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Silko’s Ceremony

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History plays a significant role not only in understanding the past but also the present and future. The events of the past can shape our recent or following time, which can have an influence on our behavior, views, and even on culture. Although history, in fact, is our best teacher because we can either learn from it or repeat the same mistakes all over again, culture, on the other hand, is more like a ‘traditional leader’ and by following it we can maintain our own identity. There can be certain events that brake the ‘flow’ of culture, such as the death of the last living person who practices the traditions, or a country’s oppression over another. In other words, it will remain in the past and people will stop practicing it. One of the greatest factors which can affect both culture and history is war, which can destroy cultures and history.

However, by storytelling, culture can be saved. One of the greatest examples in which a certain culture dominates another in history is the war between Euro-Americans and Native Americans. The book called Ceremony is most significant because it preserves both culture and history. This essay attempts to analyse the significance of history and war by using Patricia Nelson Limerick’s The Legacy of Conquest in the cultural understanding of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.

The story of Ceremony is about a young Indian, Tayo, who serves as a U.S. soldier against the Japanese in the Second World War. During the clash between these different nations, Tayo is thinking about his family and at the moment of killing a Japanese person, his uncle, Josiah, comes to his mind which results in a false image according to which, in Tayo’s mind the dead Japanese is his own relative. The thought of shedding ‘his own blood’ makes Tayo sick and to help his situation, his comrades are trying to convince him about the false image of his uncle and reason him by stating that it must be impossible to kill someone who is not even there. As time is passing during the war, Tayo will have to face the death of his cousin, Rocky. After having experienced the death of his loved ones, our main character becomes sick and people are trying to take care of him in a Veteran’s Hospital, where he manages to have as much of his strength back which is enough for him to go home to the Laguna Pueblo reservation.

At his home, he feels guilty because of the death of his cousin and uncle, and he thinks that the draught is happening because of his prayer in the Philippines. Tayo is fighting his sickness and then he realizes that the war not only made its mark on him but also on his childhood friends, Harley, Leroy, Emo and Pinkie, who are trying to overcome the effects by drinking alcohol and talking about the good old war stories. After having seen Tayo’s condition, his grandma introduces him to a medicine man called Ku’oosh. The medicine man performs a ceremony which does not work, so he sends Tayo to another ‘healer’, Betonie, to a place called Gallup, where they decide to perform a new ceremony. The old medicine man of Gallup sends Tayo to find his uncle’s cattles, and after having found them Tayo becomes calm and he feels that the ceremony is almost finished. At the end, the protagonist finds his peace and ‘medicine’ which are resulting from nothing else but from his practice of Native-American traditions and culture.

The book calls our attention to the effects of wars. On one hand, they were treated as white people as long as they were ‘allies’ “I put on that uniform, and then by God I was a U.S. Marine and [people] came crowding around” (Silko 40) and they were also seen as the ‘heroes’, “the patriots who had fought to defend the interests of their people” (Limerick 217) but later, people wanted to get rid of Indians. Thus, war caused depression which made Native Americans sick, such as Tayo, or turned them into alcoholics, such as Harley. Although Indians had a sort of experience about battles, which people call “intertribal struggle [s]” (Limerick 216), they were not prepared for the greatest war which they had to wage against the newcomers.

As a result of this ‘new war’, a certain kind of anger and regret started to overwhelm the Indians. “They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took” (Silko 43). There was a shared pain and suffering which connected Indians somehow which “[they] can’t cure like [they] used to [,]… not since the white people came.” (Ceremony 38). The atrocities and wars lasted so long that the newcomers became a part of Indian culture, and even appeared in their prophecies “Caves across the ocean in caves of dark hills white skin people like the belly of a fish covered with hair” (Silko 135). The newcomers did not only become a part of Native-American culture but they wanted to erase it, Indians had to go to school in order to receive ‘proper’ and ‘normal’ education “Shamed by what they taught… in school about the deplorable ways of the Indian people; holy missionary white people… wanted only good for the Indians, white people… dedicated their lives to helping the Indians” (Silko 68).

Indians were trying to cope with this struggle and living up to newcomers’ traditions, they started to assimilate, for example, “a classic instance of Indian adaptability, the Navajos had shifted to herding the sheep, goats, and horses… they were encouraged to develop even larger herds” (Limerick 205). Cattle breeding became a necessity because of the draught, and it also became a part of Indian culture. Although this trial and assimilation process was important, the “range was badly overgrazed and contributed to the general problems of “Depression era dust storms.” (Limerick 206). Even though Indians tried to assimilate by integrating the provisions of newcomers, such as horses and cattle, into their own culture still, this was not enough for Euro-Americans and they wanted full domination.

Newcomers not only wanted to dominate the land of the Indians but also their traditions, habits, and beliefs. Although, at first, Indians were encouraged to breed cattle, “the herds had gone past the carrying capacity of the land, and the herds had to be reduced… [and] clarity ceased” (Limerick 206), which meant that people had to give up their identity, wealth and security. Cattle were essential for Native-Americans, especially when Tayo practiced the ceremony–because ceremonies were the bases of Indian traditions, they practiced them in order to honour the spirits and ask for guidance from them.

Culture did not only vary between newcomers and Native Americans, but between Indians as well. There were many differences between tribes, which can originate from their different habits and views. It is important to know that Laguna Pueblo Indians were peaceful and “Pueblo peoples were farmers, with the types of farming and associated traditions of property ownership varying among the groups”. Knowing the main character’s identity can help us understand why Tayo is not rebelling against the white people, and why he lets other people kill his friend Harley. According to Laguna Pueblos, violence could not be the remedy for violence and peacefulness served as a part of their culture. Indians were not really fighting against white people because they were the ones who created them according to their prophecies. In addition, according to their prophecy, white people achieved domination over the land and culture of Indians just because Native Americans let them. On the other hand, the newcomers could not have full domination because they could not ruin a culture in which they took an essential part. Thus, as long as someone is telling the stories of Native Americans, their culture cannot be fully possessed by anyone else but them.

As a person who was born as Laguna Pueblo, it is the duty of Leslie Marmon Silko to practice her culture and to tell the history of her people. Storytelling is one of the best ways to maintain one’s traditions and identity and to secure the survival of one’s culture “You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories” (Silko 2). The problem with Native-American history and culture is that mainly they were written and decided by outsiders and “anyone… became an ‘expert’ on the life of the Indian, all except the Indian himself.” (Limerick 218). Ceremony not only extends our knowledge and perspectives by giving us a chance to see the former ’world’ through the eyes of Indians, but helps us understand the effects of the war between the Indians and Euro-Americans.




Works Cited

Limerick, Patricia Nelson. The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. New York: Norton, 1987.

“Pueblo Indians”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. <>.

Shipler, David K. “Preface”. Crossing Boundaries In The Americas, Vietnam, And The Middle East: A Memoir. Jon Young. Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications,  < >

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1986. Print.

Weiser, Kathy. “Pueblo Indian Tribes – Oldest Cultures In The United States”. N.p. <>

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