: passed verbally from generation to generation through folktales, fables, and sacred stories Speechmaking and Storytelling were important parts of life

8 Mythology Myth Definition Reasons for Myth By Joseph Campbell an anonymous story that presents supernatural episodes as a means of interpreting natural events and takes shape around certain common themes: they all attempt to explain creation, divinity, and religion they probe the meaning of existence and death they account for natural phenomena they chronicle the adventures of cultural heroes (Joseph Campbell, a noted scholar of mythology who has written over 900 books on the subject) to help people deal with what s out of their control to provide a model of the universe to support current social order to initiate people into spiritual enhancement & teach them how to deal with crises

9 Native American Mythology Creation myths: tell how the world & human life came to exist Origin myths: explain how natural phenomena such as the stars, moon, and mountains came to be; or, why a society has certain beliefs and customs Legends: widely told stories about the past that may/may not be based in fact; often reflects a people s identity or cultural values (generally with more historical truth than myths) Most tribes told their sacred stories (origin myths & tales of cultural heroes) on winter nights only -- TABOO to tell them at other times of the year Native American myths emphasize: a strong spiritual bond between the Creator, humanity, and the entire natural world humanity s duty to maintain a balance within the natural world

10 Final Reflection nitedstreami ng.com An Oral Tradition: Iroquois Storytelling Our modern Sioux language has been white-manized. There s no power in it. I get my knowledge of the old tales of my people out of a drum, or the sound of a flute, out of my visions and out of our sacred herb pejuta, but above all out of the ancient words from way back, the words of the grandfathers, the language that was there at the beginning of time, the language given to We-Ota-Wichasha, Blood Clot Boy. If that language, these words, should ever die, then our legends will die too. ~~ Leonard Crow Dog, Sioux Medicine Man quoted in: Erdoes, Richard and Alfonso Ortiz, eds. American Indian Myths and Legends. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.

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