|Leslie Marmon Silko- Laguna Pueblo-
In Silko’s “Ceremony” the scene at the mine includes traditional songs, prayers, dances, drums, ritual movements, and
dramatic address that make it distinctly Native American. It also embraces elements of a ceremony, particularly
movement, that often have a hypnotic effect, especially through repetition. Participants in such ceremonies can reach an
altered state of consciousness in which emotions are redirected to a greater awareness, and breath, heartbeat, thought,
and emotion are all one.
Ceremonies are held for many reasons, including for changes in season, for crops, and for "purification," especially of
war veterans. Tayo, a veteran of World War II, suffers from what contemporary readers would call post-traumatic stress
disorder; he needs help to return to his tribal ways.
The mine scene, depicts the final ceremony in his purification. In The Sacred Hoop, Paula Gunn Allen states that Tayo's
illness is the result of separation from the land, his people, and American Indian ceremonies. He must enter into certain
rituals to heal his personal illness, the deterioration of the physical landscape, and the disintegration of the community.
The height of this cosmic ceremony occurs at the uranium pit when Tayo hides behind a boulder and watches Emo,
Leroy, and Pinkie torture Harley.
Drumming occurs in the scence as Pinkie slams a tire iron repeatedly on the hood of the car. There is repetition, a
significant four times, as Emo shouts to Harley, "We told you [...] We told you [...] We told you [...] We told you [...]." Emo,
Leroy, and Pinkie move ritually, throwing dry tumbleweed into a fire, "holding them high over their heads and circling the
fire before they let go". The fire grows higher; the drums beat on the car hood; Harley is dragged from the car and
stripped, and Tayo loses some consciousness: "his heart went numb in his chest, and he wasn't aware of his own rapid
breathing any more".
This part of the ceremony climaxes with Emo laughing and Pinkie stepping on Harley's throat. The wind suddenly kicks up
and the clouds dramatically battle the moon, shedding light and dark on the battleground in front of Tayo. Nature is now
also a participant in the ceremony. At this moment, Tayo speaks to himself and addresses the universe. He sees the
stars and suddenly understands that he is just one part of a long story taking place under these same stars. Tayo begins
to reach a greater awareness of himself and his role in life.
The sacrifice of Harley is vital for Tayo to witness and to understand as part of his purification ceremony. Until that
moment, Tayo incorrectly believed that if he had died in the war, instead of his cousin Rocky, or if he had returned home
in time to help his grandfather, Josiah, the land would have received rain and his people would not be suffering from
drought. Tayo does not yet understand death or that the death of two people cannot influence the "prosperity of the
entire tribe". This misunderstanding prevents Tayo from feeling whole and blocks his growth as a tribesman and
contributing member of his community.
Allen states that Tayo needs to learn that "the departed souls are always within and part of the people on earth, that they
are still obligated to those living on earth and come back in the form of rain regularly (when all is well), so that death is a
blessing on the people, not their destruction". By witnessing the sacrifice, Tayo begins to understand that Harley made
his own choices and that Tayo is not responsible for Harley's death or for the deaths of Rocky and Josiah. This
understanding removes a layer of punishing guilt that Tayo has felt and allows him to embrace the natural order of life
and proceed with his purification rituals.
Emo and his friends leave the scene, but the ceremony continues. Tayo begins to move, even though he is exhausted.
He is experiencing prayer, another element of the traditional ceremony. Even though "his bones and skin are staggering
behind him," he moves forward with a sense of purpose because he has achieved physical and spiritual harmony. He
also gains a sense of the "sacredness of place" as he pictures the sandy hill where he will gather seeds for Ts'eh, and
he envisions the results: "The plants would grow there like a story, strong and translucent as the stars." As he walks, he
begins to dream, even though his eyes are open. Suddenly he is no longer walking toward the hills; he has shifted in time.
He is a baby in back of Josiah's wagon. He hears the wind and sees the rumps of the two mules pulling the wagon. He
was going home then, and Tayo realizes that he is going home now, too.
According to Allen, the ceremony is important because it integrates the person into the tribe and creates a feeling of
community within the tribe. Tayo has learned through the ceremony at the mine that he is not alone. He has learned that
he is a part of the tribe, the land, the old rituals, and the universe.
Tayo has learned that he truly wants to be part of his tribe, that he has found meaningful work to do, and that he is able
to take meaning from the tribal customs. Purified, he is now ready to join the tribe. He heads to the elders in the village
so that his tale will be added to the long story that has been in the telling since time began.
Leslie Marmon Silko's reputation rests upon her ability as a storyteller, and her output of poems has been relatively
small. Her poems are a central part of her work as a writer, however, and she often uses the forms of poetry even in the
middle of such works of prose fiction as Ceremony.
She makes little use of simile and metaphor in her verse, with image and narration being the key elements. Her
autobiographical book Storyteller is an interesting combination of old photographs, conventional short stories, and story
poems. Silko herself denies that some of her poems are poems, seeing them instead as stories placed on the page with
line breaks which help to replicate more clearly the motion of a storytelling voice.
The world of Silko's poetry is very much shaped by a Native American consciousness. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
she was brought up at Laguna Pueblo among relatives whose roots went back many generations in traditional ways.
Though regarded as one of the most acculturated of the pueblos, Laguna still possesses a strong sense of history and
continuity. On the other hand, because Laguna adopted many European ways (and a number of whites who married into
the pueblo, Silko's "great-grandpa Marmon" among them), it is not surprising that it has produced not only Silko but also
several other significant writers whose concerns are those of the "half-breed," the person of mixed blood.
Rather than viewing this heritage as a curse, Silko has used European literary forms to move toward the strength of the
Laguna earth and the stories of her family. These stories are both personal reminiscences and very old myths, and at
times the two blend. The boundary lines between the real world and the world of legends and between the modern and
the ancient, though continuing past are very thin in all of her work. Indeed, her sense of time is not at all a European one.
The reader feels that in her poems all things are very much interconnected. Her world is a world of both tremendous
changes brought by Western civilization and a lastingly strong natural environment (of which the Native American is part)
in which everything is possessed of the power to be and become.
Changing is an important theme in Silkos work. "Bear Story" tells of how the bears can call people to them and make
them become bears themselves. There are characters in Laguna and other Southwestern Indian stories (the stories
which she grew up with and which she always returns to) who are changers, who make others change, and who can
change themselves. The coyote is a prime example. The earthy, ironic humor in the poem "Toe'osh: A Laguna Coyote
Story" has made it one of her most often-quoted poems.
Silko is also a writer who celebrates the strength of women, and the title of her first book, Laguna Woman, underscores
her identification with her own sex. Whether it is Silko herself, the mythic Yellow Woman, or her own grandmother, Marie
Anaya Marmon, the women in Silko's poems are strong, independent, even wildly indomitable.
Where Mountain Lion Lay Down with Deer
In such poems as "Where Mountain Lion Lay Down with Deer" we see Silkos non-Western sense of time. Things from
past and present coexist and change each other:
pale blue leaves
crushes wild mountain smell.
up the gray stone cliff
where I descended
a thousand years ago
Returning to faded black stone
where mountain lion lay down with deer.
roles in this place, are charged with a different mythic power. Silko says later in the same poem that
the old songs are all forgotten
and the story of my birth.
How I danced in snow-frost moonlight
distant stars to the end of the Earth ...
Her words are not a lament, however. They do not convey a sense of loss but rather a deep continuity which goes
beyond conventional ideas of individual reality. Although she is a child of more than one culture, her voice clearly speaks
for the Native American way—not a way which is gone, but one which continues beyond time, changing and unchanged.
Velie, A. R. Four American Indian Literary Masters: N. Scott Momaday, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Gerald
Erdrich, H. E. Sister Nations: Native American Women Writers On Community (Native Voices). 2002.
Works by Silko
Storyteller (poems and short stories) 1981
Laguna Woman (poems) 1974
Ceremony (novel) 1977
Almanac of the Dead (novel) 1991
Sacred Water (nonfiction) 1993
Yellow Woman (nonfiction) 1993
|Leslie Marmon Silko