Children in Native American Oral Tradition

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Native Americans have long been interested in maintaining cultural traditions they inherited from their ancestors. For Native American tribes with strong oral traditions, the primary sense of history comes from the narratives, stories, and accounts told by tribal elders. Indigenous peoples' stories are as varied as the clouds in the sky and yet have many common elements, whether told by the Cherokee in North Carolina, or the Chimariko in California. In the assortment of Native stories, we find legends and history, maps and poems, the teachings of spirit mentors, instructions for ceremony and ritual, observations of worlds, and storehouses of ethno-ecological knowledge. They often have many dimensions, with meanings that reach from the everyday to the divine. The stories fill places with the power to heal, teach and reflect. They are so powerful that they have survived for generations despite attempts at suppression and adaptation. At the beginning of the classic hero myth, the culture is a wasteland. Crops are not growing, disease is rampant, babies are not being born, and alienation and despair are persistent. The fertility, the sense of life, has disappeared from the tribe. This type of dilemma correlates to some failure on the part of the ruler or chief, who is impotent, sinful, or despotic. The old chief or father figure represents superseded ways that are restricting the culture. For Native Americans, the hero either creates something new in the world, remakes something once destructed, or restores order for the people. He or she is often of divine ancestry, endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for bold exploits, and favored by the gods. The hero is noted for feats of bravery or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. Typical heroic archetypes include the innocent, the fool, the orphan, the warrior, or the seeker. Because the cause of disorder is often sprung from the lack of a change, the most renowned heroes of Indigenous tribal stories are the children: untainted by life itself yet, undiscouraged by fear. The image of youth in Native American oral literature is symbolic of heroism- the ability to discover new ways of improving the culture and restoring balance and harmony among nature and its people. One prominent story which highlights the use of a child as a hero is The Powerful Boy, an Iroquois myth explaining the great migration of other tribes from the south and west who joined their population during different periods in history (Myths 24). The legend begins when a mother dies in labor and the father puts the tiny baby in a hollow tree to die. This is symbolic of the fact that the father figure is lacking, and ignores significant problems. Thus, the listener already understands that a change must soon take place for the restoration of the family and community. The baby's brother is lonely, and soon he finds and rescues the baby. The baby is extremely strong and starts knocking trees with a club. The children eventually become curious about their surroundings, but the father tells the pair not to go north, because it's dangerous; but they do, killing all the frogs they find. He tells them not to go west; but they do, killing the Thunder Being's babies. Eventually, the youngest brother heads north alone and meets the giant Stone Coat, who challenges him to an eating contest and tries to trick him. Once again, the tiny boy is victorious. The boy disobeys his father yet again and goes south-west, where he finds a man with a big head gambling for lives. Using wit, and "orenda", special power, the gambler is defeated. Finally, the boy goes east to a land where everyone plays ball, winning the land for his father, who becomes its chief. The hero is undeniably the omnipotent infant - whose power stems from the fact that he is not yet separated from the universe; he is not yet self-conscious. The boy's travels allow him to confront various problems, and...
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