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Thinking of Thought Woman, Leslie Marmon Silko - Poem of the Day Native American Heritage Month

Spiderwoman/Thought Woman. Art by Jade Red Moon.
Leslie Marmon Silko is one of those writers who have contributed to my understanding of the world as a Native American woman.  Some of the passages in her novels read like poetry to me and remind me of the voice of my own Navajo mother.  In fact, writers like Silko and Paula Gunn Allen, Native women of the same generation as my mother have perspectives very similar to those she passed on to me.  

Raised in a still very traditional Navajo culture (my grandparents did not speak English and were completely traditional in both dress and worldview) she and other young Native women of her generation left their respective reservations in the 1960's and 1970's to be greeted by an America that had only recently undergone the Civil Rights Movement and in the midsts of the Women's Rights Movement.  My mother saw in this movement a great deal of her own matrilineal Navajo traditions and threw herself enthusiastically into working for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is hard to imagine what it is like to be a young woman, to leave all you know, traditions that are clear and in your favor to enter a world where such surety does not exist.  Not as a brown woman in color conscious society, not as a woman in a society that favors men, not as a traditional Navajo in a Judeo Christian society that knows nothing about your cosmological underpinnings.  So, when she raised me in Suburbia, she took great pains to help me bridge those worlds.  

She was proud that Navajo traditions valued women and that these ideas were now being embraced by Euro-American culture.  She emphasized to me the importance of women and their role in the Navajo concept of the world and told me the stories of Changing Woman and her sister White Shell woman.  She made sure I knew my clans and the stories of my clan - a matrilineal line that stretches back to Changing Woman, herself in Navajo culture.  She told me that my clan the Kinyaani (Towering House People) were the first clan of the Navajo people and the first Kinyaani woman (my many-greats grandmother) was made my Changing Woman herself.  In the songs of my cheii (my grandfather), the chants he constantly sang I could hear the rhythms of a continuity that to this day puts me at ease.  I know things are right, even as he would start singing a chant as my masani (grandmother) lectured him about not doing the dishes the night before.  He would smooth over small mishaps and my mother explained to me that he had turned one of his songs, a riding song (songs sung for riding on horseback) into a powerful prayer.  Navajos do not pray the way European Christians do, "I want this, give me that" but it is instead an imagining of the world as they want it to be: "When I ride I will meet friendly people who will give me water and good food when I stop to talk to them, when I ride home I will have a safe and quick journey back." This is how those songs and prayers went with a tempo of confident, soothing optimism of life which is often translated as Hozho, harmony.  It is in this way that I read Silko's writing and how it speaks to me, even though, she is from another Southwestern people, the Laguna Pueblo, there is a cultural similarity that her words feed and nourish and help me navigate this strange between world we modern Native people live in.

I will tell you something about stories,"
[he said] 
They aren't just entertainment. 
Don't be fooled. 
They're all we have, you see. 
All we have to fight off illness and death. 
You don't have anything 
if you don't have the stories. 
Their evil is mighty, 
but it can't stand up to our stories. 
So they try to destroy the stories, 
but the stories cannot be confused or forgotten. 
They would like that. 
They would be happy 
because we would be defenseless then.
 [He rubs his belly]
 I keep it in here,
[he said] 
Here, put your hand on it. 
It is moving. 

Ts' its' tsi' nako, Thought-Woman,
is sitting in her room
and what ever she thinks about
She thought of her sisters,
Nau' ts' ity' i and I' tcs' i,
and together they created the Universe
this world
and the four worlds below.
Thought-Woman, the spider,
named things and
as she named them
they appeared.
She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now
I'm telling you the story
she is thinking.
Jacqueline Keeler
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1 comment:

Mr. Wesley said...

Thanks for sharing your insights and connections.