Reading Native American literature requires comprehending the culture from which the literature emerges. Drawing from the reservoir of myth and tradition, Native American writers retell the tales, giving part of themselves back to the community while participating in a spiritual process. Leslie Marmon Silko says that the ancient people perceived the world and their place as “part of an ancient continuous story composed of innumerable bundles of other stories.
- The long history of storytelling stands out as the most important element in the tradition; it contributes to individual self-definition and brings the community members together in a shared experience, giving them all a common identity.
- According to Silko, the Pueblo people traditionally relied on the collective memory “to maintain and transmit an entire culture, a world view complete with proven strategies for survival.” This collaborative process of telling stories ensures that the stories won’t be forgotten with the death of one (or more) member(s).
- Everything about the storytelling process is focused on remembering where the people came from and how that creation affects their current situation. Any question a child or an adult asks can be answered by telling the tale. It’s a way of bringing the community together (as the people interact, offering conflicting versions of the story).
- The myths are cumulative. It’s “the web” of all memories and ideas. The very existence of the stories provides security and identity.
- A sense of urgency pervades Native American Literature, centering around the fear that the people will forget–a blunder that would cause them to lose their sense of self, community, and spiritual focus.
- In Hopi Emergence: The Four Worlds, the storyteller urges the people to compose a song, so they won’t forget the creation story: “how the sun and the moon were made and how the people parted from one another.” According to the tale, “Only those who forget why they came to this world will lose their way. They will disappear in the wilderness and be forgotten.”
- The stories give the people a sense of importance, a feeling that their existence has a purpose, even meaning. The people never wanted (or needed) to wonder where they came from, why the sky was blue, or why they lived there. The knowledge offers security and self-definition, which keeps the community strong.