[this article appeared originally in Native Realities 1.2 (Summer 2001). ]



Sunrise and Ceremony

        For more than a decade now I've been preoccupied with the embedded texts that speckle the pages of Leslie Silko's first novel Ceremony, many of which also show up in her remarkable scrapbook Storyteller. My own special interest in Ceremony generally, and those embedded texts in particular, grows out of a 1987 NEH Summer Seminar, the "Tucson Seminar" conducted by Larry Evers. Not unpredictably, interest in these embedded texts led me at first to thinking about how they relate to their oral traditional antecedents. And while that Protean relationship is good to think about and fun to talk about, I've concluded that because the only available corroboration is hearsay evidence, my own testimony about who said what to whom being irrelevant because I wasn't there, it's impossible to demonstrate the certainty of any particular relationship to the satisfaction of any decent skeptic -- including myself. Gradually, then, I decided to focus instead on how these embedded texts relate (on the one hand) to their ethnographic antecedents and (on the other) to the prose narrative they're embedded in.
        I guess you could say I'm treating Silko's novel as an example of "post-modern intertextuality" -- a text in which two kinds of text, one prose in narrative mode and the other embedded poetry in several modes, derive (or better yet, recover) a semblance of authority from a third, absent yet acknowledged, text, that is, the ethnographic pretext. I guess. My own overriding feeling, these days, is that Silko's inclusion of those embedded texts in her first novel is not about privileging those ethnographic pretexts. Rather, I think including them is, to borrow the title of the militant essay she published around the same time as Ceremony, part of "an old-time Indian attack conducted in two parts" on the body of assumptions underlying mainstream American cultural hegemony, assumptions that by the mid-seventies were already quivering from the assaults of nascent postmodernism and its agenda of deconstructive interrogation. On the one prong, her inclusion of these texts represents a strong nod of acknowledgment in the direction of Laguna life and oral tradition as a righteous source of contemporary American fiction. On the other prong, their inclusion is an early literary manifestation of the impulse that came to inform, for instance, NAGPRA in the field of American jurisprudence and the National Museum of the American Indian project in the field of institutionalized American culture. This is the impulse, attributed to both Tayo and Sun Man in the Kaupata episode, to locate and re-appropriate the "stolen rain."1 For Sun Man, the stolen rain is the stormclouds, the shiwanna; for Tayo, it is the speckled cattle; for them both, and for Silko as a reclaiming Laguna storyteller, it is the stories and pieces of story designed and circulated originally to preserve the life of the people. To expand on Silko's own metaphor, some of these stories became separated from their original cultural contexts and purposes when they got rounded up during the frantic turn-of-the-century period of "salvage ethnography" and corralled in foreign, inaccessible places. I'm thinking here of the analogy between the fenced-in top of Mount Taylor, where Tayo finds the stolen cattle, and the research libraries miles away from Laguna land where readers would have had to go looking for the scattered ethnographic transcriptions and translations of Laguna's oral tradition prior to Silko's novel. As I've argued elsewhere,2 Silko's presentation of these same materials amounts to an act of repatriation; like Coyote's brother Skeleton-Fixer in the old stories, Silko gathers those Laguna bones collected by the ethnographers and puts them back to their original use -- to serve as backbone for a Laguna story about Laguna life in Laguna country. In this way, the embedded texts become a part of a "now'day" performance, in the process becoming as contemporary and au courant as the narrative skin they are in.
        In the spirit of that thesis, this essay is offered as a meditation on one of American Indian literature's central motifs as well as one of Laguna culture's and, not so coincidentally, one of the privileged embedded-text motifs of Silko's fine novel Ceremony: the Sunrise trope.

        You may recall that there are on the order of 30 chunks of embedded text in Silko's novel; the Appendix to this essay lists them in the order of their appearance in the text. You may recall also that some of these chunks form distinct groups. For instance, there is the nine-part departure-and-recovery story featuring Our Mother Nautsityi, Pacayanyi, and Hummingbird that forms a formal and thematic "backbone" which the prose narrative fleshes out in twentieth-century time and space (the nine pieces of which are printed in boldface in the appendix); and there is a four-part Coyote transformation-and-recovery series (lettered [a] through [d] in the Appendix). Most of these embedded texts, taken singly or as members of one series or another, are typographically set as poems, center-justified on the pages where they appear and set off by white space from the margin-to-margin prose that precedes and follows them, and most of them are in narrative mode. One of the quietest, and in some ways the most interesting, of these distinct groups of embedded texts is the three-part Sunrise series, the ones numbered 4, 24, and 31 in the appendix.
        First, some observations about these three embedded texts understood as elements of a series. They are the briefest of all the embedded texts in the novel, and, like most of those others, all three appear center-justified on the page. Unlike most of the others, however, the three chunks in this series are all non-narrative. Another unusual thing about this series is that the term "sunrise," which is what unites them in series, undergoes a semantic metamorphosis each time it appears, transforming mode from frame signal, to traditional song, and finally to prayer. The first time it occurs in the novel, the word "sunrise" reads like a descriptive statement, a word that provides the reader with a context of time and setting. The second chunk of the series, according to the prose explanation in which it is embedded, is the words of a brief ritual song associated with sacred, ceremonial occasions. The third and final element of the series presents as a supplicatory prayer addressed to Sunrise, understood as a living entity.
        Here, then, are some notes and observations on each of these three embedded texts, followed by a final note on the function of the overall series in the novel.

        The first of these embedded Sunrise texts appears as the one-word sentence "Sunrise," centered high on page 4 of the novel and visually elevated above the first lines of the prose narrative that begins three-quarters of the way down the next, facing, page 5. In several ways this positioning suggests a transitional function for this fragment. For one: according to Keresan origin traditions, life has emerged, and continues to emerge, sequentially through four worlds to take place in this, the Fifth, world. Seen in this context, page 4 and its one-word text stands as the fourth in a series of four pages of poetic pieces that precede page 5, where the prose narrative begins, thus paralleling the four-world emergence process that in Keresan tradition precedes the appearance of life in the Fifth World. Page 1 may be taken to represent the Keresan First World where Ts'its'tsi'nako, Thought-Woman, is always and forever sitting in her house, thinking Life into motion, aided down the line by the sisters she thinks into being to help her and, later, their children the storytellers -- the "I" at the bottom of page 1 who is "telling you the story she is thinking"; the "he" who speaks on page 2; and the "she" who speaks on page 3. Page 4, then, can be taken as either the voice of a gender-anonymous fourth "voice" in this series or, and I think this comes closer to Silko's own creative vision, as a word that connects all the worlds before with the Fifth World, a sort of verbal sipapu or Emergence Place in the geography and topography of the novel.
        In any case, this positioning also allows the word to function as a setting for the prose narrative to come, locating the reading audience in time at the dawn of some unspecified day and waiting for the story proper to begin with the statement that "Tayo didn't sleep well that night." Seen from this perspective, "Sunrise" here functions as the first of a pair of formal brackets to the prose narrative, enclosing and contextualizing the story of Tayo within sacred time and space. (The closing bracket, of course, would be the last page of the text of the novel, a space occupied exclusively by the third chunk of the Sunrise series, which I'll say more about later.)
        Silko's use of the term "sunrise" as a bracketing device is both rhetorically and semantically consistent with Laguna oral tradition. One of the conventions of formal storytelling in Laguna tradition is what I want to call the initiating bracket, a word or phrase that signals the beginning of the storytelling performance. Such initiating brackets, which function as the first of a pair of verbal brackets defining the storytelling "space," exist in many storytelling traditions, though of course the utterance used as that signal differs from culture to culture and, sometimes, from storyteller to storyteller within a given tradition.3 In English storytelling tradition, perhaps the commonest such bracket is "once upon a time." In the conventions of Laguna traditional storytelling -- at least as far as those conventions have survived translation from oral to written performance, and from Keresan to English -- the most frequently-used initiating bracket is the phrase "hama-ha."4 The term is still used by some Laguna storytellers today, and 45 of the 47 early twentieth-century performances transcribed in Boas' Keresan Texts begin with this word or some variation of it, which Boas usually translates as "Long ago -- eh." Writing a few years earlier than Boas, John Gunn, a more casual student of Keresan oral literary tradition, notes,

When a Queres Indian commences to tell a story he begins by saying Humma-ha; these words to him now have no particular signification, and are used merely as words of attention or introduction, as we would say "Once upon a time," but at one time they meant something more, as the words indicate, Humma, when, and ha, east, and were used to introduce a class of stories brought from an eastern country. (67)

Gunn's conclusion about the provenance of the stories thus introduced is suspect, as is his contention that the syllables "have no particular signification" to modern-day Laguna storytellers.5 As Paula Gunn Allen, one of several published modern-day Laguna storytellers, notes in The Sacred Hoop,6 for a Keresan-speaking audience the phrase not only cues the beginning of a storytelling performance, but it also locates the event of the coming story in the spatial and temporal vicinity of origin-ality: "hama-ha" directs the Keresan audience's attention towards both a time (early) and a place (easterly) of beginnings, a vicinity of story time-space naturally associated with the daily event of sunrise. My point is that Silko's word "sunrise" not only functions in her text like the term "hama-ha" does in traditional Laguna oral performance but also may be read as a pretty good alternate, one-word translation of the Keresan phrase.

        The second of the three chunks of Sunrise text, which appears on page 182 of the novel, is embedded in a gloss on the "traditional" function of the word. Tayo's memories provide a Keresan traditional context for the Sunrise motif -- a context that illuminates not only the song Tayo recalls but also Silko's use of the term at both ends of the prose narrative it brackets. Just prior to the piece of embedded text, Tayo is at the foot of Mount Taylor at the time of the autumnal equinox, watching "the dawn spreading across the sky like yellow wings" and listening to the sound of his horse's steel bit, jingling as she grazes, a sound which reminds him "of the bells in late November" heard every year at Laguna:

Before dawn, southeast of the village, the bells would announce their approach, the sound shimmering across the sand hills, followed by the clacking of turtleshell rattles -- all these sounds gathering with the dawn. Coming closer to the river, faintly at first, faint as the pale yellow light emerging across the southeast horizon, the sounds gathered intensity from the swelling colors of dawn. And at the moment the sun came over the edge of the horizon, they suddenly appeared on the riverbank, the Ka't'sina approaching the river crossing.
     He stood up. He knew the people had a song for the sunrise.

We are then given the second embedded Sunrise text in its entirety :

Sunrise!
We come at sunrise
to greet you.
We call you
at sunrise.
Father of the clouds
you are beautiful
at sunrise.
Sunrise!

At this place in the novel, then, the Sunrise motif becomes linked to two classes of Keresan supernatural spirit: the ka't'sina and the kurena. On one side of the song, we're told that sunrise is when the katsina appear in the Fifth World, southeast of the village in late November, in order to visit with the People and renew their shared story during the winter months. On the other side, where the text is referred to as a "prayer" rather than a "song," we are told that Tayo

repeated the words as he remembered them, not sure if they were the right ones,7 but feeling they were right, feeling the instant of dawn was an event which in a single moment gathered all things together -- the last stars, the mountaintops, the clouds, and the winds -- celebrating this coming. Sunrise. He ended the prayer with "sunrise" because he knew the Dawn people began and ended all their words with "sunrise."

"The Dawn people." To understand what Tayo and Silko are thinking here, it helps to have in mind the Pueblo moiety system as it manifests in Laguna tradition. In brief, there are two moieties, the kurena moiety or "summer people," also known as the "dawn people," who are primarily responsible for the autumn ceremonies; and the kashare moiety or "winter people," who are primarily responsible for the rest of the Laguna ceremonial calendar.8 Here is what Franz Boas, in Keresan Texts, has to say about the kashare, the kurena, and sunrise:

     The kurena live in the northeast at i.Žcak'a k`aŽTcïty`.
     The kashare migrated from the Place of Emergence with the kindly supernatural beings (kopishtaya) to the house of the sun in the east (KoaiŽk`tc`). The kurena must also be closely associated with the sunrise for all of their songs end with the word "sunrise" (Ko.aiKï.Kai, poetic form for KoaiŽk`tc`). They migrated northeastward, leading a people called She-ken . . . who carried flowers in their hands that withered and bloomed alternately. (293) . . . These two societies alternate in their ceremonial activities. Only kashare songs are sung from the winter solstice to the corn harvest. Only kurena songs from the harvest until the beginning of the season of kashare songs. Members of all societies and those uninitiated may sing these songs. The kurena lead the people back from the harvest for the cacique, singing the following song: [There follows the text of the song printed in Keresan, along with an interlinear English translation; the last sentence of the song is the single word "KoaiKïKai." - translated as "Sunrise!"] (295)

Here, we get the Laguna word for "sunrise" that Tayo "knew the Dawn people began and ended all their words with": Ko.aiKï.Kai, poetic form for KoaiŽk`tc`. And although the orthographic spelling is quite different, I'm intrigued by the homophonic similarity of the kurena's word for sunrise, "KoaiŽk`tc`," and the Keresan word for Laguna, "kawaika." We can see here, too, how close the connotations of the term "hama-ha" are to those of the term "KoaiŽk`tc`." And finally, we can see how Silko contrives to make this song, and its key term "sunrise," the mental bridge her protagonist needs to link the two classes of supernatural helpers, the katsina on one side and the kurena on the other, to his own present task of recovering the stolen cattle.

        Similar to the layout of page 4, the last page of the book (262) consists of a single brief, three-line sentence -- "Sunrise, / accept this offering, / Sunrise" -- again centered on the horizontal axis of the page, and this time also on the vertical axis. Structurally, the typography here calls final attention to the centrality of the sunrise motif in this work. We may recall here, for instance, that over and over again in the prose narrative sunrise, dawn, is presented as a time when the wholeness, the interrelatedness of all things is most apparent to Tayo. At the same time, the architecture of the text here may be taken to represent an essentialized template for any and all traditional Laguna story performance: an initiating bracket, a story which is also always a prayer, and a concluding bracket; if so, what's special about this recipe is that the opening and closing brackets are an identical utterance, "Sunrise," a term and a time strongly associated in this novel, as in the ethnographic record of Laguna traditions, with major Keresan spiritual forces including the katsina, the shiwanna, and the kurena. And finally, taken as a template for Laguna traditional story, this final prayer to sunrise is a powerful reminder that the entire sunrise-bracketed narrative ("this offering," understood as the whole novel) is to be read, not only as a series of events (covering a space of 18 months of sunrises) but also, and as importantly, as a single event, a single sunrise, a single event of emergence and of re-emergence.9 Retrospectively, this piece invites us to see that "Sunrise," which appears on page 4 to be simply part of the background setting for life, is also a part of -- indeed, a source of -- that life.

A note on one function of the series as a whole:
        One of the functions of these pretexts in the novel is to provide, for the prose narrative, an anchor in traditional Keresan motifs. I found it curious, then, that Silko presents a series of only three such fragments in this sunrise series: given the centrality and finality of this motif in the novel, as in Keresan tradition more broadly, expected to find a 4th passage informed by the power of Sunrise. In fact, I expected it so strongly that I started looking for it. Being an unregenerate formalist at heart, and given the spacing of these three chunks of Sunrise pretext (at the beginning of the novel, two-thirds of the way through the novel, and at the end) I looked for it to be about one-third of the way through the novel. And there, about one-third of the way through the novel beginning at page 93, is this episode, one of a tangled string of memories recalled by Tayo on his burro ride with Harley one late May morning. While the holy men from Acoma and Laguna are off on the mountaintops calling for clouds and thunder, Tayo recalls, "that last summer, before the war, he got up before dawn and rode the bay mare south to the spring in the narrow canyon." There, while "he waited for the sun to come over the hills," he climbs the narrow canyon to the spring there, dusting the surface of it with the pollen from "flowers with yellow long petals the color of the sunlight." In this passage, set at sunrise, Tayo witnesses four animal signs of rain, but just as importantly recalls four pieces of traditional Laguna story associated with each creature - four drops, one might say, of that "stolen rain" I mentioned earlier. In fact, to use Silko's words,

Everywhere he looked, he saw a world made of stories, the long ago, time immemorial stories, as old Grandma called them. It was a world alive, always changing and moving; and if you knew where to look, you could see it, sometimes almost imperceptible, like the motion of the stars across the sky. (95)

"A world made of stories, the long ago, time immemorial stories, as Grandma called them"-- hama-ha stories. I'm suggesting, in other words, that one important function of the Sunrise series is to call attention to this passage's signal importance as a step, and one of four "sunrise" steps, in the longer process of reintegrating Tayo's story with the backbone of hama-ha story tradition. More broadly, the term "sunrise" in the novel becomes a vehicle for bringing together, in a single word, energy from a broad spectrum of literary modes -- song, prayer, narrative, and oratory -- including energy recovered from ethnographic pretexts and repatriated to Laguna storyspace by Silko.

        If all this is so, then I think we can see that there is indeed a distinct element of literary nationalism in Silko's use of ethnographic pretexts, and that her successful incorporation of such materials in Ceremony is a very powerful testament to the ongoing adaptive capacity of Laguna cultural tradition.

{Boas 299 for sunrise gesture: "Thumb touches points of fingers. Then fingers and thumb stretched and hand thus opened."}

KoaiŽk`tc`


Notes

        1I take this phrase from the title of Silko's PBS videotape project of the late '70s and early '80s. Silko's project was originally for a trilogy of films, to be collectively entitled Stolen Rain. "Arrowboy and the Witches," the only one of the three to be completed (though it has not undergone final editing), is available from The Video Tape Co., 10545 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood CA 91601-2280.

        2"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, 2000.

        3For examples of other such frame elements common in other cultural traditions, see also Momaday's use of Jemez's "dypolah" and "qtsedaba" as the opening and closing words of his novel House Made of Dawn; Andy Wiget's discussion of Hopi's "aliksai" and "poyoqpolo" in "Telling the Tale: A Performance Analysis of a Hopi Coyote Story" (in Swann and Krupat, Recovering the Word: Essays on Native American Literature 297-338); and Larry Evers' program note on White Mountain Apache formulae in relation to the individualized signoff used by Rudolph Kane in "Origin of the Crown Dance," one of the excellent videotapes in the series Words & Place: Native Literature from the American Southwest (available from Norman Ross Publishing Co., 330 W 58th St., New York NY 10019).

        4This word has been transliterated variously as "humma-ha" (Gunn), "hama-ha" or "humma-hah" (Silko, Storyteller 38), "humma-haa" (Gunn Allen), and "hamaha" or sometimes "ha'ma" (Boas).

        5I discuss Gunn's desire to legitimize Keresan story by claiming Phoenecian and Cushite roots for Laguna culture in "He Said / She Said: Writing Oral Tradition in John Gunn's 'Ko-pot Ka-nat' and Leslie Silko's Storyteller" (Studies in American Indian Literatures 5.1 [Spring 1993]: 31-50).

        6Allen footnotes a chapter title, "The Ceremonial Motion of Indian Time: Long Ago, So Far" with the statement that "Lagunas start their stories by saying 'humma haa,' which means 'long ago, so far,' among other things" (Sacred Hoop 147).

        7Given Silko's sensitivity to the issue of cultural appropriation, Tayo's uncertainty here is ironic, since the text we're given is in English not Keresan: of course they're not the "authoritative" text.

        8According to Paula Gunn Allen in her influential early essay "Kochinninako in Academe," "summer" and "winter" in the sense used here align, more or less, with the two seasons composing the ceremonial year personified, respectively, by Miochin and Shakok, two of the shiwanna or Cloud People.

        9One is reminded here of the way that Momaday in House Made of Dawn similarly frames the whole of his novel within a double bracket composed not only of initiating and concluding bracket phrases (dypolah and qtsedaba) but also identical portraits of Abel, running, at sunrise.




Appendix: embedded text in Silko's Ceremony
I count 31 passages of what I'm calling "embedded text." Items enumerated in boldface are elements of a single extended storyline (titled "Up North" in Silko's Storyteller) which I refer to 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. In the order in which they occur, these include:

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