Leslie Marmon Silko was born on March 5, 1948. Silko is a Native American writer of the Laguna tribe. The novel ceremony, first published in 1997, tells a story about Tayo a veteran fighter involved in fighting in the World War II. Tayo is half-white and half-Indian. Upon arrival from fighting in Japan Tayo succumbs to mental illness and is admitted for a while in a veteran’s hospital. When Tayo is finally discharged he engages in liquor drinking before he tries to regain his Native American roots. Silko demonstrates throughout the novel that where there is a clash of cultures, then merging and borrowing of various cultural aspects is likely to occur.
This novel does not follow the standard article writing format. There are no chapters but rather the novel is arranged in non-numbered sections. The novel starts and ends as a poem. These poems which are based on native stories have been used throughout the novel. This novel remains a Native American novel because it embraces the culture and practices of the Native American. The first scene in the novel where we see culture conflict is in the white schools where white teachers discourage the practice of the Native American culture. The Native American children eventually abandoned their culture and practices due to constant degradation of the Native American culture. The subsequent generations of the Native Americans eventually avoided their agricultural practices which eventually lead to drought. The situation was exacerbated when land is eventually set aside for military activities and mining. This together with pollution led to drought in the region. The natives eventually sought white collar jobs. However, racial discrimination denied the Native Americans a chance to get jobs.
Silko has used a combination of poetry, dream visions, stories metaphors images and symbols which portrays the book as a Native American book. The use of poetry and stories in the novel is similar to that used by the Native Americans. Information among the Native Americans was passed orally from one generation to another. This was done by poems, stories and songs which were narrated to the younger generations. The act of storytelling among the Native Americans was not only an avenue to pass on history and region but was also done for entertainment purposes. Telling narratives and stories was considered a ceremony that provided a link between the mythical duties and the people themselves whose ritual life is based on the myths,
The Native Americans values were directed towards being at peace with the environment and other people. There is great contrast between Native Americans core values and those of the English Americans. Native Americans had an open work ethic, which was always directed to a distinct purpose (Spicer pg10). Native Americans participated in farming as one of their economic activities. But as explained in the novel the ceremony, non-native Americans were much more interested in economic activities such as mining and military activities which led to drought in the region. Unlike the English Americans, Native Americans upheld mutualism which promoted a sense of belonging and solidarity within the community (Spicer pg 10). However, European Americans promoted competition and personal work ahead of cooperation. These differences in culture between native and English Americans are highlighted in this novel through visions poems and stories. The natives also believed that everything in the region had failed due to invasion by the English Americans and referred to this as witchery. This is depicted when Tayo seeks treatment from the witchdoctor ku’oosh who explains that nothing really works after the whites’ invasion. This also shows the deep belief in myths among the Native Americans. However, another witch doctor who integrates modern day and traditional practises succeeds in convincing the community that there is need for change.
“At one time, the ceremonies as they had been performed were enough for the way the world was then. But after the white people came, elements in this world began to shift, and it became necessary to create new ceremonies. I have made in the rituals. The people mistrust this greatly, but only the growth keeps the ceremonies strong” (Silko pg33).
Previously the pueblo Indians also referred to as Native Americans, had survived several attempts by various other civilizations to thwart their culture and ceremonial lifestyle (Spicer pg 8). This novel is written at a time when the Native Americans have already succumbed to these attempts. However, there has been a realization that it is necessary to somehow absorb other cultures into theirs. Silko demonstrates in the ceremony the need to change the modern day activities to meet the present day realities. This is shown through the modern medicine man practises. The medicine man is partly a mixed race person. Previously the Native American traditions had barred a mixed race person from being a medicine man. In this book the ceremony is opened by three poems .Metaphors and vision dreams are used throughout the poems.In the first poem a woman named ts’ its’ tsi’ inako creates the world with her sisters by thinking and naming things (Silko pg2). This clearly shows the application of stories and visions in the native American culture. The second poem similarly focuses on the power of stories. This poem named ceremony emphasizes on the important role of story in the Native American culture. Poems which tell about the Native American stories have been used throughout the novel.
The novel ceremony clearly shows a clash of two cultures. The Native Americans are unwilling to accept the culture introduced by the English Americans. However, subsequent generations of the Native Americans finally adopted these practises through education. With modernization, the culture of a community is likely to evolve. Embracing the new beneficial practises from different cultures does not necessarily mean that there is erosion of the dominant culture.