[This essay originally appeared in Studies in American Indian Literatures 11.3 (Fall 1999): 2-21.]

The Kaupata Motif in Silko's Ceremony:
A Study of a Literary Homology

        From a formal critical perspective, one of the most intriguing things about Leslie Marmon Silko's first and perhaps still best-known novel, Ceremony, is the recurrent presence of embedded text -- passages set apart from the surrounding prose narrative and typeset to look more like poetry than prose: center justified on the page, surrounded by white space, and oddly skeletal-looking in the context of the margin-to-margin prose preceding and succeeding them. Most of these parcels of embedded text also read like old-time, traditional oral narrative -- what at Laguna Pueblo they often call "hama-ha[h]" stories, long-ago far-away stories.(1) Formally, their presence evokes the question of their relation to Keresan oral tradition on the one side and to the prose narrative on the other. This question is located at the heart of the broader and equally intriguing question of how contemporary Native American poetry and fiction generally relate to the oral traditions from which they derive.

        To help focus such questions, I'd like to direct attention to a single portion of the embedded text in Ceremony. In the longest of the approximately thirty(2) items of embedded text in the novel, Silko (or her invisible but omniscient narrative persona) re-tells the story of Sun Man's encounter with the evil katsina of the north mountain, Kaupata the Gambler. Silko's re-telling of this story is a particularly interesting example of how she relates her novel not only to Laguna oral tradition but also to the ethnographic record of that tradition.

        I say "re-telling of this story" for several reasons. For one, we know from Ruth Benedict that the Kaupata story was still being commemorated annually during the winter solstice ceremonies at Acoma and Laguna at least as late as 1930,(3) indicating that the story was still an important episode in the ceremonial life of the people; and we have no reason to believe the story wasn't still in circulation for Silko to hear one generation later. For another, Silko has spoken and written frequently about the novel's indebtedness to Laguna oral tradition, particularly as those traditional materials were told to her by the storytelling men and women on the paternal side of her family tree,(4) and I have no doubt that much of the texture, and also much of the text, of the novel derives directly from oral tradition the way Silko says it does.

        However, the performance of Ceremony involves not only the "re-telling" but also, in a more familiar mode for many readers, the re-writing of Laguna story, and the novel contains clear tracks of print-text precedents as well as the textural echoes of those remembered live voices. When Silko wrote Ceremony she had not only Laguna oral tradition but also a substantial ethnographic print tradition to draw upon, and it isn't difficult to establish the presence of this written ethnographic tradition in Silko's novel generally or in her version of the Kaupata story in particular. Several instances of Silko's indebtedness to the ethnographic record, one involving Leland Wyman's edition of the Navajo Red Antway ceremony and the other involving Franz Boas's Pacayanyi and Hummingbird Man stories, have already been demonstrated,(5) and a similar case can be made for the origins of Silko's Kaupata story. At least three written-in-English versions of the story of Sun Man and Kaupata predate Silko's version in Ceremony and the virtually identical version published in her 1981 collection Storyteller under the title "Up North." The earliest of these three ethnographic studies is a story titled "Ko-pot Ka-nat" in John Gunn's 1917 collection Schat-Chen, subtitled "History, Traditions and Narratives of the Queres Indians of Laguna and Acoma"; the second is the story titled "Kaupata" published in 1928 in the English translation volume of Franz Boas's Keresan Texts; and finally there is Ruth Benedict's "Kaupata," one of the "Eight Stories from Acoma" published in the 1930 volume of Journal of American Folklore.(6) A partial study of the similarities and differences among these three texts, and of their relation to the Kaupata story titled "Up North" in Storyteller, has already been published.(7) The text of "Up North"and the text of the Kaupata story published as part of Ceremony are virtually identical, and anyone who has read both Boas's version and either "Up North" or the Kaupata story in Silko's Ceremony will have noticed the strong similarity, and in several passages the word-for-word identity, of these two texts.(8)

        I will have more to say later about what I think we should make of such intertextual identities; first, though, a word about Silko's own two print versions of the Kaupata story. As others have already pointed out,(9) in Native American literary traditions context largely determines meaning. We should keep this in mind when considering the relationship between the Kaupata story that appears under the title "One Time" in Silko's 1981 Storyteller and the version that appears in her 1977 Ceremony. Considered purely as texts, the two versions differ by only a few words and one or two typefont variations. Their literary contexts, however, are very different. In Storyteller, the Kaupata story is one of 66 typeset pieces and 26 photographs comprising a delicately-structured scrapbook of Laguna story tradition in most of its many genres. Practically speaking (and consistent with Laguna aesthetics) the context for each piece in Storyteller is all the other pieces in Storyteller, all of which together are in turn, as Silko puts it, just a "portion" of "the whole story/ the long story of the people" (Storyteller 7): the proper context for any part of the "long story of the people" is the entire Laguna oral tradition. In Ceremony, however, the Kaupata story (like each of the other embedded stories or story fragments) appears formally as one of several islands in an otherwise seamless stream of prose narrative: formally, the immediate context for each of these embedded hama-ha stories in the novel is the prose narrative in which it is embedded.

        In the novel, this formal relationship between text and context implies a functional relationship as well. Let me turn attention, then, to one of the important ways Silko's 1977 version of the Kaupata story is working within the novel, particularly with respect to the Mt. Taylor episode it formally precedes. Like each and all of the novel's other embedded texts, the Kaupata story's presence proposes an extra dimension of authority to the prose narrative. This extra authority lies not so much in either the accuracy of Silko's portrait of post-WWII Laguna life or the presumed authenticity of the embedded text, either of which might be sufficient to guarantee the novel's place in the canon of American literature.(10) Rather, it lies in the novel's ceremonial texture, a byproduct of what I want to call the homological relationship that Silko proposes between prose narrative and embedded text(s). I say "homological" rather than "analogical" partly because an analogy might always be a product of chance or individual (or even idiosyncratic) perception, whereas a homology, in the biological sense of that term at least, exists only where two or more analogous entities are derivatives of some preceding entity, the way that for instance siblings are related and share some characteristics because they have a parent (or two) in common. An analysis of the relationship between prose narrative and embedded text which presumes homology rather than merely analogy as the basis of their similarities would go a long way towards accounting for the recurring sense that Tayo's experience on Mt. Taylor, like most of the other prose narrative episodes, is a ceremonial event by virtue of being a re-happening of that "long story of the People" of which he is, and is constantly becoming, a part. This "long story," that is, can be understood as the author, the genitor, of both the embedded texts and the prose narrative, both of which texts re-embody that older, more "original" pretext. This genesis gives rise to the authority of homology.

        This homology exists along at least four axes of Silko's literary performance. There is first of all the homology of character. On this axis, Tayo and Sun Man are homologues, as are the spotted cattle and the stormclouds, Texan Floyd Lee and Kaupata, the two redneck fence riders and Kaupata's guard ducks, and of course Ts'eh and Ts'its'tsi'nako (Spider Grandmother).

        There is then the homology of function. By this I mean the more or less allegorical correspondence between the two plots. I say "more or less" because classical allegory presupposes that one level of such a correspondence is more real, or more significant, or more in control of the structure than the other. In the case of the relationship between embedded stories and episodes of the prose narrative in Ceremony, though, neither member of the homological pair governs or generates the other; rather, both versions are embodiments of their shared "backbone" story.(11) The functional homology between the Kaupata story and Tayo's Mt. Taylor episode is rather straightforward: x [Sun Man or Tayo] goes to recover y [stormclouds or spotted cattle] from the mountain stronghold of z [Kaupata or Floyd Lee], first obtaining a template story from [Spider Grandmother or Ts'eh] which maps in accurate detail the sequence of imagery and event to come; aided by this previewing story, x is enabled to see what his would-be deceiver sees, and then some. What gives the protagonist that margin of vision, of course, is the story x comes to this encounter with, compliments of Ts'its'tsi'nako, the Mother of All Storytellers and ultimately the origin of all homologies.

        Thirdly, there is the homology of cultural context. By this I mean to suggest that all of the various versions of the Kaupata story, in voice and in print, are all, equivalently, fleshings out of a single vertebra of the spirit backbone of story -- that "long story of the People" of which Silko speaks in Storyteller. From this perspective, the portion of the prose narrative in which Tayo re-happens that story is properly read as one more equivalent version of that backbone story. As a source of the stories' authority, this homological principle of cultural context -- which is also a principle of synchronicity -- should, I believe, displace the more familiar, but diachronic, principle that chronological precedence bestows authority. For instance, and to the point: diachronically, the identical wording of several passages in Boas's Kaupata text and Silko's embedded story begs us to read Silko's version as indebted to Boas's and not vice-versa. But it is also the case -- and I'm saying we should accord this point critical primacy over the former one -- that they both derive from the same source. This homological dimension is an inevitable, and indeed necessary, aspect of literary traditions in the oral mode: it behooves one always to keep in mind that sometimes subtle distinction between the story performance and the story that is being performed, and look to the preservation of the latter over the celebration of the former. There is no other way to imagine the value of continuity. Or of recovery.

        The final axis of homology I want to point to is the homology of motif. It is in the nature of narrative that imagery indicates event; all literary allusion depends upon our ability and willingness to recognize that when, for instance, Ken Kesey dresses McMurphy in boxer shorts covered with white whales, he is invoking Melville's novel as pretext, if only for the purpose of generating a low-grade pun about a moby dick. In allusion, though, authority and meaning are transferred from the pretext to the present text; in a homological relationship, authority and meaning derive from the backbone story which two or more "retellings" are re-tellings of. Of course, many readers come to Silko's novel never having heard or read any version of the backbone story implicated in both the seven-page embedded Kaupata story and the Mt. Taylor episode which immediately follows it in the text of the novel. My point here is that Silko keeps faith with the long body of Laguna tradition in her novel by creating a homological relation between the two, even though this homological relation can easily be read as a merely allusive one in which the authority and meaning of the Mt. Taylor episode are derived from the embedded Kaupata story which immediately precedes it in the text.

        The following are two extended working examples of this homological relationship between embedded text and prose narrative in the novel.


        One of the homologies of motif that Silko uses to weave the Tayo narrative in with the Kaupata story has to do with the star patterns that appear in both the pretext tradition, including Silko's retelling of it, and in the prose narrative. Near the end of the story, as Tayo is completing the fourth phase of the ceremony just as "the sun was crossing the zenith to a winter place in the sky" (247), he comes to understand that "The stars had always been with [the people], existing beyond memory, and they were all held together there" (254); but Silko shows him coming to that understanding already in the second phase, the Mt. Taylor phase of his ceremony of recovery. Survival for both Sun Man and Tayo, first in the Mt. Taylor episode and then again in the Jackpile Mine episode, depends at least in part upon knowing how the constellations in the early night sky are configured at the time of the autumnal equinox.

        In the prose narrative, one of the four signs that it is time for Tayo to undertake the second phase of the novel's postwar recovery ceremony is the star pattern that Betonie draws for Tayo, the "Big Star" pattern, appearing in the north sky. In the prose narrative, Tayo finally sees this constellation appearing "in the north" behind Mt Taylor in "late September" (178) -- that is, at the time of the autumnal equinox. From Tayo's perspective, this constellation visually "frames" Mt Taylor, which looms to the northwest of Laguna village both within and without the novel; likewise it is an image that formally frames the Mt. Taylor episode in the text. This is the pattern Ts'eh directs Tayo's and the reader's attention to at the beginning of the Mt. Taylor episode by saying "The sky is clear. You can see the stars tonight" (178); it is also the pattern that Tayo perceives painted, in white on black, on the war shield hanging on the north wall of the otherwise deserted hunting cabin when he returns with Robert to collect his cattle at the end of the episode (214).

        In Boas's Kaupata as in Silko's, the constellations that Grandmother Spider tells Sun Man to look for are the Pleiades and Orion rather than the Big Star pattern. But even without Grandmother Spider's preview to prompt him, at the time of the autumnal equinox Sun Man would be able to solve Kaupata's life-or-death star riddle just by being able to "see through" the leather pouches hanging to the east and the south on the wall of Kaupata's high mountain abode. At that time of year, in these latitudes, the Pleiades and Orion appear to emerge in the east and travel upwards to the south, Orion following behind the motion of the Pleiades.

        I suspect it is no coincidence that when we merge the orientating star imagery from the prose narrative with that of the Kaupata pretext, we get a sketch of the autumn equinoctial sky in both directions, as it appears looking to the north and west and as it appears to the south and east. The "vision" encoded in the one story complements and completes the vision of the other. In the traditional Kaupata story, this vision motif gets expanded one more step: in the final phase of his encounter with Kaupata, and this time without a prompt from Spider Grandmother's story, Sun Man has to "see" that Kaupata's final ruse is to trick Sun Man into using the yellow flint knife to cut out Kaupata's heart. What makes Kaupata's offer a trick is that spirit, like energy in the First Law of Thermodynamics, cannot be destroyed but only transformed. That is why Kaupata cannot destroy the shiwanna (rainclouds) but only take them out of circulation. And that is why the proper gesture of triumph over Kaupata's trickery is to appropriate Kaupata's vision, as it were, and add it to the eternal "picture" by making his eyes the "horizon stars of autumn" (176), low in the south sky at the time of the autumnal equinox. In the prose narrative, Tayo never directly encounters the absentee Texan Floyd Lee who has fenced in the North Top of Mt Taylor to keep the stolen cattle in and coyotes and Indians out, but then again he doesn't need to. He need only discover, in himself and in the world, the "heart" of Ck'o'yo witchery -- to be able to see how it works by taking life out of circulation -- in order to become one who is capable also of re-embedding that motive in the larger pattern of eternal verities represented by the stars in both the prose narrative and the Kaupata tradition that informs it.

        My other working example has to do with those spotted cattle, the ones whose instinctive internal compasses always point them southward rather than north.


        One of the defter image transpositions Silko makes to "update" the traditional Kaupata stories is her substitution of speckled (or spotted) cattle for stormclouds. In either case, the missing element clearly represents ongoing life for the People; however, a herd of cattle seems not only infinitely more realistic, to a reading audience, as an object of recovery than a family of Cloud People, but also provides Silko with an opportunity to weave the image of her hero more clearly into identity with the object of his quest.

        As Silko crafts it, both Tayo and the cattle are hybrids of a variety new to Laguna: the speckled cattle are originally Mexican, continually described as a virtual cross between cattle and desert antelope, characterized by the brown-and-white pattern of their hide, while Tayo is apparently originally Gallup-born, a cross between Indian and Anglo, "brown" and "white." The visual identity of Tayo with the cattle he is destined to recover is sealed a page or two before Tayo returns to Gallup to visit with Betonie, when Tayo returns to Cubero to visit the abandoned Lalo's place. His memory full of the story of his prewar encounter with the Night Swan here, Tayo absentmindedly stripes the back of one hand with white gypsum adobe plaster; what appears on the back of his hand is "a spotted pattern" (104), white on brown. This is, of course, the color pattern appearing on the hides of the Mexican cattle. It is also a brown-and-white preview of the black-and-white pattern of night sky and stars on the war shield that will commemorate his recovery of the spotted cattle at the end of the Mt. Taylor episode. It is also the pattern in the finger-sketched sand painting that Betonie makes for Tayo to see at the end of the Mt. Chuska episode (152), a star pattern that is part of a perceptual map that, come the autumnal equinox, will guide Tayo to Mt. Taylor, where he will discover the stolen cattle and effect their recovery, along with his own, back onto Laguna land and back into the mainstream of Laguna life.

        Silko reinforces the homological identity between the stormclouds and the cattle by attributing to both an identical motion with respect to the topography of the mountain. When Tayo liberates the cattle they move, as Ts'eh points out, the way both deer and water move when their motion carries them towards Laguna during the onset of the Koshare season in the Fall: "They went just like the run-off goes after a rainstorm, running right down the middle of the arroyo" (210), following the gullies and arroyos streaking down the southeast side of the mountain in the direction of Laguna village.

        The cattles' adherence to the topography of the Laguna landscape is probably even more homologically driven than I have suggested above. As mentioned previously, both the stormclouds of Keresan oral tradition and those to which both the spotted cattle and Tayo are homologically related in the prose narrative should be recognized as the traditional Cloud People, the shiwanna. According to both Boas and Swan,(12) the Keresan shiwanna come in differing forms associated with each of the cardinal directions (four in Boas, six in Swan); one of these forms, strongly associated with the north or northwest at both Laguna and Acoma, is heyaashi, the kind of airborne moisture most people would call fog or mist -- that is, the cloud form that is most proximate to the land itself and most likely to replicate in its motion the shape of the land over which it moves.(13) We may recall that earlier in the novel one of the symptoms of Tayo's shellshock is that he imagines himself as unselfconscious "white smoke" that conforms its shape to the walls of the Veterans Hospital cubicle to which he is confined (14-16), and most readers initially will probably agree with the Army doctors that Tayo's felt identity with heyaashi-like physical texture is an indication of mental illness. Silko makes it easier to see, in the Mt. Taylor episode, how this same felt identity is a very positive step in Tayo's recovery of Laguna identity when Tayo, convinced he is transforming into an "unsubstantial" state such that anyone looking "would see him only as a shadow" (195), sees his powerful spirit ally moving in exactly the same way:

Relentless motion was the [mountain] lion's greatest beauty, moving like mountain clouds with the wind, changing substance and color in rhythm with the contours of the mountain peaks . . . . (196)

        Other appearances of the shiwanna in the prose narrative that are strongly associated with the motion of overall recovery include those "delicate" white egg sacs carried by the [grand-]mother spider Tayo sees at the spring prior to WWII (94), the pattern of cumulus-shaped spots carried on the back of the snake Tayo encounters on his way to Dripping Springs and his rendezvous with Ts'eh late in the novel (221), and of course (and most obviously) the "clouds with round heavy bellies" in the west and south who gather at dawn to follow Tayo as he crosses the river at sunrise to rejoin the People, an image that reiterates the motion of Sun Man's children (who are also the ancestors of, and still life for, the People) following him down the mountain after his showdown with Kaupata.

        I want to end these comments by drawing attention again to the issue of homology of motif, this time as it applies to the relationship between Silko's novel, the version of the Kaupata story she gives in that novel, and the several ethnographic versions of the Kaupata story mentioned earlier in this study. In Ceremony, Silko's embedded Kaupata story ends with Sun Man tossing Kaupata's eyes into the southern night sky and liberating his children, the four varieties of shiwanna or stormclouds, from the four rooms of Kaupata's mountain abode. Homologically, the following prose narrative episode ends with Tayo liberating his wards, the spotted cattle, from their captivity on the North Top of Mt. Taylor. Silko also reactivates the last phases of the Kaupata motif again when Tayo confronts the Ck'o'yo medicine for the fourth time in the novel, this time in the person of Emo, at the Jackpile Mine. Like Kaupata in the pretext story, Emo invites his opponent to kill him, and like Sun Man Tayo somehow knows that opening a Ck'o'yo medicine man's skull with a steel screwdriver (252), or his belly with a broken beer bottle (63), is like cutting out his heart with his own flint knife a temptation that must be resisted if life in the Fifth World is to continue.(14) But there is at least one very significant difference between the ethnographic versions and Silko's version of the Kaupata story, and consequently of her version of Laguna oral tradition insofar as the prose narrative stands as a twentieth-century re-happening of "the long story of the people." The difference is that in all of the preceding print-text versions, the Kaupata story does not end so happily for the People. In Gunn's version, in which Kaupata takes form as two brothers who each lose an eye to the protagonist, the enraged brothers split open the mountain they inhabit, setting off catastrophic flooding that eventually results in the annihilation of the People; in Boas's and Benedict's versions, the blinded and equally enraged Kaupata lets loose rivers of fire which behave like volcanic lava, destroying everything in their path until the fires are eventually extinguished by the recently-liberated stormclouds. It would seem, then, that in her novel Silko takes a major liberty with the body of Laguna oral tradition in order to contrive a graceful ending to her prose narrative.

        Unless, that is, we view the prose narrative of Ceremony the same way we are invited to view each and all of the embedded texts contained in it and containing it -- as only a "portion," as she puts it, of the "long story of the People." Perhaps this unfinished homology of motif is not, after all, unfinished, then: perhaps Silko was merely saving this part of that story for later -- a possibility at least remotely encoded in the penultimate portion of embedded text in the novel: "It is dead for now. / It is dead for now./ It is dead for now./ It is dead for now" (261). In that case, perhaps we should be looking beyond Ceremony for the rest of the backbone Kaupata story. Perhaps, having articulated and set in motion once again the spirit backbone informing the several Kaupata stories by writing Cermony, Leslie Silko was in a sense obliging herself, in keeping with her fidelity to the backbone of Laguna oral tradition, to write her second novel, Almanac of the Dead, as a natural extension of Ceremony -- a novel addressing the darker side of the story that in Ceremony is cast so as to begin, and end, with the blessing of sunrise.


       1More precisely, the stories that Silko chooses to embed in her novel come mostly from the conventional category of Keresan oral narrative called "maaíma uúbeétaányi," those "true" stories that get reenacted in the ceremonies (as distinguished from secular coyote stories and stories about talking frogs and wrens that are also included in the term "hama-ha"). [back to text]

       2This figure is give or take, depending in part on what one considers to be an embedded story as opposed, perhaps, to epigraphic material or merely stylized prose narrative. I count 31 passages of what I'm calling "embedded text." In the order in which they occur, these include (items enumerated in boldface are elements of a single extended storyline, the one I have referred to elsewhere as the nine-part "backbone story" of the novel; the four preceded by the bracketed letters a-d can be found also in the text of Leland Wyman's Red Antway):
       1. Ts'its'tsi'nako
       2. Ceremony
       3. What she said
       4. sunrise
       5. Reed Woman-Corn Woman argument
       6. Kuoosh's preamble to Scalp Ceremony
       7. [1] Pacayanyi
       8. [2] Hummingbird appears
       9. Emo's war/coyote story
       10. [3] making Green Fly
       11. [4] Hummingbird and Green Fly travel to "fourth world / below"
       12. [5] Nautsityi steers Hummingbird and Green Fly to Buzzard
       13. Tayo's(? Robert's? Hummingbird's? anyone's?) Gallup recall [PROSE]
       14. [6] Buzzard demands tobacco
       15. boy -> bear transformation
       16. note on bear people and witches [PROSE]
       17. origins of witchery
       18. [a] hunter -> coyote transformation
       19. [b] departure-recovery transformation chant
       20. [7] Nautsityi steers Hummingbird and Green Fly to Caterpillar
       21. [c] coyoteskin-witchery connection
       22. Kaupata and Sun Man
       23. [8] Caterpillar gives tobacco to Hummingbird and Green Fly
       24. sunrise
       25. hunter's deer song
       26. Arrowboy spies on Ckoyo workers
       27. [9] Buzzard purifies the town, Nautsityi returns
       28. Elders' "Amooh" chant
       29. [d] unraveling the dead coyote skin
       30. return chant for the witchery
       31. sunrise
                        [back to text]

       3See Ruth Benedict, n. 1 to "Eight Stories"; see also pp. 114 and 117 of John Gunn's Schat-Chen, featuring hand drawings of the Laguna version(s) of this figure, the katsina brothers Kopot and Ko-kah-ki-eh. A facsimile of Gunn's story "Ko-pot Ka-nat," including these drawings, appears in SAIL 5.1 (Spring 1993): 25-30. [back to text]

       4Linda Danielson identifies six such sources acknowledged by name in Storyteller alone in "The Storytellers in Storyteller" 22. [back to text]

       5On Silko's use of Wyman's account of the Red Antway, see Robert Bell, "Circular Design in Ceremony"; on her use of Boas's Pacayanyi and Hummingbird Man stories, see Nelson, "Rewriting Ethnography." Edith Swan, in "Healing Via the Sunwise Cycle," argues that most of the embedded passages dealing with "unraveling" the effects of Coyote medicine derive from Fr. Berard Haile's Legend of the Ghostway Ritual in the Male Branch of Shootingway (St. Michaels AZ: St. Michaels Press, 1950). [back to text]

       6Additionally, in her 1920 Notes on Ceremonialism at Laguna, Parsons includes, in her list of about a dozen Laguna "gods" included in the generic term kupishtaiya (a category that includes, incidentally, "Shiwanna": see below), the figure Kopot', one of "two brothers who became two stars close together and of which one is very red . . . Both brothers are very wicked" (95). Parsons' account tallies closely with Gunn's account of the brothers Kopot in Schat-chen. [back to text]

       7See Nelson, "He Said/She Said." [back to text]

       8For some examples of this correspondence see appendix A to this essay. [back to text]

       9See, for instance, Kroeber, "An Introduction" 3 and Wiget, Native American Literature 2-3. [back to text]

       10Kenneth Roemer provides a methodical study of these and other grounds of the novel's canonization in "Silko's Arroyos as Mainstream." [back to text]

       11On the crucial implications of the backbone metaphor, see Nelson, "Rewriting Ethnography"; Swan also touches on the traditional Keresan significance of this trope in "Healing Via the Sunwise Cycle" (16). [back to text]

       12Boas 76, 283-84; Swan, "Laguna Symbolic Geography" 231-32. Boas spells the word "shiwana," Parsons "shiwanna," and Kurath "šíwana" (Keresan) and "shiwana" (English). [back to text]

       13This is, incidentally, also the "diaphanous morning cloud" that is the locus of the narrative perspective in Simon Ortiz's beautiful early poem "Heyaashi Guutah." This essay adopts Ortiz's orthography; Boas gives the word as "Hi´tcats'" (284), Kurath as "héaši." [back to text]

       14I realize that here I'm paving the road to an argument about how each of the pretexts in this novel functions as a template for all of the prose narrative. I hope to draw out the implications of that argument in some future essay. [back to text]

Works Cited

Bell, Robert. "Circular Design in Ceremony." American Indian Quarterly 5.1 (February 1979): 47-62.

Benedict, Ruth. "Eight Stories from Acoma." Journal of American Folklore 43.167 (1930): 59-87.

Boas, Franz. "kaup'at ." Keresan Texts. Publications of the American Ethnological Society, 8. Part 1. New York: American Ethnological Society, 1928. 76-82.

Danielson, Linda. "The Storytellers in Storyteller." Studies in American Indian Literatures 1.2 (Fall 1989): 21-31.

Gunn, John M. "Ko-pot Ka-nat." Schat-chen: History, Traditions and Naratives [sic] of the Queres Indians of Laguna and Acoma. 1917. New York: AMS, 1980. 114-19. Rpt. SAIL 5.1 (Spring 1993): 25-30.

Kroeber, Karl. "An Introduction to the Art of Traditional American Indian Narration." Traditional Literatures of the American Indian: Texts and Interpretations. Ed. Karl Kroeber. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1981. 1-24.

Kurath, Gertrude P. "Calling the Rain Gods." Journal of American Folklore 73 (1960): 312-15.

Nelson, Robert M. "He Said / She Said: Writing Oral Tradition in John Gunn's 'Kopot Kanat' and Leslie Silko's Storyteller." Studies in American Indian Literatures 5.1 (1993): 31-50.

-----. "Rewriting Ethnography: Embedded Texts in Leslie Silko's Ceremony." Telling the Stories: Essays on American Indian Literatures and Cultures. Eds. Elizabeth Hoffman Nelson and Malcolm Nelson. New York: Peter Lang. [Forthcoming.]

Ortiz, Simon. "Heyaashi Guutah." The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature. Ed. Geary Hobson. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1980. 264-65.

Parsons, Elsie Clews. Notes on Ceremonialism at Laguna. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 19.4. New York: AMNH, 1920. 85-131.

Roemer, Kenneth M. "Silko's Arroyos as Mainstream: Processes and Implications of Canonical Identity." Modern Fiction Studies 45.1 (Spring 1999): 10-37.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Viking, 1977.

-----. Storyteller. New York: Seaver, 1981.

Swan, Edith. "Healing Via the Sunwise Cycle in Silko's Ceremony." American Indian Quarterly 12.4 (Fall 1988): 313-28.

-----. "Laguna Symbolic Geography and Silko's Ceremony." American Indian Quarterly 12.3 (Summer 1988): 229-49.

Wiget, Andrew. Native American Literature. Twayne's United States Authors Series 467. Boston: Hall, 1985.

Wyman, Leland. The Red Antway of the Navaho. Navajo Religion Series 5. Santa Fe: Museum of Navajo Ceremonial Art, 1965.


A sample of parallel passages from Silko's Ceremony and Boas's Keresan Texts

[from Silko 170-76]

[from Boas, "kaupa.t'a" 76-82]
Up North
around Reedleaf Town
there was this Ck'o'yo magician
they called Kaup'a'ta or the Gambler.
[. . .]

Long ago. -- Eh. -- long ago there in the northwest region at Reed-Leaf-Town, there lived a man. Thus was his name, kaupat.'a. And so always every day he gambled.
But the people didn't know.
They ate the blue cornmeal
he offered them.
They didn't know
he mixed human blood with it.

[ . . . ]

. . . and also there in a room in the east there dead bodies were hanging down. Always blood was dripping down. Therefore red cornmeal piled on a dish all mixed with blood he gave them to eat.
And one time
he even captured the stormclouds.
He won everything from them
but since they can't be killed,
all he could do
was lock them up
in four rooms of his house

[ . . . ]

Then at that time from Ca'k'ak' and Cu'isi and all the (other) storm clouds, from everyone he won clothing and their storm clouds and also Ma'yt'cïn's and Cui'tyrai's storm clouds and their clothing, all were lost. Then for this reason in four rooms he locked them up, because not in any way could he kill them, for they were storm clouds.
The Sun is their father.
Every morning he wakes them up.
But one morning he went
first to the north top of the west mountain
then to the west top of the south mountain
and then to the south top of the east mountain;
and finally, it was on the east top of the north mountain
he realized they were gone.
For three years the stormclouds disappeared
while the Gambler held them prisoners.
The land was drying up
the people and animals were starving.

[ . . . ]

Then for three years never clouds came up and also it never rained. Then, therefore, the earth and the whole ground cracked. Then there in the east at koaik'atc', the Sun-Youth spoke thus, "I wonder why it is never raining," said the Sun-Youth. "In general every morning I awaken the storm clouds. From here I go to the north top of the west mountain and also to the west top of the south mountain and also to the south top of the east mountain and from here to the east top of the north mountain. There I always wake up the storm clouds", said the Sun-Youth.
Go ahead
gamble with him.
Let him think he has you too.
Then he will make you his offer--
your life for a chance to win everything:
even his life.
He will say
"What do I have hanging in that leather bag
on my east wall?"
You say "Maybe some shiny pebbles,"
then you pause a while and say "Let me think."
Then guess again,
say "Maybe some mosquitoes."
He'll begin to rub his flint blade and say
"This is your last chance."
But this time you will guess
"The Pleiades!"
He'll jump up and say "Heheya'! You are the first to guess."
Next he will point to a woven cotton bag
hanging on the south wall.
He will say
"What is it I have in there?"
You'll say
"Could it be some bumblebees?"
He'll laugh and say "No!"
"Maybe some butterflies, the small yellow kind."
"Maybe some tiny black ants," you'll say.
"No!" Kaup'a'ta will be smiling then.
"This is it," he'll say.
But this is the last time, Grandson,
you say "Maybe you have Orion in there."
And then
his clothing, his beads, his heart
and the rainclouds
will be yours."
"Then also this I will tell you," said she, "If you bet everything then kaupa.t'a-Man will say to you, 'What have I above on the east wall?' thus kaupa.t'a-Man will say. Then you will say, 'I wonder what,' thus you will say. Then again a little while you will think. Then you will say, 'Maybe beads,' you will say . Again you will say, 'I wonder I what,' you will say. 'I guess pebbles,' you will say. Then again he says thus, 'What have I up there?'" thus she said. "Then again you will say, 'I wonder what, -- maybe honey-bees.' Then again he will speak for the last time. Then you will say, 'Oh, I think the Pleiades.' Then kaupa.t'a will say, 'Heheya',' thus he will say. 'Never anybody told me like this,' kaupa.t'a will say. Again he will ask you. There above in the south is something that is inside. kaupa.t'a will say, 'What is up there on the east wall that I have?' thus he will say. Then you on your part will say, 'I wonder what it may be that he keeps up there?' thus you will say. For a little while you will think. Then you will say, 'Maybe bumble-bees,' you will say. 'No, it isn't that,' kaupa.t'a will say. Then again you will say, 'Maybe butterflies,' you will say. Then again for the last time kaupa.t'a will say. 'No, not that;' and again you will say, 'Maybe these are ants,' you will say. ''No, not that,' kaupa.t'a will say, and so for the last time he will speak. Then you will say 'Maybe, the Orion,' you will say," said Old-Woman-Spider-Woman. "And then everything, his clothing, the storm clouds and his heart you will win," thus said Old-Woman-Spider-Woman.
[ . . . ]
"Heheya'! You guessed right!
Take this black flint knife, Sun Man,
go ahead, cut out my heart, kill me."
Kaup'a'ta lay down on the floor
with his head toward the east.
But Sun Man knew Kaup'a'ta was magical
and he couldn't be killed anyway.
Kaup'a'ta was going to lie there
and pretend to be dead.
So Sun Man knew what to do:
He took the flint blade
and he cut out the Gambler's eyes
He threw them into the south sky
and they became the horizon stars of autumn.
"Heheya'! heheya'!" said kaupa.t'a. [. . .] "Now I go ahead, kill me," said he. "You will take the yellow knife." Then Sun-Youth took it. Then kaupa.t'a there to the east lay down on his back. Then Sun-Youth sat down there. For a while he thought what he would do to him. Then Sun-Youth spoke thus, "I wonder, am I going to kill him?" said he. Then he was looking at his face and his body. After a while spoke Sun-Youth, "It comes to this. Let me take out his eyes," said he. "Presently then up to the north let me throw them," said he. "because he has supernatural power," said Sun-Youth. Then he took the flint knife. Then one eye he took out and again the other eye he took out. Then (up) went out Sun-Youth. Then kaupa.t'a's eyes southward he threw up. Then kaupa.t'a's eyes became stars.

[back to notes]