Tuesday, April 25, 2006

HUM 221: Tricksters and origins

A couple of links and a couple of questions. Both have to do with Native American storytelling, and both may give you something to think about as you write your final exams on how Native peoples adapt their traditional forms of cultural expression to survive in a mass society with commercialized media.

First, the links: Go to Kathleen Nichols' website Native American Oral Tales and Songs. Follow her links and read her introduction to Native American origin tales and the Hopi creation story (which you will find by scrolling down to the bottom of the page). What kind of a creature is Spider Woman? What does she tell us about human nature? About the Hopi people? Then go back to Dr. Nichols' homepage and follow the link to her "Introduction to Native American Tricksters." Read about Coyote. How is he different from Spider Woman? How is he the same? What does Coyote tell us about human nature?

In the Pacific Northwest, Raven is a trickster god very much like Coyote. The online enclyclopedia Wikipedia has a good summary overview of the Raven stories. Multimedia artist Larry McNeil of Boise State University in Idaho is of Tlingit heritage, and he works Raven into his art. Read his story of how -- and why -- Raven stole the sun so the people could have light. Surf around his website and look at some of his photos and drawings of Raven. Then decide if McNeil is kind of a trickster himself.

Now, a couple of questions.

1. Most peoples have trickster stories. Bugs Bunny is a direct descendent of a trickster Rabbit in West African and southeastern American Indian tales. And he isn't the only one. How many trickster figures can you name in modern American popular culture? What is their appeal?

2. Here's a link to a story about a Navajo Indian and a public relations officer from NASA. It isn't a traditional story. In fact, it appears to originate with late-night TV show host Johnny Carson. But it's remindful of the old stories about Rabbit, Coyote and Raven. What in us does a trickster story appeal to?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

HUM 221: NW Coast Arts

Native American art in the Pacific Northwest reached a high level of sophistication, especially in the visual arts. One reason is that they didn't have to struggle as much to find food, since they were expert fishermen and the seas were teeming with salmon, halibut and other fish. Thier storytelling was of a high order, too, many of the stories centering on Raven, both a god and a trickster like Coyote in stories from the Southwestern cultural region. The links in this post will give you a cursory overview of the peoples and their art.

The website Alaska: A Nation Within a State has a pretty good overview of the Northwest Coast culture, which was fairly uniform among the different tribes living along the coast from northern California to South Central Alaska. Note especially their expertise in working with wood. Representative of the Nortwest Coast peoples are the Tlingit (pronounced KLINKit) of Southeast Alaska. Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History has an attractive online exhibit with a brief overview of Tlingit history, art and legends. It also mentions the Tlingits' connection with SEAlaska Corp., a regional corporation set up under the Alaska Native Claims Act in which the people are shareholders.

Possibly the best short introduction to the art of the Northwest Coast is on a website put up by Free Spirit Gallerly, an online art gallery that specializes in Canadian First Nations arts and crafts. Be sure to read Clint Leung's "Introduction to Northwest Coast Native American Art" and follow his links to articles on "The Basic Elements of Northwest Indian Art," totem poles and wood carving. The Free Spirit site is lavish with pictures, and most of the pictures are of contemporary professional artists working with traditional designs and motifs.

A historical footnote:One of my favorite examples of U.S. government efforts to acculturate Native Americans to white anglo society is a Report of the Siletz Indian Agency in Benton County, Oregon, dated Aug. 28, 1882. In it, the superintendent says he is making progress in teaching the Siletz how to use a sawmill, even though it "has not been used as much in the year past as heretofore, for lack of funds, a matter of much regret to a large number [of the people], many of whom have lately been induced to come in and take lands, but were unable to erect houses for want of lumber." He adds:
The labor in the mills is all performed by Indians with a single exception. I am pleased to say that a number of Indians, so far as I know for the first time, cut their timber, drew their logs, and sawed their own lumber without the aid of government, thus proving themselves on the road to self-support and independence, a thing of which they feel a pride.
But he neglects to mention (and may not have known) the Siletz had traditionally lived in cedar or sugar pine plank houses 100ft in length before contact. See also the Siletz History by Robert Kentta, tribal cultural resource director, posted to the Confederated Tribes of Siletz website.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

HUM 221: Links on powwows

In class Wednesday, we saw the first part of a video on powwows called "Into the Circle." As I was watching it and observing your reactions, I was reminded of the first powwows I attended 10-12 years ago. I was bewildered at first, bored after a while ... just for a little while ... and then I started to get drawn into it as I got more comfortable with the beat of the drum, the singing, the amplified voice of Master of Ceremonies introducing dancers, explaining what was happening, telling jokes and just moving the event along like a good MC does at any event ... the booths with arts and crafts, recordings, books ... the woodsmoke drifting through the air ... the taste of "Indian tacos" (beans wrapped in fry bread) and buffalo meat sandwiches ... the whole spectacle that's like part county fair, part craft show and part, well, a community event you won't see anywhere else. I think going to a powwow is the best way to experience a little taste of "Indian Country" for just a few hours.

We have several coming up in Illinois in the next few months. I can't make assignments after the semester's over, but I hope you'll consider going to a powwow over the summer ... the Honor the Eagle Powwow sponsored by Midwest SOARRING at Starved Rock State Park the weekend of May 20-21 ... the Return to Pimiteoui Powwow at A.H Sommer Park off I-74 just west of Peoria the weekend of June 10-11 ... or any of the Illinois powwows listed on the 500 Nations powwow website. Please note that all powwows are drug- and alcohol-free. But you won't mind!

Julia C. White, author of a book called The Pow Wow Trail, has an excellent, beginner-friendly page of tips on visiting a powwow, what to expect and how to behave. If your computer has a sound card (as ours don't in the Dawson 220 computer lab), you get an added benefit -- a looped sound track that starts playing as soon as you open the page.

But before summer, there's finals. And there's going to be a question on your final exam about how Native music and dance traditions have adapted and changed over the years. In addition to Julia White's page, here are some links to help you ace the final:

  • The American Indian Culture Research Center at Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota has a good summary of the history and meaning of powwows, especially in Lakota country, the "powwow trail," the styles of powwow dancing and other basic information.
  • A group of Native dancers from Oklahoma has put up an excellent website on Southern Powwows that catches the spirit of the events, gives the history of their development among Southern Plains peoples like the Ponca and Osage, etiquette for visitors and the art form in general.

HUM 221 hints: 'What's on the final?'

I'm posting here an email message I got from a student, whom I won't embarrass by identifying, because her question ... and my answer ... should be of interest to others in Native American Cultural Expressions (Humanities 221). First, the question:

> Do you have any idea what you are going to have us do for our final in Hum. 221? I am just trying to get an idea of what I will need to do since it is a little over a week away.  If we have an A do we have to take the final, is it like Eng 111?? I was just curious! If you could either, email me back or mention this in class Friday I would appreciate it. Thanks
And then my answer:
Hi _____, thanks for asking. No, you'll need to write a final even if you've got an A ... It'll be a lot like the midterm, a 50-point essay maybe 3-4 pages long and a couple of 25-point brief (2- to 3-page) essays.

I haven't made out the exam yet, but I can practically guarantee the 50-point question will deal with how Native American people are adapting their cultural heritage today to art forms like literature (storytelling, poetry, etc.), music and dance, and film. One of the 25-point essays will be be one of those reflective essays I like so much, and one of them will probably be a reader response essay on a poem that I choose. It'll be take-home, open-book and it'll be due at the scheduled time for our final, which is Monday, May 1, at 10:30 a.m.
Next question?

A couple of further hints:

  • Look for commodification (or commercialization) and expropriation to appear somewhere on the final. Here's why: We live in a market economy, for better or worse, and it can be argued that art forms that don't have commercial value won't survive. So the question might read like this: How have Native Americans maintained traditional cultural means of expression -- like storytelling, dance, etc. -- in mass market American society?
  • We've been reading stories and poetry, and we watched a video about pow wow dancing this week. Next week I'm almost certain, barring technical difficulties beyond my control, to be screening an indie movie called Kusah Hakwaan that builds on the storytelling tradition of the Tlingit (pronounced KLINK-it) people of Alaska. And I'll also be asking about verbal arts, dance and film.
See where we're headed with this? This whole question of how cultural traditions adapt to survive in a modern world with a market economy is central to the course.

Monday, April 17, 2006

'Lining Out' 19th-Century Hymns

Written for members of the Charleston-Mattoon Sacred Harp Singers, before the annual Preachin' n' Singing, Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, Lerna, Illinois, Aug. 23, 1998. I "found" it today while cleaning out old files in the SCI campus literary magazine's website.

In the early 1800s, "lining out" the text of a sacred song was the prevailing practice in Illinois. In a 19th-century history of Coles County, it is described like this:
There were not song-books to hand around to the congregation, but the leader would arise with his old "Missouri harmony," containing the music written in "buckwheat" notes, and announce some familiar hymn. He would then read in solemn, monotonous tones the first two lines and lead the congregation in singing them. Then the next two lines would be read followed by singing, and so on until the hymn was finished. (Wilson 627-28)
More often a words-only hymn book was used, and tunes came down in oral tradition. Otherwise, the practice as described in Coles County was followed widely. In west central Illinois, a historian drew the word picture of a circuit rider who stands in a Canton church doorway and "reads, or rather recites [a] grand old hymn. ... It is sung by every man and woman present, sung with voices clear and loud" (Hevline 663). Often called the "Old Way," the practice dates back to the 1600s and survives among Old Regular Baptists in Appalachia, as well as some Primitive Baptist congregations (Temperley 511-13). Leaders often line out the text in tones that resemble chant.

Sunday we will line out the hymn "Amazing Grace" to the tune New Britain (45t) in The Sacred Harp. While we won't sound like we were born to the Old Way, and shouldn't try to, we can suggest some of the sound and flavor of 19th-century lined-out hymnody without violating its spirit.

Much individual freedom was allowed in singing -- to use the technical term, the music was heterophonic in that it allowed "simultaneous variation" of the melody (see Cooke 8: 537). Historian Jack Larkin says, "the pacing was very slow. ... Some singers added their own idiosyncratic quavers and trills on long notes" (252-53). The practice of Old Regular Baptists today is nearly identical. Jeff Todd Tinton of Brown University, who recorded Kentucky congregations in 1992 and 1993, says:
The leader sings the very first line [of a song] and the congregation joins in when they recognize the song. After that the song proceeds line by line: the leader chants a line alone, and then the group repats the words but to a tune that is much longer and more elaborate than the leader's chant or lining tune. ... It is very slow and has no regular beat: you can't tap your foot to it. (10-11)
Singing in the old way is mostly in unison, but singers are free to improvise harmonies. In fact Paul Drummond says that when Primitive Baptists line out a song, as they do on occasion, they commonly sing it in the four-part harmony of their song books (21). More often, singers embellish or ornament the melody. Says Titon:
Singers learn by following and imitating others, not by reading notes. Melodies are highly elaborated: many syllables have three or more tones, and a great many have at least two. ... Each Old Regular Baptist singer is free to 'curve' the tune a little differently, and those who are able to amke it more alaborate are admired. Outsiders are mistaken if they think the intent is singing with unified precision and that the result falls short ..." (11)
To singers who practice the Old Way, as with those who sing the Sacred Harp, music is fundamentally a matter of the spirit rather than aesthetics. Paul Drummond cites Primitive Baptists who believe good singing is not "pretty singing" but singing with "the heart ... in it" (22). Illinoisans of the early 19th century agreed whole-heartedly.

While the Old Way may appear strange at first glance, it isn't wholly unfamiliar to traditional Sacred Harp singers as some of its ornamentation survives to the present -- especially in the South. Buell Cobb says it "help[s] the singer to 'feel out' the melody When traditional tenors slip a la in between the printed sol and fa in the first line of New Britain, they are ornamenting in the Old Way. Country artists from Hank Williams Sr. to Emmy Lou Harris and Ricky Scaggs have used similar ornaments and embellishments.

Best bet: Sing naturally. Don't try to sound like you're from Appalachia. Do what feels most comfortable -- sing in unison, or sing your usual part. Be clear and loud. Put your heart in it. The singing may not always sound pretty, but it'll be good.

Works Cited

Cobb, Buell. The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and its Music. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Cooke, Peter. "Heterophony." New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 20 vols. New York: Grove, 1995.

Drummond, Paul. A Portion for the Singers. Atwood, Tenn.: Christian Baptist Library and Publishing Co., 1988.

Hevlin, Jesse, ed. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Fulton County. Chicago, 1908.

Larkin, Jack. The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.

Temperley, Nicholas. "The Old Way of Singing: Its Origins and Development." Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 (1981): 511-44.

Titon, Jeff Todd. "Old Regular Baptist Songs." Songs of the Old Regular Baptists: Lined-out Hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky. CD. Washington: Smithsonian Folkways SF CD 40106, 1994.

Wilson, Charles Edward, ed. Historical Encyclopedia and History of Coles County. Chicago, 1906.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Western Carolina Dulcimer Week

Editor's Note. I'm pasting in an schedule for the annual Western Carolina University Mountain Dulcimer Week workshop at Cullowhee, N.C., that I got the other day from Mike Anderson. (I'm not going to try to edit out those odd character strings where curly quotes and apostrophes, etc., got converted into ASCII characters in the email -- I figure we're all used to reading them.) Apparently he forwarded it from a Google listserv on dulcimers that I'm not familiar with. May as well leave that in, too. I'll probably want to subscribe to it come summer, when I have time for listservs, and I don't want to lose the address.

I've been attending the Western Carolina workshop since the late 90s, just before it moved to Cullowhee. It's by far one of its kind, and the best dulcimer-playing experience I've had. Bar none.


June 18-23, 2006, Cullowhee, NC

Half of the classes at Cullowhee (Western Carolina Univ. Mountain
Dulcimer Week) take place in the afternoon. They are not in the
catalog, but are listed below.

We invite you to join us and our staff of over 30 instructors for this
outstanding event that focuses with musicians’ love on one instrument -
the Mountain Dulcimer. There are classes to suit everyone’s skills,
goals and musical tastes. Participants register for their morning
course and then for afternoon electives. More details and on-line
registration are available on the WCU website,
http://edoutreach.wcu.edu/dulcimer .

MORNINGS (8:30-11:30) at Cullowhee feature choices of the following
week-long courses:
. Beginner Skills (BETTY SMITH & SARAH BORDERS) (Free loaner dulcimers
. Beginner-into-Novice Skills (ANNE LOUGH & JEFF SEBENS)
. Novice & Intermediate course in “SINGING WITH THE MOUNTAIN DULCIMER,”
. Novice & up course in “BOWING THE DULCIMER,” (KENNETH BLOOM)
. Intermediate Skills, with LARRY CONGER
. Intermediate thru Advanced course in “MUSICIANSHIP SKILLS, APPLIED
. Intermediate-into-Advanced Skills (KAREN MUELLER)
PHILLIPS) (limited to 10)

2-HR. AFTERNOON ELECTIVE CLASSES (2-4 p.m.). You register for these
after you have chosen your morning course:

Monday afternoon choices:
. Beginner Skills Coaching, Sarah Borders
. Beginner-into-Novice Skills Coaching, Jeff Sebens
. Novice Skills coaching, David Beede
. Meet the Artists: Alan Freeman & Susan Boyer Haley. Everyone welcome.
. Learning to Listen, WAYNE SEYMOUR. Beg.-into-Nov. thru Advanced.
. Christmas in June, Anne Lough. Advancing Novice thru Advanced.
. Creative Back-up Techniques, Aaron O’Rourke. Advancing Novice thru
. Bluegrass on Dulcimer, TERRY LEWIS. Advancing Novice thru Advanced
. Ensembles, Larry Conger. Intermediate.
. How to Hear Your Way Through a Jam Session, Kenneth Bloom,
Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Playing Chromatic Mountain Dulcimer, Stephen Seifert. Intermediate
thru Advanced.

Tuesday afternoon choices:
. Beginner Skills Coaching, Sarah Borders
. Beginner-into-Novice Skills Coaching, Jeff Sebens
. Dulcimer Maintenance, JOE SHELTON. Everyone welcome.
. Introduction to T’ai Chi Ch’uan, Don Pedi. Everyone welcome.
. Easy Rhythmic Strummed Tunes - Appalachian & Cajun, LOIS HORNBOSTEL.
Novice thru Advanced.
. Creating Dynamic Arrangements, Karen Mueller. Intermediate thru
. Noter Playing - Beyond the Basic!, Phyllis Gaskins. Intermediate thru
. Ragtime Music, Ken Bloom, ALAN FREEMAN, Janita Baker & Aaron
O’Rourke. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Jazzing up Traditional Tunes, Stephen Seifert. Intermediate thru
. Dulcimer Teachers’ Forum, Madeline MacNeil. For dulcimer teachers &
aspiring teachers.
. Intro to Writing Tablature on PC Computers (TablEdit), Terry Lewis.

Wednesday afternoon choices:
. Beginner Skills Coaching, Sarah Borders.
. Jamming with Chords for Newer Players, Lois Hornbostel. Advancing
Beginners thru Novice.
. Songs of the Pioneers, Ralph Lee Smith & Madeline MacNeil. Everyone
. Clogging Basics (dancing), FLORA MacDONALD GAMMON. Everyone welcome.
. Ballads on Dulcimer, Betty Smith. Novice thru Advanced.
. Gospel Music, Anne Lough. Novice & Intermediate.
. Four Equidistant String Playing, Janita Baker. Novice & Intermediate.
. Using the 1-1/2 Fret, Karen Mueller. Novice thru Advanced.
. Playing with Other Instruments, Wayne Seymour, DREW ANDREWS, JIM
GASKINS. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Whoopin’ & Hollerin’ Fiddle Tunes, Phyllis Gaskins. Intermediate thru
. Blues & Improvisation, Bill Taylor. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. TablEdit Software for PC Computers -Beyond Basics, Terry Lewis.
(experience with TablEdit).

Thursday afternoon choices:
. Yoga Stretch and Relax, BARBARA GOERGEN. Everyone welcome.
. Old Hymns on the Dulcimer, Betty Smith. All skill levels.
. Rounds & Canons, Janita Baker. All skill levels.
. Indonesian Gamelan Orchestra Playing, WILL PEEBLES. Everyone welcome.
. “On the Trail of the Old Songs” (where to find them), Ralph Lee
Smith. Everyone welcome.
. Mixolydian Mode Music, Wayne Seymour. Novice & Intermediate.
. Slow Fiddle Tunes, Don Pedi. Novice thru Advanced.
. Country Music, Bill Taylor. Novice thru Advanced.
. Celtic Music Sampler, Flora Gammon, Karen Mueller and Phyllis & Jim
Gaskins. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Classical Music, Larry Conger. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Journey thru “Pentatonia,” David Beede. Intermediate thru Advanced.
. Performing Skills, MIKE ANDERSON. All playing skill levels.

Besides these classes, the week includes mid-day and evening jam
sessions led by staff for different levels of experience, and lots of
informal jamming. The most beautiful new residence hall you’ve ever
seen. Get-Acquainted supper. Economical tuition. Economical
housing/meals package. Several local campgrounds and lots of hotels.
Three staff concerts. A Participants’ Open Stage. Play in the “WCU
Dulcimer Orchestra.” Shop the Dulcimer Marketplace for dulcimers and
related products. Be a volunteer and earn a free ‘06 WCU Dulcimer tote
bag. Get your dulcimer repaired or fine-tuned by our expert “Dulcimer
Doctor.” Staff “Super Jam.” Chair Massages. Free shuttle bus service
around campus for our participants. Continuing Education Unit credits
for teachers.

The Surroundings: Appalachian Dulcimer Heaven! Western Carolina
University is located in a Smoky Mountains valley, on the lower level
of a relaxed, small country campus. Facilities are modern and clean,
and there is plenty of parking. Cullowhee is right in the middle of one
Southern Appalachia’s favorite outdoor vacation areas, with many
natural and vacation attractions close by. We're 2 hours from
Knoxville, TN, 3 hrs. from Chattanooga, TN. 1 hr. from Asheville, NC. 3
hours from Atlanta, GA.

Come experience lots of fun and friendships as you take advantage of
the best mountain dulcimer classes you can find!

If I can answer any questions or help you, don’t hesitate to contact me
at Loisdulc@verizon.net

Lois Hornbostel, Director
WCU Mountain Dulcimer Week
Cullowhee, NC

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Friday, April 07, 2006

HUM 221: Tradition, family, 'what we do'

We're been talking about family in Humanities 221 lately, and how cultural values are passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter as in the case of Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso. Now comes a reminder that these values, and the role of families in handing them down aren't limited to Native people. I think they're universal.

In today's issue of The Chicago Sun-Times, there's a column by religion writer Cathleen Falsani that explores how Jewish religious traditions surrounding the Passover resemble American cultural traditions like Thanksgiving. The column is a review of a soon-to-be-released movie called "When Do We Eat?" Falsani says: "It's a classic holiday comedy -- in the vein of 'Home for the Holidays' and 'Christmas Vacation' -- but set around the Seder table at Ira and Peggy Stuckman's tony suburban home during Passover." Falsani explains:
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Passover, or Pesach, here's the 10-cent version: It's an annual eight-day festival that celebrates how God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.

The Seder is a special dinner held on the second night of Passover (though it's held on the first night in Israel) where the story of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt is retold using the Haggadah, a special text that is read aloud during the meal by different members of the family (blood or chosen) around the table.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but that's the Judaism 101 version, and you get the picture. Long meal, long stories, lots of wine and prayers.
Family gathered around a dinner table. Sound familiar? To Falsani, it does:
Like how my family can't officially start Thanksgiving dinner until someone's dislodged the scary, gelatinous log of tinned cranberry "sauce" (preferably with the ridges from the can still visible) onto a saucer, even though no one eats it.

Or how my husband's family will play this toss-the-bean-bag-through-the-hole-in-the-box game on the front lawn for hours -- HOURS! -- at any and all gatherings.

And how our family watches "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" after Christmas dinner, always pausing at the part where Randy Quaid winds up before he kicks kidnapped, pajama-clad Brian Doyle-Murray in the butt as they approach the Griswold family's front door, to rewind. Twice.

It's tradition.

It's what we do.

It's part of our story.
Part of the Seder tradition is to invite a goy, a gentile, to share the stories and the history as family members read from the Haggadah around the Seder table. Falsani recalls:
Six or seven years ago, I attended my first Seder. A colleague invited my husband and me to her parents' home in Skokie. We were made to feel part of the family that night as we read the story of the exodus, asked questions, debated the answers, drank wine and ate a lot of food.

There were arguments about reading the Haggadah too fast or too slowly, which parts to skip, which parts to linger over. But what I remember best and most fondly about my first Seder are the family stories told along with the story of the Israelites. Contemporary stories of struggles, deliverance and redemption. Their stories.

My friend's father passed away the next year. I cherish that Passover. I can still taste the gefilte fish and the kishka, still hear the family praying together in Hebrew, and their laughter.
OK, fine. All right, already. But what does Thanksgiving or Passover have to do with Native Americans? Falsani adds:
"When Do We Eat?" reminded me of how important it is (or should be) for families to tell and retell their stories. To remember where we've been, what God has brought us through -- big and small, good and bad.

It made me laugh and almost cry. It also made me hungry and homesick.
In the end, I think, cultural traditions are about home and family, about what we eat and what we do. No matter whether we're Navajo like Luci Tapahonso, Jewish like the characters in "When Do We Eat?" or kind of Brand X generic American like I am, our traditions go a long way to define who we are.

Falsani, Cathleen. "Passover Movie Shares Family's Seder Stories" Chicago Sun-Times April 7, 2006: 30.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Luci Tapahonso's "In 1864"

An experiment for HUM 221 --

We'll read "In 1864" by Navajo (Dine) poet Luci Tapahonso in class Wednesday. To take full advantage of the internet, you'll want to open two or three windows. First, click here to open the poem. Since the poem is about the "Long Walk" of the Navajo or Dine people, i.e. their forced removal by the U.S. Army from their homeland -- the Dinetah -- you'll want to open a Yahoo! map of New Mexico, too. (Scroll down to New Mexico and open the JPEG file.) The Dinetah is in the northwest corner of the state and stretches far into northeastern Arizona as well. Look for Farmington and Shiprock on the map, and the Chuska Mountains along the state line north of Window Rock, Ariz.

The historical background goes like this. In 1864 the Navajo were rounded up by troops under command of Gen. Kit Carson and marched southeast to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico, on the edge of the Great Plains. (You can see a label for part of the Great Plains. Look for the Llano Estacado in Texas, to the east of Fort Sumner. Part of the label has been cropped out.) There they tried to farm. But the country was very different from the high desert of the Dinetah, the weather was too dry to raise a decent crop and many people starved. After a few years, they were allow to return to the Dinetah.

Luci Tapahonso's poem is a story within a story. As it begins, she and her daughter are driving along a freeway -- I think it's Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque, but I'm not sure, and the exact route number doesn't matter anyway -- and they pass the turnoff to Fort Sumner. That reminds Tapahonso of a friend, a Navajo electrician, who took a job near where his people had suffered so much in the 1800s. But he couldn't stand it there, so he quit and returned to the high desert country of the Dinetah. To be among family and friends, he said. But also to get away from the spirits of the people who had died in the eastern plains. After Tapahonso tells her daughter this first story, they stop for a Coke. Then she tells the story of the Long Walk as they drive along. I think the poem ends on a note of optimism and celebration, as Tapahonso talks about the jewelry and cherished foods like frybread they learned to make in those times of sadness. But I don't want to force my interpretation on anybody else.

Some words you may not be familiar with:
arroyo a dry gully or gulch in the desert.
bilagaana Navajo word for white people.
Kit Carson A fur trapper, "mountain man" and U.S. military leader, hated by the Navajo.
Redshirt A name the Navajo used for Carson.
Canyon de Chelly Pronounced "canyon d'SHAY." An ancient center of Navajo civilization near Chinle in eastern Arizona.
Hwééldi A Navajo word meaning "fortress," applied to Fort Sumter.
Bosque Redondo The countryside around Fort Sumner. An article by the local Chamber of Commerce tells of the plans to teach the Navajo how to farm like white people went tragically wrong.
A fascinating article by a Navajo elementary school teacher named Sara Begay in Canku Ota: An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America, discusses a school trip through "Navajoland" (the Dinetah), the Long Walk and many points of Navajo history, language and culture. I recommend it highly.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Story, myth, reader response

HUM 221 student advisory --

This post adds a new persepctive to our thread on reader response. From Ireland, of all places.

It's from a novel called Ireland by Frank Delaney, a broadcaster for the BBC network in Great Britain who has written eight other novels. This one is about an Irish storyteller, or seanchai, and Avon brought it out in paperback in March. (Ever right up to date, I found it on the bookrack at Jewel-Osco about 9 p.m. last night, with three hours to go in the month.) In a little introduction up in the Roman numeral section of the book, Delaney says "to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination." Of course, he's not just talking about the Irish. And that's where HUM 221 and reader response come in. Delaney adds:
[W]e all do that. We merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All "truths" are only our truths, because we bring to the "facts" our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling -- from wherever it comes -- forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting on it we can see the trace elements of every tribe on earth. (v)
I would only add that by engaging ourselves with another person's story, we can add something to our own tribal elements, modify them and make them our own.

Footnote: I wasn't familiar with the word "seanchai," so I googled it. I found it it's pronounced SHAWn-a-kee, and it's the Gaelic word for a storyteller. I also found a really well written weblog called Blogh An Seanchai. It's by an Irish software developer who said it's "an Irish Gaelic word, to describe old guys who sat by the fire in the evening and told stories that meandered between fact and fantasy." After my own heart!